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Jury weighs if New Orleans cops wrongly shot men after Katrina

By the CNN Wire Staff
The shootings happened on Danziger Bridge six days after much of New Orleans went underwater when Hurricane Katrina hit.
The shootings happened on Danziger Bridge six days after much of New Orleans went underwater when Hurricane Katrina hit.
  • The defense asks jury to consider stressful post-Katrina circumstances
  • Prosecutors calls the officers' actions "murder, pure and simple"
  • The shootings took place on Danziger Bridge in September 2005
  • There were no convictions after local prosecutors initially filed charges

(CNN) -- Jurors began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of five current or former police officers in connection with shootings on a New Orleans bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The shootings 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.

Prosecutors contend the officers opened fire, killing 17-year-old James Brissette. Minutes later, an officer allegedly shot and killed 40-year-old Ronald Madison. Four others were wounded in the shootings.

Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavasoare are charged in the shooting. They are also accused of covering up the incident, with the help of the fifth defendant -- former detective Arthur Kaufman.

During closing arguments Tuesday, the defense asked the jury to consider the stressful circumstances the officers were operating under following Katrina.

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

The prosecution put it more bluntly, calling the officers' actions "murder, plain and simple."

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.

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.