Thursday, 17 April 2014

Vincent Simmons: The Louisiana Whipping Boy

Warning: This article contains racial epithets and explicit details of rape.

May 9, 1977. It's a little after 9:00 pm at the 9-11 gas station in Marksville, Louisiana. 20-years-old Keith Laborde and his twin cousins 14-years-old Sharon and Karen Sanders have stopped for gas.

As Keith pulls his car into the parking lot, he notices a young black man staring at him. Keith gets out of the car, approaches the man and asks him if there is a problem.

The man answers in an aggressive manner. He says he is annoyed because he thinks Keith almost ran him over as he was parking his car. Keith says that he did no such thing and asks the man if he wants to fight. The man replies that, "I don't fight, I shoot."

Despite the disagreement, they shake hands and Keith offers the man a ride, which he accepts.

Little California Road, Marksville
The two girls get into the passenger seat next to Keith. The stranger gets into the rear of the car and directs Keith to a remote location. The girls are beginning to get nervous when the man tells Keith to turn into Little California Road, and orders him to stop the car and turn off the engine.

The man flashes a large handgun, takes the keys and orders Keith to get into the trunk of the car. Turning to the two girls, he tells them to undress. Karen tries to run away but is caught and also locked in the trunk.

The man then vaginally rapes Sharon Sanders. When he's finished he puts her in the trunk with her sister and cousin and drives to a second location. On arrival, Karen Sanders is dragged from the trunk, threatened with a switch-blade and then raped anally and vaginally. The man then drives to a third location with Karen sitting next to him in the passenger seat. Again, he stops the car, rapes her anally and forces her to perform oral sex on him.

Marksville, LA.
The man then gets a tool from the trunk and "pops" one of the tires. Nobody seems to know why. He then makes Karen write their names down on a piece of paper and tells them he will come after them if they tell anybody what has happened. Finally, they drop the man off at a pay phone and drive to their grandparents' house, where they stay the night.

The girls do not tell anybody about the incident until almost two weeks later on May 22, 1977, when Karen Sanders tells her first cousin. The incident is reported to the police on the same day. Sharon and Karen Sanders tell Sheriff "Potch" Didier, Major Fabius Didier, Captain Floyd Juneau and Deputy Barbara DeCuir of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's office that, "...a black man raped us."

While inside the police station, they wrongly identify another black man as their attacker. When asked why they picked this particular man out they say, "All niggers look the same to us."

They provide a basic description. "Black, short hair, 160 lbs, 5-8", age 19-20. Color of eyes. Not known. They cannot name the alleged rapist because according to their first statements, neither Keith, Sharon nor Karen ever hear the man mention his name.

At 9:00 am the next day, May 23, 1977, Vincent Simmons is walking down Waddil Street in Marksville when a police patrol car stops alongside him. Captain Floyd Juneau and Lieutenant Robert Laborde (a relative of Keith Laborde) arrest Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape. They do not have a reliable description, an arrest warrant or a probable cause to justify taking Vincent Simmons into custody.

At the police station, Captain Melvin Villemarette organizes a line-up that consists of seven black men and a lone white man, who looks slightly bemused by events.

The photograph (left) shows Vincent Simmons holding the number 4. He is the only man in the line-up that is wearing handcuffs. Keith Laborde and the twins, who are hidden from view behind a glass screen, point at number 4 as the knife wielding black man who raped them at gunpoint on Little California Road two weeks previously. Despite their crass remark that "...all niggers look the same to us," not only do they immediately recognize Vincent Simmons they also remember his name.

There are two versions detailing what happens next. According to a police statement, Vincent Simmons is taken from the line-up, still in handcuffs, to an ID room where he is to be advised of the charges against him.

According to Lieutenant Robert Laborde, Vincent Simmons, despite being handcuffed, scuffles with Captain Melvin Villemarette and manages to get hold of the officer's gun. See Laborde's statement right.

Simmons now points the gun at the officers and shouts, "I ain't going to take this God damn rap." He fires the 9 mm pistol four times; good fortune smiles on the officers because the gun misfires - four times. Lieutenant Laborde draws his .38 Smith & Wesson and shoots Vincent Simmons in the chest just above his heart. The alleged rapist collapses to the floor and is rushed to hospital, still in handcuffs. He is admitted to the intensive care unit.

