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CNN PRESENTS

New Orleans Officials Battle Crime One Case at a Time

Aired November 22, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DET. DECYNDA BARNES, NOPD: This was bought (ph) 2005, all the cold cases. And this is 2007.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The end of the line for unsolved murders in New Orleans, a homicide squad cold case room. Detective Decynda Barnes works these files. Sometimes she discovers a clue and makes an arrest. Often she doesn't.

(on camera): So do each one of these represent a body, essentially?

BARNES: Yes, ma'am.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Spring 2008, nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina. We've come to New Orleans to see how violent crime and corruption are slowing the recovery. Soon after our arrival, a rash of murders, seven in 72 hours. Twenty-year-old Guy McCuen (ph) shot multiple times on a crowded street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was pronounced dead on the scene.

O'BRIEN: Twenty-one-year-old Keith Williams (ph) murdered while driving with his girlfriend, his killer firing from a passing car. Miraculously, his girlfriend escaped unharmed. Three hours after Williams...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on our way to another homicide by shooting.

O'BRIEN: ... an 18-year-old male, murdered in front of this house. Homicide detective Danny McMullen (ph).

SGT. DANNY MCMULLEN, HOMICIDE DETECTIVE, NOPD: I mean, the main thing we need is an eyewitness. It's just there's nobody we believe right now saw anything.

O'BRIEN: Thirteen hours later...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They found an unidentified African-American male victim suffering from a gun shot wound to his head. I really don't want to (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: And then that night, two more murders, two teenagers. And the following morning, in the middle class neighborhood of Gentilly, a 30-year-old male gunned down in broad daylight. SGT. DANIEL MCMULLEN, JR., NOPD HOMICIDE: It's been quite some time since we had this many murders on a weekend. I mean, three, four, maybe, yes, we'll have something like that, but never seven in a three-day period.

O'BRIEN: New Orleans police chief Warren Riley.

(on camera): Can you arrest and prosecute your way out of this?

CHIEF WARREN RILEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Absolutely, positively not. No way. No way.

O'BRIEN: So what's the solution?

WILEY: The solution is to make a better, better educated, better employed, more wholesome, more vibrant community.

O'BRIEN: How do you do that?

WILEY: You do it through education. You do it through economics. You do it through job opportunities. Knowledge is just power.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Warren Riley has been policing these streets for more than 25 years. He took the helm at the worst time in the department's history, just 28 days after Hurricane Katrina. He blames more than 90 percent of the murders on the drug trade. And his solutions will take time.

Keva Landrum-Johnson grew up in New Orleans. She earned her law degree at Tulane University and spent a decade in the DA's office, prosecuting murders, assaults and robberies. She was promoted to interim district attorney in 2007.

(on camera): What do you do now about the crime problem?

KEVA LANDRUM-JOHNSON, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, I think that, you know, it is something that as a community, we all have to fight. You know, I think that we're all looking for an overnight solution, and I'm just not sure if there is this one overnight solution.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Homicide sergeant Joey Catalinado (ph).

SGT. JOEY CATALINADO, NOPD: I don't have the answer, and I wish I did. And I don't think anyone out there has the answer. This is total social breakdown. This is something that's going to have to start within the community.

O'BRIEN: In the middle of my interview with Catalinado...

CATALINADO: Bodies are on the scene?

O'BRIEN: ... a triple homicide, the first of the year.

(on camera): You said someone carrying a baby, an infant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a baby inside of the home that we now have possession of. The baby's fine.

O'BRIEN: The baby's mother, father, uncle, all in their 20s, all dead.

It's only April and there have been 65 murders here, on track to surpass last year's 209, the highest murder rate in the nation. For years, New Orleans has struggled with high murder rates and a broken criminal justice system. But now, post-Katrina, the city is in a weakened state.

RILEY: We are dealing with a situation that's very, very unique. We are still rebuilding our city. We're rebuilding commerce. We're rebuilding this police department. We're just beginning to get back to functioning as a normal police department.

O'BRIEN: The stakes are high. New Orleans is trying to lure back as much as a third of its population that still lives elsewhere. One big obstacle, fear of crime. Until recently, the police chief had what he calls a revolving door for criminals. State law 701 allowed accused felons to be freed from prison if not formally charged within 60 days. Thousands were freed because they weren't charged in time. That's now changed to give the DA more time to make a case. There are other changes, too.

