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Jury set to weigh if New Orleans cops wrongly shot men after Katrina

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • A jury has been picked in the case of 5 current and ex-New Orleans police
  • They face charges of covering up shooting of civilians after Hurricane Katrina
  • The shootings allegedly occurred on Danziger Bridge in September 2005
  • There were no convictions after local prosecutor initially filed charges

(CNN) -- A federal jury was finalized Thursday to decide the fate of five current and former New Orleans officers, who face charges of covering up shootings of civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an aide to a federal judge told CNN.

An aide to U.S. Judge Kurt Engelhardt, who declined to be named, told CNN that court proceedings finished Thursday, one day after the process began, with a complete slate of jurors.

Opening arguments in the case will start Monday at 8:30 a.m. in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana in New Orleans, according to the aide.

Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman all face counts related to the 2005 incident that include conspiracy, weapons charges and obstruction of justice.

The shootings allegedly occurred on Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after much of New Orleans went underwater after the powerful hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast.

The indictment contends officers opened fire, killing 19-year-old James Brissette. Minutes later, an officer allegedly shot and killed 40-year-old Ronald Madison. Four others were wounded in the shootings.

Similar charges had been filed after local prosecutors first investigated the shootings, but no one was convicted. Federal prosecutors then moved in and launched an investigation.

Other officers have already been convicted in connection with the shootings. They include Michael Hunter, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to obstruct justice. Hunter was sentenced to eight years in prison and is believed to be a key witness in the trial against the others officers.

The shootings took place during a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning. Police were strained, beset by suicides and desertion.

According to court documents, Hunter drove in a rental truck to Danziger Bridge with other officers to respond to a radio call about gunshots and reports that officers on the nearby Interstate 10 bridge had come under fire.

At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gunbattle with several people.

That's when officers encountered the Madison brothers, Ronald and Lance.

Lance Madison told CNN he and his brother Ronald left their flooded home and were crossing the bridge to find shelter. They were unwittingly headed to an area where armed looters were marauding, he said.

Lance Madison said police officers were the only ones shooting as he and his brother ran for safety from the area. A witness told CNN in 2006 that police shot Ronald Madison in the back as he ran toward a motel at the bottom of the bridge.

"Hunter ... admitted that he was present on the west side of the Danziger Bridge when an officer, identified as Officer A, shot and killed Ronald Madison, a civilian who was running away from officers with his hands in view, and did not have a weapon or pose a threat," the Justice Department said.

Hunter admitted that officers on the east side of the Danziger Bridge fired at civilians, even though the same civilians did not appear to have any weapons, the Justice Department said.

CNN's Rick Martin contributed to this report.