Louisiana’s legislature has formed a task force to look into the state’s indigent defense system, reports The Advocate in Baton Rouge. Attorneys say high profile trials like the current one involving alleged serial killer Derrick Todd Lee have drained funds across the board for public defenders. Baton Rouge defense attorney Jim Boren said the lack of funds often leads to innocent people being convicted. “Louisiana is one of the absolute worst states in terms of providing resources to people charged with a crime when they’re poor,” he said.
The Indigent Defenders Task Force is scheduled to meet on Thursday. DNA expert Barry Scheck may address the group on the need for more money for defending those who cannot afford it. Boren said money is the key to keeping innocent people out of jail. Attorneys with the organization Project Innocence said Louisiana needs a major overhaul of the way it provides legal counsel to the poor. The group said many public defenders handle more handle more than five times the recommended caseload. Boren said the result is innocent people like Ryan Matthews spending years in jail for crimes they did not commit. Matthews walked out of a New Orleans courtroom yesterday after almost eight years in jail. He had been convicted of a 1997 murder, but DNA experts discovered that DNA from a ski mask found at the crime scene belonged to another man serving a manslaughter sentence for an unrelated killing.