Journalism in the Public Interest

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.


Raymond Robair (Photo courtesy of Frontline)

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.


May 2, 2011, 1:42 a.m.

The Police manual should compulsorily lay down the procedure for third degree method of questioning,against hardened and seasoned criminals. The Government should lay down the stages of questioning for criminals. In the first stage, the suspect is subject only to oral questioning. If this fails, Court orders should be obtained, to adopt, moderately severe methods which are approved by Federal law. The investigating Officer should be indemnified of any consequences to the suspect under question, from this stage onwards, in writing. The final, third degree methods should be carried out, only with the concurrence of the Hon. Court , only by a written order, in the presence of an officer of the Court and a Medical Practitioner, when a death can be prevented. It is highly uncharitable to hold an Officer on duty, liable for damages when the Government has not put in place an arrangement or mechanism, to safeguard the reputation of an Investigating Officer, and the life of the suspect, during the Investigation proceedings. In the current case the Honorable Court has done its duty as per existing law, the investigating has religiously executed the thankless job, in the absence of any self protection. An accident has occurred during interrogation. BUT THERE HAS BEEN NO ARRANGEMENT TO SAFE GUARD THE LIFE OF THE SUSPECT, DURING THE POLICE PROCEDURE RESULTING IN DEATH, BY THE SYSTEM. Under these circumstance of Systems failure, to hold the Police officer responsible for Human Rights violation is in itself a Human Rights violation, as no arrangement has been made by the system to protect to Officer carrying his legitimate duties, during which an accident has taken place, and the system has failed to install a system in the Police Manual to safe guard the life of the suspect, knowing pretty well that such accidents do occur during questioning. Pleading exoneration.

Whoops, I think you’ve got this completely backwards… Let me see if I can help. Our forefathers had already experienced tyranny first hand. That is why they made a declaration to be and independent nation from tyranny. Then they laid out a constitution. A set of guidelines if you will. You seem to use the word accident frivolously. See when our forefathers put these protections in place, it was to protect the public from You…. and men like you. You don’t get to make it up as you go. You can’t substitute murder of a citizen for the word accident. Here’s my suggestion: Sit down and actually read the Bill of Rights. If you cant’ perform as a police officer within those boundaries, then I suppose it’s back to school for you or something within your skill set.. The police manual does not usurp the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. In other words, your not the solution. Your the problem…

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Post Mortem

Post Mortem: Death Investigation in America

A year-long investigation into the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices uncovered a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

The Story So Far

In TV crime dramas and detective novels, every suspicious death is investigated by a highly trained medical professional, equipped with sophisticated 21st century technology.

The reality in America’s morgues is quite different. ProPublica, in collaboration with PBS “Frontline”  and NPR, took an in-depth look at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

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