Thursday, October 6, 2011

Natchitoches, LA: LaCaze, jailed since '98 in husband's death, bonds out while awaiting new Natchitoches Parish trial

A Natchitoches woman whose second-degree murder conviction in her husband's 1997 death was overturned by a federal appellate court walked out of jail Wednesday after posting bail of $100,000.

Princess LaCaze, 49, had been in jail since 1998 when she was convicted in 10th District Court of persuading her lover to kill her husband. The killer, Meryland Robinson, is now serving a 40-year sentence.

"After almost 14 years she walked out of jail," her attorney Mike Small said. "It was a great day for Princess LaCaze."

Small said he and Natchitoches Parish District Attorney Van Kyzar, who was the prosecutor in the 1998 trial, would begin the process of setting a court schedule that could lead to a new trial.

Kyzar's office on Wednesday said he was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Assistant District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington said prosecutors would file federal arguments to reinstate LaCaze's conviction. If that fails, the DA's office would retry LaCaze, he said.

Harrington said Kyzar would be lead prosecutor in a retrial.

In September, following the 5th Circuit's ruling that overturned LaCaze's conviction, appellate judges ordered U.S. District Judge Dee Drell to send the case back to state court in Natchitoches. Drell ordered the bail hearing and said Kyzar's office had six months to retry LaCaze or she would be freed.

LaCaze for years tried to get state appeals court judges to overturn her conviction.

One of her arguments was that prosecutors gave Robinson, the killer, a deal that LaCaze and her attorney did not know about. Prosecutors gave Robinson assurances that they would not pursue charges against Robinson's 14-year-old son, who drove his father to the LaCazes' home. While at the home, Meryland Robinson shot Michael LaCaze from the doorway, killing him. Princess LaCaze was not at the home when her husband was murdered.

The 5th Circuit ruled last summer that prosecutors should have revealed the deal it made with Robinson, who was the chief witness against LaCaze at the trial that attracted statewide attention.

Both judges in the one-parish 10th Judicial District -- Eric Harrington and Dee Hawthorne -- have taken themselves off the case. The Louisiana Supreme Court this week appointed retired district Judge Andrew Gallagher of Caddo Parish to oversee the case.

After Gallagher set bail at $100,000, prosecutors asked him to make LaCaze wear a GPS monitoring device, but the judge refused, Small said.

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