News Release ~ 03/04/2004

Murder trial lawyer spent 11 minutes preparing case

Overburdened public defenders is rule, not exception, in Louisiana 

Baton Rouge, LA (March 4, 2004) -- The second-degree murder trial of Johnny Lee Bell is expected to conclude before lunch today. Rapides Parish (La.) Public Defender Bridgett Brown informed Judge W. Ross Foote on Tuesday that she had only spent 11 minutes with Bell preparing for trial and that she had not yet had time to locate witnesses, retain experts, file a motion to suppress his statement to police or otherwise investigate Bell’s claim that the shooting was accidental – despite the fact that Bell has been held in jail since January 2002. Tuesday night, Brown discovered that she also represents the victim’s father, an eyewitness in the case. Local attorney Gary Proctor spent Tuesday night preparing a conflict of interest motion to excuse Brown from the case, but Foote denied the motion as “remote” on Wednesday. Foote is hearing the case without a jury, and a swift verdict is expected.

Problems like the trial of Johnny Lee Bell are by no means unique to Rapides Parish, or even Louisiana. Bell’s case is symptomatic of failing systems in nearly every state, despite the best efforts and intentions of overburdened public defenders. Politicians nationwide who fail to fund adequate criminal defense services turn a blind eye to the fact that it is the taxpayers who pay to keep innocent persons behind bars while the guilty remain free to further drain society.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) will hold a press conference 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 9, at the state capitol building in Baton Rouge, La., to announce the release of a new report on the indigent defense crisis in Louisiana.

The report, which is embargoed until 2 p.m. Mar. 9, is available to the media in PDF format in advance of the press conference. Reporters and editors interested in reviewing or downloading a copy should e-mail mary@nacdl.org for a special User ID and password.

For further information on State v. Johnny Lee Bell, contact Gary Proctor, (318) 792-5697. 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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