In death, Oscar Fuselier might finally see some justice. The 58-year-old disabled war veteran was beaten unconscious this past summer in an Orleans Parish Prison cell. Fuselier never regained consciousness and died two weeks later in a University Hospital room. Although his 18-year-old suspected killer was charged with assaulting Fuselier in a holding cell, the charge was later dismissed after the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office failed to indict the suspect within 60 days of his arrest.
As reported in Gambit Weekly ('Traffic Fatality," Sept. 18, 2007), Fuselier, who was being held in Orleans Parish Prison on a traffic warrant, allegedly was assaulted in his holding cell by armed robbery suspect Richard Jackson. Although four inmates witnessed the crime on July 26, the assault charge against Jackson was dismissed on Sept. 27 because the DA's office failed to accept the case within the required 60 days. Jackson remained in jail, however, because the DA accepted the previous armed robbery charge against him.
Arrestees who aren't free on bail must be released from jail after 60 days if the DA's office hasn't formally accepted charges against them. Such releases are called '701 releases" because they are required under Article 701 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure. Joseph Raspanti, a criminal defense lawyer who once served as an Orleans Parish assistant DA, says 701 releases are designed to guarantee a person's right to a speedy trial.
'You can't just hold someone indefinitely," Raspanti says. 'If someone is in jail, you have 60 days to decide, but you can still prosecute him or her later if that person has to be released under Article 701."
When Gambit Weekly called the Orleans Parish DA's office last October to ask why the charge against Jackson was not accepted, Dalton Savwoir, spokesperson for the DA's office, said the office hadn't received any information about the case from the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office, which investigated the slaying. Criminal sheriff's spokesperson Renee Lapeyrolerie responded to Savwoir's claim, saying, '[Jackson] was rebooked in the system, so I don't know what report they're talking about."
Whatever the case may be, the sheriff's report on the Fuselier assault is now in the hands of the DA's office, which is considering whether to charge Jackson. Because Fuselier likely died as a result of the assault, Savwoir says the DA's office hasn't decided what charges " murder, manslaughter or assault " might be filed against Jackson.
Meanwhile, Savwoir says the number of 701 releases has plummeted since the beginning of 2007, which recorded 580 releases for last January alone. Last month, there were six such releases in Orleans Parish.
'The agreement that we forged with NOPD has really worked," Savwoir says.