LANDRUM-JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody.

O'BRIEN: Keva Landrum-Johnson was appointed in October 2007.

LANDRUM-JOHNSON: This is something that affects families and communities...

O'BRIEN: She gets high marks for cracking down on crime.

LANDRUM-JOHNSON: For a time, some people felt like, you know, there was no justice in the criminal justice system and that, you know, the DA's office was not convicting people. But I'm here to tell you that that day has passed.

O'BRIEN: Luring home residents also means conquering the corruption that has long defined this city and scared businesses away.

ROBERT CERASOLI, INSPECTOR GENERAL: It is a difficult process. It isn't an easy process.

O'BRIEN: New Orleans has hired its very first inspector general, Bob Cerasoli, his job to ferret out waste and fraud and to monitor a $972 million city budget.

CERASOLI: The city is really dysfunctional.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Is it corrupt?

CERASOLI: I don't know that.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): It's April and we begin to follow Cerasoli and some of the foot soldiers who are battling the problem one crime at a time. Homicide detective Anthony Pardo and Harold Wischan.

(on camera): Is this a battle of the cops versus the bad guys? Are you winning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think so. I mean, I think so. Of course, you have defeats. But you know what? You keep going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We follow every lead we get until there are none. We don't look at the clock. We don't look at the watch. We just, All right, what's the next one? Let's go. Let's go. Let's go.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Coming up, two other foot soldiers in the fight against New Orleans crimes, determined prosecutors Mary Glass and Tanya Faia.

TANYA FAIA, PROSECUTOR: These people are just -- they'll break your heart, especially these older cases. Mary and I will do whatever we can to hurry up, get the case in good shape and go with it.

O'BRIEN: And later -- fast and furious. Homicide detectives make an arrest. Do they have the right guy?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): In New Orleans, the district attorney's own figures show about 40 percent of the homicide suspects arrested walk free without ever being charged. The rest enter a judicial system that was struggling even before Hurricane Katrina.

FAIA: I have a murder from 2003. These people need closure. They need justice. These defendants need to be tried. It's horrible, you know? But the system broke with Katrina.

O'BRIEN: Cases that do go forward often end up on the desks of Mary Glass and Tanya Faia, two experienced prosecutors lured back to the DA's office after the storm. Glass and Faia focus on the city's highest-priority cases, and they're winning -- one crime at a time, three guilty verdicts in their first three cases together.

FAIA: You just have to dig in and go. And we did. And we'll keep doing it. Everybody in the unit's doing it. I think we just went faster.

I have a motion hearing tomorrow morning.

O'BRIEN: Their calendars are packed -- 40 cases -- murders, armed robberies, drug crimes, wedged in between children's baseball games and band practice.

MARY GLASS, PROSECUTOR: Friday the 18th? You want to come in in the morning? O'BRIEN: It's April, nine months back on the job and the former stay-at-home moms have won or gotten guilty pleas on all nine of their cases. But it hasn't been easy. Evidence is often slim to none.

GLASS: A lot of times, we're told there is no evidence, but we order it anyway because we're tenacious and we want to make sure. And lo and behold, it appears in court.

O'BRIEN: Despite missing evidence, earlier this year, Mary and Tanya convicted Nathan Foreman in the murder of 70-year-old Myra Mehrtens. She was killed just before Katrina for $10 and a bowl of soup. Her picture sits above Tanya's desk, a reminder that perseverance pays off.

FAIA: There was a casing, I think, a bullet casing that we never were able to find. One of the police officers on the case was a friend who killed himself during Katrina. So we didn't have him. But we did try to case and we won.

O'BRIEN: Both women worked in the DA's office in the mid-1990s, when the murder rate was at an all-time high, the police force was defending itself against corruption charges and jurors had a hard time believing cops.

GLASS: Jurors back then wouldn't even listen to police officers and would not have given witnesses with records a chance.

FAIA: I haven't had a juror fall asleep on me yet. It used to happen.

It's a perfect time because if you love to prosecute, you want to prosecute for people who care. And people care right now.

O'BRIEN: They're banking on it.

FAIA: I'm really scared about this case tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: It's the case of Garelle Smith. At 26 years old, his rap sheet is 25 pages long and full of allegations. Virtually none of them have gone to trial. But now Garelle is charged with a third- degree felony. Police say he destroyed a fence on public property.