This shooting is never investigated, Vincent Simmons is not charged with threatening behavior and none of the officers' present are ever required to explain their actions. Strangely, not one of the officers' involved in the shooting take the stand at the subsequent trial.

And Vincent Simmons never makes a statement.

With regard to the incident in the ID room, Simmons tells a completely different story. "I was taken to another section of the jail, still wearing the handcuffs. One of the arresting officers told me to make a statement admitting the crime of rape. I told him I wasn't going to do that because I didn't rape anybody.

I was kicked and beaten by the two officers and then asked if I was ready to talk. When I refused, one of the officers drew his gun and pointed it at me. I heard a shot, then felt a burning in my chest before hitting the floor. I don't remember anything else until I woke up in the hospital."

Barely recovered from his gunshot wound, he now faces trial by jury, held on July 19 and 20, 1977. He is charged with two counts of attempted aggravated rape. Other than the testimony of Keith Laborde, and Sharon and Karen Sanders, there is no physical evidence offered against Vincent Simmons. Not a single fingerprint nor a strand of hair or a fiber of clothing is recovered from the car that Vincent Simmons allegedly drove around for more than an hour.

Sharon Sanders alleges that her underwear was stained with blood and semen. Unfortunately, both girls wash all their clothes, including the underwear, thoroughly - and then wait two weeks to report being violently raped by a black man holding a switch-blade knife and a large gun.

Even in 1977, detailed forensic evidence was available to investigation officers. If Vincent Simmons was in that car and raped those girls, he would have left fingerprints everywhere, not to mention a host of bodily fluids. No forensic evidence was found in the car or it would have been placed before the court.

Indeed, no physical evidence of any sort was offered against Vincent Simmons. For reasons that became obvious at a later date, even the girls' medical reports, conducted by the Coroner of Avoyelles Parish, F.P. Bordelon, were withheld by the prosecution. Apart from the complete lack of any physical evidence, the prosecution also contravene all the rules of court procedure by revealing Vincent Simmons previous criminal convictions. A breach of protocol that should, at the very least, have led to a retrial.

But it didn't. Nothing the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department or Louisiana Justice System did, rightly or wrongly, seems to make much difference to this case. Somebody had to go down for the alleged rape of the two sisters, and Vincent Simmons, who acknowledges he was not a pillar of society, was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

With no physical evidence and several witnesses testifying that Vincent Simmons was elsewhere at the time of the alleged rape, there is more than a reasonable doubt as to the perpetrator's identity.

It makes no difference. He is convicted solely on the testimony of the alleged victims. The jury, despite knowing the severity of the sentence for attempted aggravated rape, is out for less than one hour before returning with a guilty verdict. On July 28, 1977, Vincent Alfred Simmons is sentenced to 50 years on each count, to run consecutively. He will serve 100 years.

There is a question that bothers most people who read about this case. Why did the prosecution withhold the medical reports? Surely, the reports would have been the smoking gun that proved Vincent Simmons' guilt. Not really. It was more than twenty years later in 1997 before Vincent Simmons manages to acquire the medical reports that were hidden from the court.

Had the jury known the content contained in these reports, they would surely have found Vincent Simmons innocent of all charges. Considering both girls say they were violently raped at gunpoint, both vaginally and anally, F.P. Bordelon, the coroner who examined the girls, found no bruises on either of them. He also wrote the following about Sharon Sanders: "There were no bruises on her body. The vaginal examination showed that the hymen was intact and I was unable to insert one examining finger."

Now we know why these medical reports were never used by the prosecution, and, more to the point, why they were never made available to the defense. It really couldn't be any clearer.

When Sharon Sanders was examined on June 10, 1977, she was still a virgin.

The Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department investigation into the rape of Karen and Sharon Sanders transgressed just about every protocol of recognized police procedure, turning it into an organized witch-hunt, which descended upon the head of the first black man they placed in the frame - the unfortunate Vincent Simmons, who just happened to be strolling through Marksville one sunny day.

