MARKSVILLE – Vincent Simmons’ new lawyers filed a motion on Tuesday seeking to bring the case back to court, saying that new evidence shows the 1977 rapes that he did 100 years in Angola for never happening.
It remains to be seen whether he will have that chance. The motions made by Simmons and two other lawyers over the years have been unsuccessful in reopening the case.
Alexandria’s attorney, Ed Larvadain Jr. and New York State attorney Justin Bonus, filed with the motion for post-conviction relief and a follow-up memo supporting him at the 12th District Judicial Court, where Simmons was convicted after a two-day trial in July 1977.
He had been indicted on rape charges, but these were later changed to a minor charge of attempted rape.
He was found guilty of two counts of attempted aggravated rape and sentenced to 50 years in each of them, to be served consecutively, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
He was already 20 years old when he appeared in a 1998 documentary, “The Farm: Life in the Prison of Angola.” Interest in his case and what many saw as a judicial error exploded.
He was the subject of another documentary, “Shadows of Doubt, “and was presented in a 2009 follow-up to the farm”. He has one Internet network location dedicated to proving your innocence, recently updated with a Bonus video.
Simmons has maintained his innocence over the years. But the 14-year-old Alexandria twins, who he was convicted of rape with, Karen Sanders and Sharon Chism, have also maintained their history over the years.
“I spent a lot of time with him. I promise you something. When I look at you and you look at me, you will recognize me again,” said Karen Sanders in a December 2014 Town Talk article.
New evidence sent
Bonus, surrounded by members of Simmons’ family, spoke with the media outside the Avoyelles Parish Court after the motion was dismissed. He said 12 new pieces of evidence had been discovered, including interviews conducted in the past few months, in which some relatives say the three victims – the twins and their cousin, Keith Laborde – lied.
In addition, the lone black judge in the case says in another statement that she had doubts about the case, but the other white male juries harassed her.
“I was told during the deliberations that my vote did not count; that the jury only needed
10 to condemn, “says Diane Prater’s testimony, alluding to Louisiana’s unanimous jury law that was recently rejected by voters in 2018.” The other 11 white men voted guilty immediately.
“At the time of this trial, Avoyelles Parish was very segregated and blacks were
don’t talk on the spot. I felt very intimidated and helpless, so I voted guilty. “
The case is about racism in the parish of Avoyelles, said Bonus, who he called “a legal lynching”. The memo states that Simmons is “the victim of a biased jury, a corrupt judicial system and the legacy of a dark past that the Avoyelles Parish, it is hoped, has now overcome”.
Bonus went through the story of the case, sometimes becoming excited and loud enough that his voice echoed through the walls of the court.
Simmons was arrested without probable cause, he said, without a warrant, “kidnapped” on Waddill Street to be put in line with some black inmates and a white man. Simmons was the only one handcuffed on the schedule who was seen by the twins and Laborde at the same time.
“So many rules of procedure have been broken in this case. I mean, it just went out the window,” said Bonus. “Due process, he had none. You can’t have due process if you don’t have a process and a procedure. He didn’t stand a chance.”
The arrest came after the girls’ uncle, who at the time was a parish aide, reported that they had been raped two weeks earlier. The date of the incident was listed as May 9, although Bonus said the date may not be correct.
He said the new evidence shows that the case was “a lie”. He said it shows that Laborde had sex with Karen – the memo describes it as rape, but is also described as consensual, although Karen was a minor – and tried to rape Sharon, so a plan was devised to blame a black man.
The lawyer also said that people were afraid of Laborde, something that another cousin, Dana Brouillette, says in a sworn statement included in the memo. She claims that Laborde once tried to rape her and her mother.
Brouillette said he knows that the incident did not happen on May 9, 1977, because it is his mother’s birthday. She said that Laborde and the twins went to her home on the supposed night of the incident and she saw scratch marks on Laborde’s neck.
She asked what had happened. When Laborde told the story, Brouillette said he refused to report it to the police after his mother suggested it.
‘Long after the trial, Keith admitted to me that Vincent Simmons did not rape Sharon and Karen and did not put him in the trunk of his car, “says the deposition.” He told me he had consensual sex with one of the girls and locked the other in the trunk while he was on Little California Road. “
Case history: Lawyers seek refusal by Judge Avoyelles in Simmons case
Brouillette said she spoke to Karen via Facebook Messager in early October, during which Karen “admitted to me that Keith raped her”.
Testimonials from Laborde’s daughter, Brouillette and Prater were collected by private investigator Brian Andrews of Jena’s LaSalle Investigations LLC. He was hired by Bonus to interview the directors of the case.
While some, like Brouillette and Prater, spoke freely, others were reluctant or refused.
‘The truth will always prevail’
Asked if she had a comment on the new movement, Karen Sanders texted her response to The Town Talk.
“… let them say and do as they see fit,” she wrote. “The truth remains the truth! This is all so ridiculous. That’s my comment.
“I believe that the truth will always prevail.”
Andrews, acting on a list given to him by Bonus, talked to Karen. This interview is referenced in the memo.
“Karen admitted that if Sharon has to testify again or if Karen and Sharon’s mother testifies, then Karen will request that the court release Simmons immediately,” the document says. “Karen also admitted that she may have made a mistake in identifying Simmons. Karen’s statement is nothing short of profound, recently discovered and clearly a statement against criminal interest, since she committed perjury at the trial.”
Andrews tried to interview Sharon. He managed to speak to her husband, but not to her. He also spoke to Sharon’s daughter’s boyfriend, who told him that he would speak to her and contact him if he had any information.
The next day, the daughter texted him. She was upset about trying to talk about the case, telling him that there was nothing to hide because the family does not touch the case.
“My boyfriend’s (sic) loyalty is in ME, not YOU, not some money-hungry lawyer and certainly not a rapist,” according to copies of the Andrews report. “We all agree – he, his family, my family and our friends that you will not and cannot step on any of us. That was the first and the LAST and it was a very bold change yesterday.”
It was not immediately known whether Andrews was targeted or attempted to interview Laborde. An email asking about the bonus sent on Friday was not returned immediately.
A family waits
Bonus wants the district court and the prosecutor’s office in Avoyelles to withdraw from the case. He also wants a change of location.
“Vincent Simmons, based on the newly discovered evidence and violations of due process, deserves a retrial or at least a hearing to determine the veracity of his allegations,” says the memo. “In this parish, it is clear that he will not receive a fair review of anything that takes him to court.”
If these measures are not granted, Bonus said a hearing should at least be scheduled. He said he would not expect a hearing until January or February 2021, however.
However, he argues that a hearing is not necessary to grant the motion.
“There was nothing left of the case against Simmons – not even a crime that he could
hypothetically committed – and the petitioner alleges that, at this point, the state can no longer claim in good faith that he is guilty, “he says.
With or without listening, Simmons’ sisters are waiting for his release. Four of them were in court on Tuesday and spoke while Larvadain and Bonus were filling out the papers.
They were there to support and speak for his brother, said Hattie James, “because Vincent has been fighting, year after year, this same battle over whether these people are going to let him out or not.”
James said that her brother is not guilty.
“He did not commit the crime and has been in it for the past 43 years.”
James said Simmons, now 70, suffered at the hands of others within Angola and was forced to work as a slave. She asked people to help them by telling the truth, because they always knew he was not guilty.
Another sister, Judy James, said that Simmons suffered because he lost his son’s upbringing.
“We want justice, equal justice, for everyone,” she said.
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