(on camera): How much time could he get for that?

GLASS: Two to four years.

FAIA: So they're just going to think we're insane.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Why? Because the DAs want Garelle Smith for another crime, murder.

(on camera): Is your theory four years on damage to property is better than zero years on murders?

GLASS: If we can take him off the streets for a few years, then that buys us enough time to, hopefully, put together whatever we need to put together to get him.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): In the past five years, Smith has been arrested for four different murders. In two of those cases, he wasn't charged. In two others, he pled not guilty but never went to trial. Prosecutors say they ran into a familiar wall.

GLASS: No witnesses, witnesses that started out saying one thing and changed their mind and swear they don't know anything about him.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Do you think that he's intimidated the witnesses?

GLASS: Yes. Yes.

RICK TESSIER, GARELLE SMITH'S ATTORNEY: If there was any threatening of witnesses, there is a statute that deals directly with that, and Mr. Smith has never been charged with any of that.

O'BRIEN: This is 24-year-old Mandell Duplessis.

NADINE FINISTER, MOTHER OF MANDELL DUPLESSIS: This is my favorite.

O'BRIEN: His mother, Nadine Finister, wants Garelle Smith and three other men tried for Mandell's murder. Mandell was a small-time drug dealer. His mother warned him it was a career choice that could get him killed.

FINISTER: I tell him three things come out of a drug life. Either you get strung out on your own drugs, either you end up in jail, or either you end up six feet under.

O'BRIEN: Mandell dreamed of becoming a rap star. Nadine says he used drug money to create a demo CD. In August 2006, Duplessis walked into a friend's trailer and straight into a robbery. He died with five gunshot wounds in his body. Four people were arrested, among them Garelle Smith. But none of the victims who survived the shooting testified before the grand jury. The suspects were never charged. There was no trial. The four people accused, including Garelle Smith, walked free.

As Tanya and Mary head to court, they're determined to make the property charge stick against Garelle Smith. Four hours later, it's over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well?

GLASS: The case was continued. The defense attorney was unavailable -- ill or in the hospital.

O'BRIEN: And so the case against Garelle Smith is postponed. The prosecutors request random drug testing for Smith, and the court agrees. But it doesn't matter. Garelle Smith is gone and can't be found.

GLASS: I didn't think he would just leave. I thought he would go get his test, be dirty and come back and go to jail. Very simple.

O'BRIEN: Mary and Tanya refuse to quit. They say they'll revisit every case where Smith is a suspect.

FAIA: We'll look for anything that we can to try to keep everybody safe.

GLASS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Garelle's attorney believes the attention may be unnecessary, and he wonders if his client's been turned into a symbol of New Orleans's stalled justice system.

TESSIER: He's become somewhat of the poster child for what's wrong with the city of New Orleans, and I'm not sure he deserves to be that poster child.

O'BRIEN: As for Nadine Finister, the mother of the murdered Mandell Duplessis...

FINISTER: Waiting on the day I can open up the paper and go to the obituary section in the paper and see these faces in the obituary section, I'm satisfied. I'll say, Thank you, Lord.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, fraud and frustration.

CERASOLI: I don't even know how I got up in the morning to face what I have to face.

O'BRIEN: Fighting bureaucracy in a city that's plagued by it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CERASOLI: The people here in the city of New Orleans aren't ready for what I'm about to do. I'm not going to give you the promise. I'm going to give it to you straight. I can do what I can. If I can't, I can't.

O'BRIEN: Inspector general Bob Cerasoli, the man charged with tracking misappropriations and corruption in New Orleans, was astonished when he first reported to work in September 2007.

CERASOLI: When I first came to the city and filled out my paperwork, they said to me, Would you like a car and gas? I said, Why would you give me a car and gas? They said, Everyone gets a car and gas.

O'BRIEN: Back then, there was still a homeless camp near city hall, and Cerasoli was outraged.

CERASOLI: I said, I think it's really doubly offensive to have a homeless city across from city hall and people living under the underpasses and people living in FEMA trailers, people still not are in their homes, for me to have a car and gas. And I said, That's going to be one of the first things I'm going to look at.

O'BRIEN: He's made it his first investigation.

(on camera): How many would you guess?