The District Attorney's Office now joined the police in the deceit by withholding documents from the court and denying Simmons a constructive defense. The documents are eventually released twenty years later under duress, documents that would have created reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury members. This was not an indiscriminate, or thoughtless oversight, it was the kind of oversight engineered behind closed doors, the kind of mistake that requires a special effort by misguided people in positions of power. There are just too many anomalies for it to have been anything other than orchestrated.

Anomalies such as:

(1) The police did not interview one independent witness to validate the statements given by Keith Laborde and Sharon and Karen Sanders, statements that changed significantly when they took the witness stand.

(2) The defense did not conduct any pre-trial investigations. They allowed the prosecution to portray Karen and Sharon Sanders as two little girls who were pure and innocent.

In fact, both girls were suspended from their school, they both used drugs (Karen admitted to carrying dope in her bra) and they stole the petrol they put in the car on the night of May 9, 1977.

(3) Karen Sanders stated that she left her panties behind on Little California Road. They were never recovered. Police records now indicate that neither the car nor the area around Little California Road was ever searched for evidence. Which was why forensic evidence was thin on the ground and the justice system had to rely on the uncorroborated and contradictory evidence of two minors.

(4) For instance. On the witness stand, Karen and Sharon Sanders testified that the assailant waved a gun around and threatened them with a switch-blade. In the initial statement given to police on May 22, 1977, no mention is made of any weapons being brandished by the assailant.

(5) In the initial statement the name of the assailant is not known because Keith Laborde and the two sisters state categorically that names were never mentioned. However, on the witness stand both girls contradict themselves by testifying that the assailant used the name "Simmons" on several occasions. The defense counsel does not raise an objection to the obvious discrepancy between statement and testimony. Several further discrepancies are allowed to stand unchallenged.

(6) Keith Laborde and Karen and Sharon Sanders gave a description of the assailant that was so lacking in detail as to be meaningless - and yet, Vincent Simmons was arrested and then picked out of a line-up by two girls who had just stated they couldn't really describe what the alleged rapist looked like because "...all niggers look the same to us."

Doesn't that last statement tell you all you need to know about these people?

To understand exactly what is happening to an innocent man, one has to have seen the parole hearing that Vincent Simmons attended in 1997. You can see it here. It was part of an HBO documentary called "The Farm" filmed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. If slavery was still in operation today this is what it would look like.

Take a good look at the two men below. If they had been wearing pointy hats in KKK white they could not have been more overtly racist. It is unbelievable that these men hold the fate of so many in their grubby hands. If you want to see red-neck racists in action, watch these two jokers discuss a man's future.

Despite Vincent Simmons showing them the line-up picture with the handcuffs and the newly released medical reports, and explaining in great detail what happened when he was shot in the chest by one of the Sheriff's deputies, it took these two morons less than a minute to deny parole and send Vincent Simmons back to his cell for another twenty years.

There was also a token black man on the parole board panel. But having been verbally bullied by Louisiana's answer to Itchy and Scratchy, he had so little of consequence to contribute to the decision that his presence was irrelevant.

There are just so many anomalies about this miscarriage of justice that it is not practical to list them all in this article. The word that keeps popping up is why. Why did the Sheriff's Department not investigate the crime in a professional manner? Why did the legal system deny this man justice in 1977? Why is the State of Louisiana still denying him justice now?

What is it we still haven't found out about this case? What is it that we don't know?

Vincent Simmons never made a statement about the events that occurred on the night of May 9, 1977, in Little California Road, Marksville, Louisiana. He couldn't.

He wasn't there.

Update: August 23, 2014. 
The following comment was placed by Christopher S.
"I am from Marksville and have experienced first hand the overt racism and overall incompetence of the Parish. A blind man can see the opposite of justice was committed against Vincent Simmons, the area is so behind time, it's sad that this took place in '77 it seems more like something that would have occurred in '57. I pray that Vincent is FREED from SLAVERY soon!!"

