When Jason Williams took office as New Orleans’ top prosecutor in January, he said it came with a mandate to overhaul the way criminal cases are handled in a city long plagued by crime.
But he didn’t just start with cases moving forward. He also wanted to look back: to the trials of people convicted by nonunanimous juries, a practice rooted in the Jim Crow era and devised to deny equal representation to Black residents of Louisiana in the courts and essentially invalidate votes of Black jurors.
Williams, 48, a Black Democrat, assembled a team of experienced investigators and younger, dogged lawyers to begin reviewing hundreds of cases under the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. In February, the office vacated convictions of nearly two dozen people who had been found guilty by split verdicts in cases from 1974 to 2014 and involving crimes such as armed robbery, carjacking and murder.
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