July 25, 2012 06:00

A nonprofit law clinic that works to free the wrongly convicted is looking into the case of a Lafayette man serving life at Angola.

Convicted killer Jackie Lambert is 54 years old. For nearly half his life, since 1986, he has called the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola home.



A nonprofit law clinic that works to free the wrongly convicted is looking into the case of a Lafayette man serving life at Angola. By Walter Pierce

[Update: Due to Hurricane Isaac, IPNO requested and was granted a continuation in the case. No hearing date has been set.]

Convicted killer Jackie Lambert is 54 years old. For nearly half his life, since 1986, he has called the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola home. He was convicted by a Lafayette jury in the brutal May 1984 murder of 79-year-old Georgiana Young. The elderly Young was found with 51 stabs wounds and a broken neck in her house on the 600 block of South Washington Street near downtown. The house - long ago razed, the lot now given over to tall grass and weeds - was ransacked. Jewelry and other belongings were missing.

Lambert and another suspect, Wilton Lindon, were arrested a few weeks after the crime. Both were in possession of items stolen from Young's house. Lindon, according to police records, confessed to participating in the burglary and stabbing, but insisted Lambert was the mastermind.

Each was convicted in separate trials - Lindon of first-degree murder; Lambert of second-degree. Lindon, who was convicted two months before Lambert, testified against his co-defendant at Lambert's trial. Police investigators also testified that Lambert claimed he merely stood behind the house while Lindon entered, murdered Young and exited with her possessions, a claim Lambert disputed when he took the stand in his own defense. Lambert testified that he wasn't even there.

Because Louisiana law prescribes life without parole for a second-degree murder conviction, Lambert will grow old and die at Angola, likely insisting until his last breath, as he has since his arrest, that he is innocent.

There was very little coverage of Georgiana Young's murder in the local daily aside from a crime scene photo the day after her body was discovered and a short story on Jackie Lambert's conviction two years later.

But a ray of hope has pierced the endless monotony of prison life for Jackie Lambert, although he may not even know it. On Aug. 27 District Judge Jules Edwards will decide whether the Innocence Project of New Orleans, a nonprofit law office that since its inception a decade ago has helped exonerate more than 20 convicts serving life sentences in prisons in Louisiana and Mississippi, should have access to records related to Lambert's arrest and conviction.

In a state with the highest incarceration rate in the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, IPNO will never want for work. Lambert could become its next project. But the group is mum on its intentions with the case, and it's unclear whether this inquiry into Lambert's case is to help IPNO decide whether to take his case or if the group is going full bore to spring Lambert from prison.

Kristen Winstrom, an IPNO staff attorney who filed the writ in Lafayette, would only say via email after a brief telephone conversation, "[public records] requests are a routine part of our investigation of cases."

Yet it's practically a certainty the nonprofit group has reason to believe Lambert's case may have merit; the phalanx of staff attorneys, investigators, paralegals and volunteers comprising IPNO invests hundreds of hours in individual cases. This isn't a random fishing expedition.
IPNO has seen virtually everything related to the case, specifically detective notes and logs. But the Lafayette Police Department redacted - blotted out with a magic marker, if you will - parts of some of the notes. And that's what the Aug. 27 hearing is all about: IPNO filed what's called a writ of mandamus against the PD, a fancy name for a lawsuit to compel the police department to turn over the records without the redactions.

IPNO's suit against the police department has its genesis in a request in the spring of last year to the PD for the records. It's unclear why the group made the request; Winstrom is unwilling to elaborate. After some back and forth via email and telephone with police officers and city-parish attorney Mike Hebert, an IPNO investigator traveled to Lafayette in May 2011 to look over the case, but IPNO was dissatisfied with what it saw based on the redactions.
In court documents, Hebert cites state law as providing exemptions to the Louisiana Public Records Act, allowing for sensitive information to be redacted.

"There were two reasons," Hebert says. "One was the exemption for confidential informants; the other was the exemption for investigative techniques, both of which were explained to me by the police department as being directly applicable to the redactions."

The former exemption is understandable, assuming confidential informants are still alive and revealing their identity via the court record might jeopardize their safety. But Hebert and the police department argue the latter exemption is valid, too, even 28 years later.

"You can envision any number of situations in which a particular investigative technique might be revealed by showing the documents that show the results of that investigative technique, and that might impair future investigations," Hebert explains. In other words, revealing how the police conduct investigations could aid suspects in future investigations. Know thy enemy.
"It's not necessarily the age of the case that would drive us to whether those exemptions would be invoked or not," Hebert adds.

Because Lambert's case is now back in court, tangentially anyway, officials at Angola denied our request to speak to him. His appeal of the 1986 conviction was denied by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in 1987, and the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
At this point IPNO appears to be Jackie Lambert's only chance of ever seeing Angola from the outside.

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