Criminal Justice

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Deploys Mediation to Resolve Homicide Case

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office used a potentially revolutionary method in reaching a plea agreement with a defendant. Cornell Augustine pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter, accepting both responsibility and a 30-year prison term on the day his murder case was scheduled for trial in New Orleans. Augustine, 38, faced a life sentence if convicted of 2nd Degree Murder, the offense in which he was charged. This instance is believed to be the first homicide case resolved by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office through mediation with all parties, including the victim’s family.

Gregory Journee, 33, was killed outside a bar around 1:10 a.m. on March 29, 2015. Augustine, a bartender at the nightclub, shot Journee five times during a scuffle that started in the bar and spilled outside. The entire episode was recorded on surveillance video, authorities said. The video showed that Journee’s cousin touched off the conflict by throwing a cup at Augustine, who jumped over the bar to confront the man. As the fight spilled outside, Journee attempted to separate the combatants, placing Augustine in a headlock. But Augustine broke free, pulled a gun and shot Journee in the chest, back and arm, as the victim tried to flee.

Augustine, along with his attorney, his mother, and other family members, spent nearly two hours the week before the trial in an emotional jailhouse meeting with the victim’s family and state prosecutors. Denunciations were declared and apologies were expressed and accepted. By the end of the meeting, all parties spent the weekend considering whether a 30-year prison sentence was acceptable in a plea deal. Augustine faced life imprisonment if convicted of the offense in which he was charged, and up to 40 years if convicted of manslaughter, which both the prosecution and defense privately considered the case’s most likely result.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro was pleased with the method of resolution and subsequent result.

“We have certainly tried to always be receptive to the concerns of the victims in these cases. This was something where we sort of took it to a different level, with an informal, off-the-record conversation where everyone could speak freely. … I don’t think it’s going to work in every case, but in this particular case, I think everyone walked away from this with some benefit. The family got closure, in that the responsible party acknowledged his culpability. And the judge did not seem to have any concerns about the plea or the sentence.”

This unique approach did not go unnoticed by Augustine’s defense attorney, Kevin Boshea, who had not seen a murder case resolved via mediation “in (his) 36 years (of practicing law).” Cannizzaro, a former state district court judge and appellate court judge, stated that he is “certainly willing to try (mediation) again.”

Augustine is a violent offender and deserved a lengthy prison sentence. However, by involving the victim’s family, they were afforded a certain degree of closure. Meanwhile, Augustine showed remorse and perhaps has shown that he can begin to be rehabilitated as he serves his punishment.

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