CERASOLI: How many people have cars? Hundreds -- 200, 300, you know.

O'BRIEN: Have a free car, with free gas?

CERASOLI: Yes. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Three hundred people?

CERASOLI: Oh, at least, it'd probably be upwards of, you know, anywhere from $7 million to $12 million.

O'BRIEN: Million dollars?

CERASOLI: Yes. Sure.

O'BRIEN: At this point, that's just a guess. Cerasoli won't know until he finishes with his investigation. And that's where the trouble lies. Nine months on the job, and he's hit a brick wall. It's called New Orleans bureaucracy. He's still fighting to get phones, computers and staff. It's just him and two deputies. He wants 37.

(on camera): Is it incompetence, or is it somebody or people trying to make sure you don't do your job?

CERASOLI: My gut tells me it's a combination of all those things.

O'BRIEN: It's the history of New Orleans.

CERASOLI: I think it's the history of New Orleans.

JAMES LETTEN, U.S. ATTORNEY: I just want to touch base with you.

O'BRIEN, (voice-over): Jim Letten is very familiar with that history.

LETTEN: That's the rubbing of my great-grandfather's name.

O'BRIEN: The self-described local boy, now U.S. attorney, is convinced that corruption is at the root of virtually every major problem in this city.

LETTEN: I can tell you that corruption clearly has fed the cycle of poverty. I think it has prevented this city from growing. It has caused this city to shrink and lose industry and commerce. I can tell you without question, anybody will tell you this that knows this city and knows urban problems that the corruption the city experienced and tolerated, I think, has exacerbated the crime problem immeasurably.

O'BRIEN: When Letten was a federal prosecutor in 2000, he convicted ex-governor Edwin Edwards on 17 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering.

LETTEN: That was taken just minutes after I did the opening statement in the Edwin Edwards trial.

O'BRIEN: Edwards is still in prison. As U.S. attorney, Letten has charged more than 200 people, among those, the brother and sister of a U.S. Congressman accused of skimming from charities for poor teenagers. They pled not guilty. A former president of the school board, she pled guilty to taking bribes, 28 school aides and teachers convicted of inflating the number of hours they worked in one of the most impoverished, poorly-performing school districts in the country.

LETTEN: That type of looting of the school system denied efficiency to that system, which denied adequate public education to the kids, especially from our poor communities, who depended on that system.

O'BRIEN: Perhaps the most shocking, the guilty plea from the former president of the city council for taking bribes.

OLIVER THOMAS, FORMER CITY COUNCIL PRES.: I am immediately announcing my resignation.

O'BRIEN: Oliver Thomas gained national attention following Katrina. Many thought he would be New Orleans's next mayor.

(on camera): Oliver Thomas, was that a surprise? You worked with him.

LETTEN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That was a surprise, big surprise.

LETTEN: Surprise and a disappointment.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Letten has had a high degree of success.

(on camera): And how many of those turned into convictions or guilty pleas?

LETTEN: We have something like, actually, probably a conviction rate in the high 90s here, 90 percent. And probably 90 -- in trial, a 99 percent conviction rate, I suspect.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Letten works closely with Bob Cerasoli and believes the new inspector general will make a huge difference in New Orleans.

(on camera): Do you desperately need Bob Cerasoli here?

LETTEN: Yes.

CERASOLI: A lot of people expecting a lot. It's very hard. It's sometimes overwhelming.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): If you can't tell by the accent, Bob Cerasoli is from Boston, where he uncovered mismanagement and fraud in that city's "Big dig," the country's most expensive highway project ever at $15 billion.

CERASOLI: I don't know if I can accept it.

O'BRIEN: He's so scrupulous, he won't even accept a pen as a thank you gift.

CERASOLI: I have to give you the pen.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Why do you think you're here?

CERASOLI: I don't know. I don't know why I'm here.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): At first, Cerasoli wasn't interested in a job in the Big Easy. But after his 93-year-old mother died, Cerasoli, a deeply religious man, decided God wanted him in New Orleans.

CERASOLI: I said yes without even asking Sally (ph).

O'BRIEN: It took nine months, but Cerasoli is finally ready to launch the car investigation. It's the first thing on his very long list. He wants to make sure that the taxes tourists pay are making it into the city coffers, and he wants to determine exactly what the city owns. Cerasoli claims New Orleans doesn't have accurate records.

