Warning: This article contains racial epithets and explicit details of rape.
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 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.
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. Colour 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 the police station, Captain Melvin Villemarette organises 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 recognise 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.
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 fibre 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, 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.
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 defence. It really couldn't be any clearer.
The District Attorney's Office now joined the police in the deceit by withholding documents from the court and denying Simmons a constructive defence. 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.
(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 defence 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.
(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 defence 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 blacks look the same to us."
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 in 2014?
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.
Vincent Alfred Simmons
The Louisiana Whipping Boy.
The Louisiana Whipping Boy.
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