Update: October 21, 2014
by Rob Hamilton  
A recent comment (published in the comments section) suggested that the article you have just read was "slanted". I guess the writer was implying that I was trying to weight the evidence in Vincent Simmons' favor, which is, of course, complete nonsense. 
I reported the facts that are in the public domain and available to anybody who is interested in this case. 
Below is a public domain copy of Sharon Sanders' medical report following the alleged rape. The prosecution never entered this crucial document into evidence nor did they offer it to the defense as exculpatory evidence. It was only discovered 20 years later in 1998 when the police case files were opened.

Click to enlarge
The relevant section. Click to enlarge
At the very least, this medical report alone should have guaranteed Vincent Simmons a retrial. Combined with other evidence detailing a miscarriage of justice, Vincent Simmons should have been exonerated and released more than twenty-five years ago. Will somebody from the Louisiana Department of Justice, preferably the Attorney General, please explain why this man is still languishing in a prison cell after nearly 40 years? 
Is there something about this case that the Attorney General knows that we don't? Is something preventing Vincent Simmons getting the justice he deserves? If so, what the hell is it?

Update: July 17, 2015 
by Rob Hamilton  
In the above paragraph I asked two questions: "Is there something about this case the Attorney General knows that we don't? Is something preventing Vincent Simmons getting the justice he deserves?" 
The comment below was left by an anonymous reader on July 17, 2015, and he or she may have inadvertently answered why Vincent Simmons never got a fair trial in 1977 and why he still languishes in prison after nearly forty years of incarceration.

Comment by an Anonymous reader 
"This is breath taking. How many times do we witness a black male's misfortunes at the hands of these white women. It is so evident that the twins were covering up some inappropriate behavior that took place between them and their cousin Keith. If one is so horrified by the supposedly rape by a black man why wait 2 weeks before reporting to authorities. 
However, working in an all black school doesn't mean anything, it's only a cover up because they sat in front of a black man with the parole board and stated they are scared of all black people. School district needs to get them out because they don't mean well for those innocent black children. 
I'm sure Keith was having sex with them but had to protect himself. I would like to know how can we get this man a fair trial. It's one thing to be sentenced to 100 years if you did the crime, of course you have to pay. But to spend the rest of your life in prison innocent is unconstitutional. 
Sharon and Karen will never have good luck because this man's life is in their hands. Why don't y'all find God and admit to falsely accusing this innocent man. Guess what, there are such things as generational curses and y'all might think y'all got away with murder. But the God I serve don't sleep and karma doesn't either. Stay blessed Mr. Simmons, you have my support."

What we didn't know - we do now!
John Keith Laborde died of a heart attack on April 22, 2010 while on active service in Afghanistan with the Army Reserve. When I wrote the original article I did not know that Keith Laborde was serving in the United States Marine Corp at the time of the alleged rapes in Marksville, nobody did because it was never mentioned in the court transcripts, or anywhere else for that matter. 
In court, his age was stated as 18-years-old, but he was actually born March 2, 1957, making him 20-years-old at that time.
We know Sharon Sanders was a virgin and we also know that Karen Sanders was sexually active. On the night of May 9, 1977, did Keith Laborde have consensual sex with his 14-year-old cousin, Karen? 
Did he then, quite rightly, realize that underage sex with his cousin would damage his burgeoning career in the military, or even get him jail time?
Of course he did. 
So, two weeks after his night in Little California Road, Keith, aided and abetted by Karen and Sharon Sanders, concocted a fantastic story about a crazy black man raping the two girls and threatening him with a knife and a gun. Their story changes so much from the original statement given to the Sheriff (who just happened to be a relative of Keith) to their court testimony, that it can only be a complete fabrication.
And how much forensic evidence was there to back up this incredible story of multiple rapes and sexual deviancy? Absolutely none. There was no DNA testing then, but they did have forensics - this was 1977, not 1877 - and yet not one scrap of evidence was discovered in the car or in Little California Road. Why? Because "investigating officers" did not look. If they had conducted a proper investigation they would have found nothing to incriminate anybody but the three cousins. 
So, perhaps they did look and then discarded what they found because it didn't fit the story. In fact, the only story to be told is that Vincent Simmons was the innocent victim, and, forty years later, he still is.
It should be noted that Keith Laborde went on to serve his country with distinction as a Marine, eventually reaching the rank of Command Sergeant Major. In 1985, he retired from the USMC and joined the United States Army Reserve. He was on active duty in Afghanistan when he suffered the heart attack. 
Keith Laborde was a decent, hard working man who deserves our respect for his service record. But he was also a man who may have carried a terrible secret with him for nearly thirty-five years, even carrying it to his grave and beyond.
Surely, it is time for the Louisiana Attorney-General to look at the circumstances that condemned an innocent man - who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (a street in Marksville, Louisiana) - to a lifetime of purgatory for a crime he did not commit.

