A New Orleans police officer who opened fire on an unarmed black man and enlisted colleagues in a macabre attempt to cover up his crime in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been convicted of manslaughter.
A jury took three days to find David Warren guilty of shooting Henry Glover, 31, shortly after the disaster which had left four-fifths of the city under water. His friend, Officer Greg McRae was convicted of unlawfully disposing of the corpse. A third officer, Lieutenant Travis McCabe, was convicted of writing a false police report.
The verdicts are the first in a string of trials related to police shootings in the aftermath of Katrina, in which more than 1,800 people died. At least 20 officers, all of them white, are charged with crimes against the city's predominately black underclass.
Mr Glover was shot in the back four days after the disaster, as he picked his way through a damaged shopping centre. The shot was fired from an upstairs level of the building by Warren, using an assault rifle he usually kept at home.
Two of Mr Glover's friends flagged down a passing motorist who drove them to a local school being used as a police base. But instead of helping the injured man, officers beat up his companions, accusing them of looting. Mr Glover bled to death while his friends were being beaten. He never received medical attention.
Later, McRae put Mr Glover's corpse in the car he'd arrived in, drove to a secluded spot and set it on fire. A fellow officer testified that he saw McRae laughing as he tossed a burning flare into the front seat then shooting out the back window to fan the flames.
The incident, one of many alleged police crimes reported in the days and weeks after Katrina, would never have come to light were it not for an investigation by The Nation published early last year, which prompted the FBI to interview all of the officers with knowledge of Mr Glover's death.
Lt McCabe, the third man convicted, falsified paperwork and lied to investigators. He faces a maximum of 60 years in prison. McRae faces 30 years, and Warren could get life. But the verdicts nonetheless angered relations of Mr Glover, disappointed that two other officers said to be implicated in the crime were acquitted.
They are also upset that the jury chose to convict Warren of manslaughter, rather than a more serious murder charge, meaning he could be eligible for parole in a few years.
"It should have been murder, not manslaughter," said Rebecca Glover, the victim's aunt, as she left court. "He will come home someday and my nephew is never coming home. All of them should have been found guilty. They all participated in this. How are you going to let them go free?" Warren intends to appeal. "I don't think people understand the split-second decisions police officers sometime have to make," said his attorney, Julian Murray. "Mr Warren never did anything intentionally wrong."
Thursday's verdict was described by prosecutor Jim Letten as a "critical phase in the recovery and healing of this city". But it marks only the first in a series of cases related to police brutality in the wake of Katrina to be heard in coming months.
In June, six officers are due to stand trial in relation to the notorious Danziger Bridge shootings, in which police opened fire on unarmed civilians going to shop for groceries and check on family property. Four were injured and two killed. As one of the victims, a mentally ill man called Ronald Madison, lay dying, witnesses saw an officer stamp on his body.
Five other policemen have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the Danziger Bridge incident and the subsequent cover-up. One of them, Michael Hunter, was sentenced to eight years in prison last week.Reuse content