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Len Davis Trial: 1996

Undercover Tapes!, Defense Fights Back

Defendant: Len Davis
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: Dwight Doskey
Chief Prosecutors: Constantine Georges, Michael McMahon
Judge: Ginger Berrigan
Place: New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of Trial: April 8—April 24, 1996
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: This trial blew the lid off police corruption in one of America's major cities.

Even in a city as wearily accustomed to crooked cops as New Orleans, Len Davis stood out. In his six years on that city's police department (NOPD), he'd become known in the housing projects as "Robocop," on account of his highly individualistic style of law enforcement. The subject of more than 20 complaints, mostly for brutality and intimidation, he had once been suspended for hitting a woman on the head with his flashlight. Not that Davis worried overmuch about complaints: most had a way of just fizzling out as terrified witnesses suddenly developed amnesia or else became tongue-tied.

But Kim Groves, a 32-year-old mother of three, was made of tougher stuff, and when, on October 11, 1994, she saw Davis and his partner, Sammie Williams, pistol-whipping a young man named Nathan Norwood, she filed a complaint with the NOPD Internal Affairs Division. Just over 48 hours later, Groves' sense of civic duty was repaid by a bullet in the head, gunned down outside her house by a young man who made his getaway in a blue car.

When Davis was arrested and charged with having ordered the killing, it caused a sensation in New Orleans. The sweep had also netted a couple, of known drug dealers, Paul Hardy and Damon Causey, who were suspected of being the actual hitmen, but it was Officer Len Davis who took center stage when the trial opened before Judge Ginger Berrigan on April 8, 1996. Because Davis had used his official position to deny Kim Groves her civil rights, he was tried under federal law. If convicted he faced the death penalty.

It was soon clear that the prosecution, under the stewardship of Assistant U.S. Attorney Constantine Georges, had built its case primarily around the evidence of Sammie Williams, Davis' former partner. He testified that, at about 5:00 P.M. on October 13, 1994, he and Davis were stopped at a traffic light, when a car containing Groves and others pulled up alongside. According to Williams, Groves began mouthing the words, "That's them, that's them," whereupon Davis pointed back and yelled, "I see you too, I see you too."

Williams said this exchange had the effect of infuriating Davis, who reached for his pager saidthisand exchangegrowled, "I could get 'P' to do that whore and we can handle the '30.'" Williams understood this to mean that Davis would get his longtime associate, Paul Hardy, a drug dealer who "looked out for" Davis, to kill Groves. Then it would be up to Davis and Williams to respond to the homicide—or "30" in police code—and dispose of any incriminating evidence.

That evening, continued Williams, Davis met Hardy and gave him details of Groves' appearance and address. He also asked Hardy if he had a gun and was told that he did.

At 10:50 P.M. that same night, Williams got a call from Davis, saying "signal 30 NAT." Williams explained to the jury that "NAT" was police code for "necessary action taken," and he assumed that Groves had been shot.

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