CERASOLI: I would venture to say that the city of New Orleans truly does not know what it owns.

O'BRIEN: Real estate?

CERASOLI: Real estate.

O'BRIEN: Stuff?

CERASOLI: Real estate.

O'BRIEN: Computers?

CERASOLI: And movable...

O'BRIEN: Phones?

CERASOLI: Movable property also, yes.

O'BRIEN: How unusual is it for a city that's full of computers and phones and desks and stuff, and of course, then real estate, to not really have a clue about what it actually owns?

CERASOLI: It's very unusual.

O'BRIEN: There are records, says the city's chief administrative officer. She claims each department is responsible for keeping its own inventory. Is there rampant corruption in New Orleans today?

CERASOLI: I have seen what I believe is corruption and those things are being investigated, but I can't say -- I can't quantify it right now because there is a process that is involved here.

O'BRIEN: Cerasoli believes public corruption, stealing from the government is directly linked to street crime.

CERASOLI: It affects the poor most of all because the poor are least likely to get services from the government that has to provide services. When people can't get good education, when they have no hope of getting out of their circumstances, when they can't even get the basic resources, it actually feeds crime. It gives people a reason to have crime. Desperation and hopelessness breeds crime. There's no question about it.

O'BRIEN: Just ahead, an execution in broad daylight and no one says a word.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: April 17th, Guy Mcquein (ph) is murdered in broad daylight, just one block from an elementary school. He had just turned 20. On a big case like this, lead detective Harold Wischan and his partner, Anthony Pardo can expect to work a 30-hour shift.

Can I have the title number for the signal 30?

O'BRIEN: Signal 30, cop lingo for homicide.

He was shot multiple times.

Got him.

Got him, here we go.

O'BRIEN: There are witnesses and plenty of evidence. AK-47 and 9 millimeter pistol rounds are scattered across the crime scene. Mcquein is well known to police. He was a witness in a high-profile murder case just the week before.

Some people might do that math and say he was shot because he testified in that case?

People are saying that, but the information we're receiving is that's not what took place.

O'BRIEN: Mcquein testified in the 2006 murder of Darrell Shaver (ph). Shaver was a band teacher and a drummer in the popular Hot 8 Brass Band (ph), a local hero. Shaver was shot in the head while driving his car. With him, his wife, stepson and his stepson's friend, Guy Mcquein. Shaver's killing, along with the murder of French quarter resident Helen Hill enraged New Orleanians. Thousands vented their anger. At the rally, Shaver's little sister, Nikita (ph) spoke to the crowd. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was amazing the response that I got and how many people were actually listening. I guess at that time, I realized I kind of had a voice. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, everyone.

O'BRIEN: Nikita took a semester off from college to become active in Silence is Violence, a citizen's group fighting crime in New Orleans. Six months after her brother's murder, the case was collapsing. Nobody would testify against the prime suspect, 19-year- old David Bonds (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't do it. It's a bad challenge.

O'BRIEN: But public pressure prevailed and the case went to trial. Yolanda Adams is the mother of Darrell Shaver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A young lady that was the main witness, the testimony that they were depending on, she just freaked out, said she didn't see him in court. Said she must need glasses because she just didn't see him.

O'BRIEN: Guy Mcquein testified he was in the car, but never claimed to be the shooter. The teenage girl considered the main witness failed to identify Bonds in court. The press reported a claim by one juror of witness intimidation during the trial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was told he saw David Bonds doing this gesture when the little girl was testifying.

O'BRIEN: The gesture of a gun. Bonds' attorney disputes that.

WILLIAM BOGGS, NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC DEFENDER: I can say confidently that that did not happen.

O'BRIEN: David Bonds was found not guilty. And now, a week later, the search is on for the killer of Guy Mcquein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoever finds whoever first, just take them down.

O'BRIEN: Detectives Wischan and Pardo hope to make an arrest tonight. They go house to house in search of a murder weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could be a crack house. Police.

O'BRIEN: Open doors lead nowhere. Around 3:00 a.m. --

SGT. JOSEPH CATALANOTTO, NOPD HOMICIDE: It's over for the night. We have some specific things that we need to do that can't happen tonight. It can only happen in the morning so we'll go home and refuel.

