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First conviction tossed…

A New Orleans man who got a new trial because recording problems ruined the transcript from his first one will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing a man in 1994 as he came to the assistance of his mother.

An Orleans Parish jury convicted Derek Landry, 40, of first-degree murder in the death of Lloyd "Hal" Gonzales Jr. Gonzales, 38, was shot in the face and died on the porch of his family's home in the 4400 block of Annette Street as Landry tried to take Leora Gonzales' purse. Lloyd Gonzales Sr., also was shot, but he survived a chest wound.

Landry, 40, was convicted in 1995 and sent to Angola to await death by lethal injection. But he won a second chance to plead his case when the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled his first trial was so poorly recorded that it could not be reviewed on appeal.

Construction noises and recording glitches marred the trial transcript taken down in former Judge James MeKay III's courtroom, the court ruled violating Landry's constitutional right to appellate review.

The second trial, held last week before Judge Frank Marullo, was nearly identical to the first one, with prosecutors relying on eyewitness testimony to secure a murder conviction.

Both Leora and Lloyd Gonzales Sr. testified that Landry gunned down their son.

Landry was on parole for a 1986 armed robbery when he accosted Leora Gonzales as she walked to her front door He fled with her purse, which contained $900 and credit cards. An anonymous caller told police Landry was the killer, and he was soon arrested.

A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder Friday. The panel reconvened Saturday for the sentencing hearing and within an hour returned with a unanimous decision of life in prison rather than death.

Defense attorneys called Landry's relatives to the stand to appeal for mercy on the grounds that the five children he has raised don't deserve to lose their father to execution.

Landry's daughter told the jury how he encouraged her to stay in college and fulfill her goal of joining the military Don't be like me, do something with your life, he told the young woman now in the Air Force.

After asking the jury to spare her father, she turned to him as he was sitting across the courtroom and said, "I love you, Daddy."

Following that testimony, the defense surprised the judge and prosecutors by waiving their right to make a closing argument, a move that denied the state the opportunity to make a rebuttal.

The Landry trial marked the second time in less than a month that juries called for life sentences in capital murder trials. The law requires that such verdicts be unanimous.

Orleans Parish has sent no convicts to death row since 1997, when Phillip Anthony was condemned to die for the murder of three people at the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen in the French Quarter.

Landry's 1995 death sentence was the first such win in four years for then-District Attorney Harry Connick's office. That jury took about 90 minutes to issue the death sentence.

This time around, Landry had new attorneys, who said tremendous preparation went into the death penalty phase and that the jury appeared reluctant to even consider an execution.

"It's a wonderful commentary on the people of Orleans Parish that you can punish someone and be confident that they will be off the streets for life and that we're not a people of vengeance," defense attorney Jeffrey Smith said.

Gwen Filosa can be reached at (504) 825-3304.

The Times-Picayune
By Gwen Filosa, Staff writer

Man again found guilty in killing
First conviction tossed for poor transcript


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