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NOPD Officers Convicted in Handyman’s Beating Death

A federal jury in New Orleans convicts two officers originally cleared of wrongdoing when a local forensic pathologist called Raymond Robair's beating death an accident.

After two days of deliberations, a federal jury has convicted two New Orleans police officers for their roles in the 2005 death of Raymond Robair.

One of the officers, Melvin Williams, was convicted of violating Robair's constitutional rights by kicking him and beating him with a police baton on a New Orleans street corner in July 2005. His partner, Matthew Dean Moore, was found guilty of lying to the FBI. The officers also were convicted on obstruction charges based on filing a false police report.

Jurors heard closing arguments on Monday after two medical experts testifying for the defense said Robair's death was an accident.

One, forensic pathologist Paul McGarry, had conducted autopsies for Orleans Parish for almost 30 years. In February, ProPublica featured Robair's case as part of a larger investigation into McGarry's work. That investigation, conducted with PBS "Frontline" and NPR, found that McGarry had made a series of autopsy errors and oversights that cleared police officers of wrongdoing.

The Orleans Parish district attorney declined to prosecute the officers in Robair's case after McGarry concluded the 48-year-old handyman died accidentally. But a second forensic pathologist hired to do a second autopsy by Robair's family found 23 injuries McGarry overlooked and determined that Robair's ruptured spleen was caused by a beating.

Based on these findings, an attorney for Robair's family persuaded federal investigators to examine the case. That led to the charges against Williams and Moore.

Williams faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Moore faces up to 25 years in prison. Sentencing for the officers has been scheduled for July 14.

The Times-Picayune points out that Robair's case "was the second major federal-civil rights probe into alleged misdeeds by NOPD officers to go to trial recently."

Last month, a federal judge sentenced two former NOPD officers convicted in December of killing a man and burning his body after Hurricane Katrina. At least 13 other current or former NOPD officers are still awaiting trial in other post-Katrina shooting cases.

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