O'BRIEN: Wischan and Pardo run into a wall of silence. So how many eyewitnesses would you estimate you had on this block?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the information we received, probably maybe 15 people outside, 20 people.

O'BRIEN: Fifteen or 20 people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody will say anything.

O'BRIEN: Really, what do they tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't see anything.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think they're reluctant to talk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fear.

O'BRIEN: Of retaliation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: To this day, the Mcquein case has not been solved. Coming up, in hot pursuit of justice. Let's roll.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

O'BRIEN: New Orleans in spring means Jazz Fest, good times, great music. But just around the corner, the tough side of the Big Easy. Where NOPD homicide detectives and some two dozen SWAW team members prepare to arrest a suspect.

Let's roll.

The chase rolls through mid city. New Orleans is a place where violence can be blamed in part on the number of unemployed and undereducated young adults.

SUPT. WARREN RILEY, NOPD: We have youth that are coming back to the city that are unsupervised, they're not with their parents so we have a lot more juvenile crime right now.

O'BRIEN: Katrina may have led to more unsupervised kids, but many believe generations of poverty and corruption are at the root of the problems here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where we sold drugs out of, this alley. We sold drugs out of this yard too.

O'BRIEN: Alvin Williams (ph) and Darrell Warren (ph) were small- time drug dealers, known as 6 Word Cook (ph) and S Force 5 (ph), they now run an independent record label and a store.

Tell me a little bit about your arrests that you have had. Drug crimes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Like what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine.

O'BRIEN: And how about you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Possession, possession of 200 grams of cocaine.

O'BRIEN: How much is 200 grams?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a whole lot of cocaine.

O'BRIEN: Its street value, around $25,000. Cook says he was framed. Like so many here, the two started fathering children as teenagers. They say they needed to make money to support their young families and they chose to sell drugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My baby need pampers, my mama needs help over here, you know, got to pay the rent, just so many things that are coming at you at a young age and you're just trying to tackle them as much as you could.

O'BRIEN: They don't trust the police who they say target them and they're resentful of a city government where it can seem like everyone has a hand in the till.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the money never goes where it's supposed to go, and the poor people got to pay for it. And a lack of education, a lack of knowledge is what's causing all this murder and all this stuff that's going on.

O'BRIEN: Cook and Seth attended New Orleans public schools. Before Katrina, half were rated academically unacceptable by the Louisiana Department of Education. Another quarter, only slightly better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If children have other opportunities coming up, they don't have to turn into those violent lives.

O'BRIEN: Police Chief Warren Riley has a similar view.

RILEY: And we are now dealing with the consequences of those youth who have been neglected for a very, very long time.

O'BRIEN: On the streets, Detective Pardo battles the consequences, one crime at a time. We're with him in late April during that 80-mile-per-hour car chase pursuing a murder suspect. When it ends, 20-year-old John Royard (ph) is under arrest.

Was he surprised?

ANTHONY PARDO, NOPD HOMICIDE: Yeah, he was.

O'BRIEN: Did he say anything? PARDO: He wanted to -- for me to call his mother. I think was the only thing he really said. But he's an adult and he's going to the homicide office now for an interview. And once his interview is complete, then we're going to be booking him into lockup.

O'BRIEN: Royard is wanted for the murder of 23-year-old Ryan McClure (ph).

PARDO: He was located right here behind this partition wall.

O'BRIEN: The motive, police say, robbery. McClure had fancy rims on his truck. Three days later, Pardo and Wischan have located the man they now suspect is the shooter. The SWAT team goes in again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down!

PARDO: The subject arrested was Maxey Jones (ph). We believe he was the shooter in the murder.

O'BRIEN: Maxey Jones is Royard's uncle. Detective Pardo can't wait to tell Ryan McClure's mother.

Did you ever give up hope?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You gave up hope?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not completely, not completely.

O'BRIEN: Rhonda McClure (ph) is Ryan's mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He loved to hunt and fish.

O'BRIEN: A boy's boy, she says, Ryan was her only child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the hardest one to look at. It tells you everything about him that was so special.

O'BRIEN: He looks happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was. He was very happy. He had a happy life. And we miss him terribly. We miss him terribly.

O'BRIEN: Two major arrests in 72 hours. And a case that sat dormant for months now goes to prosecutors.

