A New Orleans jury on Friday convicted a man of rape and attempted assault, the first case in which prosecutors have invoked Louisiana’s common criminals statute since District Attorney Jason Williams took office more than two years ago.
But the prosecution’s move should be used if the man was found guilty of more serious crimes and the jury, after deliberating for about four hours, convicted him of lesser crimes. It was unclear whether prosecutors would seek to penalize the convictions with the harsher punishment under the Habitual Offenders Act.
The jury found 33-year-old Orlando Brown guilty of third-degree rape and attempted domestic abuse. He had been charged with second-degree rape and domestic violence.
Prosecutors had announced in a letter to Brown’s defense attorneys their intention to use the habitual offender law – a tool that significantly increases prison sentences for those with prior felony convictions and leaves judges little opportunity to intervene. They offered Brown a 20-year sentence if he agreed to plead guilty to the charges. Had Brown been convicted of second-degree rape, he would have faced 40 years in prison.
Instead, Brown turned down the offer and his trial began Thursday.
A third-degree rape conviction has a sentence range of zero to 25 years. If prosecutors opt for the habitual offender statute, also known as the multiple statute, Brown faces a mandatory 25-year prison sentence — and could face a life sentence.
When running for office, Williams vowed to eliminate the use of multiple billing. It has been used liberally by previous prosecutors to encourage pleadings and improve prison sentences, and was banned from use in Williams’ office until last week, when he said he had reversed course to halt rising crime.
“Remember Her Testimony”
During Brown’s trial, prosecutors said that on August 28, 2021, he walked into a former partner’s home uninvited, held her with the knife, then punched and finally raped her.
As he made his closing argument and begged the jury to find Brown guilty, Assistant District Attorney Corbin Bates asked them to recall the testimony of the survivors – specifically, “how he threatened her when she tried to flee: ‘B -tch, you keep running, I’ll break your jaw.”
On the day of the attack, street cameras caught the survivor running naked outside. “We can’t imagine what it was like in her shoes,” Bates said, “but we can recall what she said.”
Brown was previously convicted of four felonies, record show, including domestic violence.
“It Must Be True”
Public Defender Michael Gregory disputed the reliability of the survivors’ account, pointing to a number of inconsistencies between their initial call to 911 and their testimony in court.
“This case is about one thing and one thing only: It’s about the word of one person – one witness – who has shown in the last two days that he has repeatedly lied to you,” he said.
Gregory also accused prosecutors of only introducing Brown’s criminal history to sway the jury and bolster recent charges against his client. “For the state,” he told the jury, “it’s simple: [Brown] has committed domestic violence before; so he did it again. It must be true.”
Judge Benedict Willard is scheduled to sentence Brown on March 23. Only after his initial conviction can prosecutors — if they choose — officially file a multiple bill against Brown.