Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro spoke out for the first time Wednesday about one of the most controversial cases of the past year.
Cannizzaro said his office was justified in dropping the prosecution of Merritt Landry for shooting a 14-year-old last July inside his fenced yard.
Cannizzaro said Marshall Coulter's arrests for burglary and attempted burglary - incidents that were captured on surveillance tape a year after he was shot - were factors in his decision not to prosecute Landry.
"Things that we were told during the investigation - he could not speak to us, that he could only speak in syllables, that he was not able to move around - based on that, the credibility of our case fell apart," said Cannizzaro.
Cannizzaro also said Coulter's past made it a tough case to prosecute. Grand jury documents obtained by FOX 8, show that Coulter had six prior arrests.
"In addition to that, an officer placed a warrant in the computer after he learned of Marshall Coulter's recent arrest for events that took place prior to the Landry event, when someone broke into another house, and there was a struggle over a gun, that resulted in an aggravated burglary warrant being issued against Coulter," Cannizzaro said.
There was never any dispute that Coulter was inside Landry's fenced and locked side yard, but Cannizzaro said for the first time publicly that there were signs that Coulter may have tried to break into the Landry home.
"There is evidence he was attempting to enter into his home because prints and DNA evidence was in the shutters outside the home," Cannizzaro said.
Landry explained to investigators that before he shot Coulter, he told the teen not to move. Landry said he thought he saw Coulter make a move, and that's when he pulled the trigger.
The 911 tapes, released to our partners at NOLA.com, record what happened next:
Landry: I came outside and found this guy in my yard. I just shot him. He's, he's down.
911 operator: You know where he's shot?
Landry: He's shot in the head.
911: He's shot in the head?
Later the operator asked:
Sir, is he awake?
Landry: Nah, he's not awake.
The DA said he didn't believe Landry could be successfully prosecuted.
"So there are essentially three charges against him at this time in Juvenile Court, and essentially I didn't believe we could go in court and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Merritt Landry was, in fact, responsible. That he did attempt to kill him and that his actions weren't, in fact, justified," Cannizzaro said.
Landry has since resumed his job with the city, but has moved from the Mandeville Street home, where the shooting occurred.
Coulter, now 15 years old, is being prosecuted for burglary and attempted burglary. The DA said his competency to stand trial has become an issue to be settled by the court.
Through a public records request, FOX 8 obtained copies of a police report that shows Coulter had six prior arrests. We also received a ballistics report that shows Coulter was shot in the back of the head.
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