What's your confidence level that this case will end in conviction?

PARDO: I'm always confident. You can't not be.

O'BRIEN: It turns out you can be too confident. Coming up, a success story goes sour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: In New Orleans, even when arrests are made, justice can be elusive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, it's not a success story. They say that these two people did not kill my son, then who did?

O'BRIEN: John Royard and his uncle, Maxey Jones were held for nearly 120 days, the amount of time the DA's office has to charge or release an accused felon. They were never charged in Ryan McClure's murder. A grand jury failed to indict. Royard and Jones both walked free. Detective Pardo is still convinced Royard and Jones are guilty. He promises to work hard to get both men charged and convicts.

PARDO: All hope is not lost. Hopefully it will go in the right direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have faith in Detective Pardo. I don't have faith in the New Orleans district attorney's office at this point, no.

O'BRIEN: The DA's office won't comment on cases that could still go before the grand jury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When a cop came, I already knew he was dead.

O'BRIEN: It's now been more than two years since the murder of Nadine Finnister's (ph) son Mandell Duplecet (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The judicial system is the problem here. Yes, murder is the problem, crime is the problem, but that's everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Darrell Smith's (ph) shelf.

O'BRIEN: Assistant D.A. Mary Glass is trying to keep her promise to lock up Darrell Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was him when he was arrested in the back of the squad car.

O'BRIEN: He's one of the suspects in the Duplecet killing.

UNIDENTIIFED FEMALE: He looks a little cocky for having just been arrested.

O'BRIEN: Darrell Smith was arrested in late June after disappearing from court in April. At the time, he was facing a criminal damage to property charge, a third-degree felony. Glass added a more serious charge to Smith's damage to property charge, felon with a firearm. Possible sentence? Ten to 15 years. But Smith's attorney had the firearms charge thrown out. Glass didn't give up. She charged him with a lesser crime. It's not enough for Mandell's mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I am not satisfied that Darrell is arrested on some kind of gun charge and not on a murder charge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you do it?

CERASOLI: We are bringing in people who know what they are doing.

O'BRIEN: Bob Cerasoli has been on the job for a year now. His staff has grown almost a dozen employees. He is trying to wrap up his investigation and to free cars and gas.

O'BRIEN: Do you think the job is just too big even if you had a staff of 100? Is it just too big? New Orleans, this has been the way it's been for hundreds years.

CERASOLI: Some mornings, I don't know how I wake up. As long as we can achieve something, I think there is hope.

O'BRIEN: And hope is essential here. If the Big Easy can't reduce the corruption, it will have a difficult time reducing the crime. And both keep residents and businesses from returning.

Is it as simple as listen, if you can bring back jobs, if you can put the money into a school system which can in turn serve students better, who can in turn get an education, who can in turn go onto college and not to have to go to drugs. I mean, is it literally that kind of story?

LETTEN: My short answer is largely yes. This city will survive, but I will tell you right now, the city, the struggle for this city's recovery, its long-term survival as the New Orleans we know, is being decided every day.

O'BRIEN: Can you win?

LETTEN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: No hesitation, you can win.

LETTEN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Bob Cerasoli needs to succeed and so do the rest of our foot soldiers. Their efforts may be producing success. The total number of homicides in New Orleans by mid-November is 164 murders, 25 fewer than the same time last year. A big improvement.

It's also 102 more murders since those days in April since seven young men were killed in 72 hours.

Tanya and Mary say they are still confident they made the right decision when they returned to the DA's office a year ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of all up to practice. My biggest problem is turning together off when I walk in the door. And I'm working very hard on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't give up being a happy homemaker which is what I did for the last seven years before last July if I didn't believe in what I was doing.

O'BRIEN: They both work for a new district attorney since Keva Landrum-Johnson , whose appointment was considered a turning point in the fight against crime in New Orleans, left to become a judge. The new DA is former judge Leon Canazarro (ph). He'd like to steer lesser crimes to diversion programs, leaving prosecutors and judges to focus on violent crime. Harold Wischan and Anthony Pardo remain focused and upbeat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a tough job. It makes it tougher when you don't have anyone to cooperate with. But I think we are making headway and I think we can get this under control. The more murderers were put in jail, the more forward progress we are making with these homicides, that's a step in the right direction.

O'BRIEN: One step at a time, one crime at a time.

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