NEW ORLEANS – Jurors for the trial of five current or former police officers charged in deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina made an unannounced visit to the site Tuesday.
State and federal law-enforcement officers closed the Danziger Bridge for more than an hour so jurors could view the areas where police shot and killed two people and wounded four others less than a week after the 2005 storm. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt, defense attorneys and prosecutors followed from a distance as jurors walked over the bridge spanning the Industrial Canal.
The jury's visit, during a break from the trial's fifth week of testimony, apparently began on the Interstate 10 high-rise that runs parallel to the Danziger Bridge. Jurors have seen grainy footage shot from the high-rise by an NBC news crew, which taped parts of the encounter between police and residents.
Jurors left a bus and took notes on the east side of the bridge, where officers allegedly shot unarmed, wounded residents who were lying on a pedestrian walkway behind a concrete barrier. They have seen a photograph of 17-year-old James Brissette's body face down on the walkway.
Jurors also examined the side of the bridge from a grassy area below the walkway. Defense attorneys have suggested that somebody shot at the bridge from the grassy area after police arrived in a rental truck in response to an officer's distress call.
Last week, jurors saw photographs of marks on the side of the bridge. A defense attorney suggested they could have been made by bullets shot from the grassy area.
Walking over to the west side of the bridge, jurors viewed the area outside a motel where police shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man.
Prosecutors say police shot unarmed people without justification before embarking on a cover-up that included falsified reports, fabricated witnesses and a planted gun. Defense attorneys say police were shot at before returning fire.
In a court filing, prosecutors said the visit would enhance the jury's understanding of what occurred on the bridge.
"Its size and scope cannot be portrayed adequately in photographs or models," they wrote.
Engelhardt didn't announce in open court that jurors would visit the bridge Tuesday.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
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