Five Years Without a Trial

Friday, June 1st, 2012

And he might be innocent.

Last month, a prosecutor asked a judge to seize Carlos Lagantta’s shoes, suggesting that they might tie him to bloody footprints left at a crime scene in Old Louisville.

But given that the crime, a young woman’s stabbing death, occurred on Aug. 31, 2007, and that Lagantta had been in jail, awaiting trial for murder for nearly five years, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Audra Eckerle was not pleased with the request.

“It’s very frustrating when there are bloody footprints at a murder scene and five years go by without any real investigation into the circumstances,” Eckerle told the prosecutor who made the request, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alice Jones…

And while Langantta’s trial now is scheduled to start in November, more delays are possible.

In fact, new evidence — test results on DNA that had been found under the fingernails of the victim, Tina Tatro — has prosecutors re-evaluating the case.

A judge had ordered the DNA tested in 2009 — yet it took nearly three years to get the tests done and results back. And instead of implicating Lagantta, the DNA matched a key witness against him, John Burkhead, a man who had a relationship with Tatro, discovered her body and told police Lagantta was the last person he had seen with her.

Last month, news of the DNA results prompted an exasperated Eckerle, who had previously denied requests to release Lagantta on home incarceration to grant him release while awaiting trial.

“This case has dragged on for five years,” Eckerle said. “It’s not fair. The commonwealth has an obligation to bring him to trial. Five years … is inexcusable.”

And yet she continues to let them get away with it. Which means in her courtroom, it actually is excusable.

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17 Responses to “Five Years Without a Trial”

  1. #1 |  CyniCAl | 

    Indefinite detention — it’s not just for the fedgov.

  2. #2 |  freedomfan | 

    I know some attorneys read TheAgitator, so I wonder if anyone can answer whether it is within the judge’s power to simply inform the prosecutor, “This has taken too long already. If the state’s position is that it still needs more time to prepare its case, then I will throw out this indictment and release the defendant.” I honestly don’t know the answer, so I am curious. How else is the 6th Amendment enforced?

    And, obviously, if taking such action is within a judge’s authority, why the hell not take it?

    (BTW, I can’t be sure, but I am assuming that the prosecution is responsible for the delays.)

  3. #3 |  lunchstealer | 

    She’s not excusing it, she’s just letting it gestate. For 20 trimesters.

  4. #4 |  jhc | 

    This seems like a pretty blatant 6th Amendment violation. Maybe his lawyer(s) need to be more vociferous in their demands for a trial since that appears to be part of the Supreme Court’s test.

  5. #5 |  Burgers Allday | 

    I would be curious to know whether defendant has authorized the extensions, or any part of the extensions. Not saying he has or he hasn’t, but it is not clear what the deal is on acqueiscence (sp?).

  6. #6 |  Mike | 

    Let me make a wild prediction: Trial two years from now (meaning, 7 years in the slammer before trial), guilty, sentenced to 3 years. But, the 7 behind bars already doesn’t count, so it’s 3 more.

  7. #7 |  Bobby Black | 

    Ahhh our tax dollars at work. No wonder there are Fema Camps being set up as long term jails and new laws that allow to keep us there without trials. They know that because of mass internet media, outside the shackles of the corporate media, people are seeing just how cooked the books are, and revolution is just a few more egregious government crimes away. Can’t happen soon enough in my book. Viv La Revolution!!!

  8. #8 |  J-Man | 

    Radley,

    Awesome job on receiving nominations for several journalism awards in Southern California:

    http://reason.com/blog/2012/06/01/reason-nominated-for-11-southern-califor

    Not trying to take away from the latest absurd criminal justice and human rights violations, just alerting the good people of Mr. Balko’s recent accomplishments.

  9. #9 |  croaker | 

    Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a Radley Balko nutpunch.

  10. #10 |  Radley Balko | 

    Bobby Black: Do you publish some sort of mimeographed newsletter to which I might subscribe?

  11. #11 |  John C. Randolph | 

    The judge has the authority to find the prosecutor in contempt and keep them in jail until they quit jerking the court around.

    -jcr

  12. #12 |  Pi Guy | 

    craoker: Happy Belated Birthday! Plus, I always strap on my cup before I click on my “The Agitator” fave link. It increases my productivity for the rest of the day.

    Viv La Revolution!!!

    Sharpening up my pitchfork right now. Will have the torches ready by the end of the weekend.

  13. #13 |  Monzster | 

    What caught my attention was this statement: “It is one of the five oldest pending criminal cases in Jefferson County, according to statistics provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.” Being that the author specifically didn’t say that it was the oldest, I would conclude it likely isn’t even the oldest pending case!

  14. #14 |  Xenocles | 

    Mike-

    I think they can subtract pre-trial confinement from a sentence as time already served. I don’t know if this is required of the judge or simply discretionary.

  15. #15 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #6 and #14: As far as I know, judges are compelled to count time served towards any sentence as a matter of federal judicial precedent and constitutional law. Any lawyers on the thread should correct me if I’m wrong, but imposing a sentence resulting in a longer term than the maximum permitted by statute, including time already served in pretrial detention, would violate the prohibition on ex post facto punishment. The only federal ex post facto exception that I’m aware of involves sex offender registries, and the current precedent in that case is a travesty in my opinion.

    The duration of pretrial detention becomes most relevant at the extremes. In misdemeanor cases, such as the inexcusably mishandled DUI case in Dona Ana County, NM, lengthy pretrial detention can result in a period of confinement longer than the maximum permitted by law. At the other extreme, it is a moot point legally when a sentence of death or life without parole is handed down after conviction.

    I have often pondered whether I would want to be released prior to trial if I were indicted and believed that I was likely to be convicted and given a lengthy prison sentence. My usual inclination has been to stay in jail and get as much of it over with as soon as possible. This is kind of like pondering whether one would rather be hanged or shot, but I imagine it’s an inevitable thought for fully sentient people living in police states.

  16. #16 |  Andrew Roth | 

    I didn’t find any mention in the linked article, but I assume this case was handled by the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department.

    The reason that I mention this is that Louisville Metro is one of the agencies whose homicide detectives are regularly shadowed by television crews from A&E for its documentary series “The First 48.” This makes me wonder how much incompetence and misconduct A&E or its employees are aware of at police agencies whose detectives they film. I fear that it may be a lot.

    As far as I’m concerned, media outlets should be held to the highest journalistic standards in cases like this. They should be given no blessing to trade fear and favor for access. Obviously, this is an all-too-common journalistic practice, one often kept secret from the audience. It is unethical and contemptible, and audiences should not tolerate it. I’m probably expecting too much from audiences.

    Maybe I’m also expecting too much from a broadcaster that subsists on documentaries showing hardened prisoners abusing and threatening juvenile delinquents in ways that would get any of us mere civilians arrested if we followed suit.

  17. #17 |  KPRyan | 

    Yep.

    Eckerle is just afraid now that she’s going to look like an inept boob for PRESIDING OVER THIS MAN’S 5 YEAR PRISON SENTENCE when he hasn’t been convicted of even pissing on her front porch.

    Now, after all this time, she finally says he can be released on his own recognizance… but she’s still demanding he DEFEND HIMSELF AGAINST MURDER CHARGES brought by the same inept DA’s office that has been spending the last 5 years spinning the propellers on their proverbial beanies.

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