Comment received July 19, 2015 
and published in the comments section.
"I am a person who reacts to things with logic and objectivity rather than emotion. After looking at everything, this man is innocent. He's 100% innocent.

To Karen and Sharon Sanders - please stop this nonsense. Your behavior has ruined a man's life. Whatever you did, whatever happened, it's in the past now, and you are being more judged and hated for lying about this and ruining a mans life rather than the amount you would be judged for whatever REALLY happened.

Please do the right thing now. It's time. It's way beyond time. You're lying. It's clear that you are. You are lying, and manipulating so many people, to protect whatever it is you're hiding - at the cost of an innocent man's life. His life has been ruined over this. Please, I'm asking you nicely. Don't make this worse. Just do the right thing." 

Comment received from Maria, December 9, 2015
and published in the comments section.
He is obviously innocent -- this is disgusting and infuriating! USA land of the free NOT! What a load of bull. .. The whites in the south are horrible racists and these girls have no intelligence at all .. so stupid and cowardly .. it's infuriating how a lack of critical thinking causes so much injustice and suffering.

Comment received from Honeymac, December 20, 2015 
and published in the comments section.
I just watched Vincent's parole meeting on The Farm. Paused it to check on the net hoping that Vincent might be free. Thought there would be a backlash from outraged people, like myself, at the complete injustice of the hearing. They had already voted 'no' in their minds before they had even met Vincent.
There was most certainly a crime committed, but not by Vincent, but by the twins, their cousin, the 'investigating' police, the DA, the inert defense attorney and finally the parole board.
It would be very much worth looking into petitioning a letter to whoever can sign off on an evidencery hearing, on sites like the petition site and / or Hundreds of thousands of signers visit those sites and would sign in a heartbeat to help this innocent man. Please, please look into it.
Stay strong Mr Simmons. 

Comment from Vincent Simmons, December 21, 2015 
Inmate #85188
Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, LA.
"The two lawyers that were appointed to represent me were working with the state District Attorney to send me to prison so that they would cover up and protect what the police did to me. The Assistant Attorney that helped prosecutors in 1977 rose to become a Louisiana Supreme Court Justice. She uses her corrupted influence to keep my case from being heard.
These thing are being done to people here in the deep south of Louisiana because there is nobody here to expose, fight or create laws and enforce those laws. There is nobody to punish politicians, law makers, court officials, District Attorneys or lawyers."

# 85188 Vincent Alfred Simmons - I believe do the majority of the 700,00 people who have read this article. Best wishes for the new year (your 39th in an Angola penitentiary prison cell) from and the hundreds of thousands of people across the world who want to see you receive justice.

Rob Hamilton (December 21, 2015)

* * * 

Office of The Attorney General
State of Louisiana

James D. "Buddy" Caldwell
Attorney General
How much longer can you ignore this miscarriage of justice, Mister Caldwell?
The World is watching.

The Honorable Bobby Jindal.

The word "Justice" appears in the seal of Louisiana.
That is the one thing Vincent Simmons has been denied.

Please look at this case Mr Jindal and do the right thing...

...release an innocent man.

Vincent Alfred Simmons

The Louisiana Whipping Boy.


July 28, 1977
December 21, 2015

(and counting)

38 years, 4 months, 24 days
2003 weeks 
14,026 days

For a crime he did not commit...

* * * *

Information and pictures courtesy of:

The Vincent Simmons Project

Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office

Louisiana v Vincent Simmons: Frame up in Avoyelles Parish
by Katja Pumm

Office of the Attorney General 
State of Louisiana

Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola.

HBO's The Farm: Life in Angola Prison

2010 - 2016