|Antoinette Renee Frank|
Mugshot of Antoinette Frank.
April 30, 1971 |
|Occupation||Police officer, New Orleans Police Department (former, 1993-1995)|
|Criminal charge||3 counts of first-degree murder|
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, St. Gabriel, Louisiana|
|Conviction(s)||September 22, 1995|
On March 4, 1995, Frank and an accomplice, Rogers Lacaze, committed a violent armed robbery at a restaurant which resulted in the killing of two members of the family who ran the establishment, and fellow New Orleans Police Department officer Ronald A. Williams II.
Frank applied to the New Orleans Police Department in early 1993. During the hiring process, numerous red flags turned up. According to author Chuck Hustmyre, a former federal agent and author of a book about Frank, Killer with a Badge, she was caught lying on several sections of her application, and failed two standard psychiatric evaluations. Psychiatrist Philip Scurria examined her and advised in no uncertain terms that she should not be hired, saying she was "shallow and superficial".
Despite this, Frank got a second chance to apply. The NOPD was chronically short-handed; at the time, its officers were paid lower than in similarly-sized cities, and it was losing officers faster than they could be replaced. Its ranks had been decimated by several arrests for murder and drug activity. Many potential applicants were shut out due to a requirement that all officers be residents of New Orleans—a requirement that was only changed in 2014. Additionally, Frank was a black female, and police officials thought having more blacks on the force would ease the city's longstanding racial tensions. Frank was hired on February 7, 1993. She graduated from the Police Academy on February 28, 1993.
Although Frank graduated near the top of her academy class, her tenure with the NOPD was mostly undistinguished. Her fellow officers thought she was rather shy. Many of them also thought she had no idea what police work really entailed, and lacked the decisiveness to be a good officer. At times, they thought she veered into irrational behavior. As early as August 1993, her superiors wanted to send her back to the academy for further training. She frequently had to go through supervisory review.
Relationship with Rogers Lacaze
On November 25, 1994, Frank handled an incident in which Rogers Lacaze, a known drug dealer, had been shot. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC) investigator believed this was the first contact between the two, although in her statement, she claims that they met some eight months before the murder.
Frank had taken a statement from Lacaze after he was shot on the street, and initially got closer to him in hopes of turning his life around. However, she was smitten by Lacaze's "bad boy" persona, and their relationship soon turned sexual. She kept up her relationship even though she was well aware she was putting her career on the line.
The association between Frank and Lacaze became noticeable after other police officers witnessed Lacaze driving her car, and even observed him moving her police unit at the scene of an accident she was investigating. On one occasion, Lacaze accompanied her on a complaint call where she introduced him as a "trainee"; on other occasions, she introduced Lacaze as her nephew. Prior to the murders, others testified that Frank and Lacaze would pull cars over while in a police squad car, then rob them.
Frank refused to discuss her relationship with Lacaze during the DOC investigation except to say that she was trying to help him. It was later revealed that the two had a sexual relationship. When asked why she would continue the relationship, knowing that Lacaze had been involved in dealing drugs and in a shooting, she claimed that she would not disassociate herself from him just because of his past. The investigator also questioned Frank about trying to buy 9mm ammunition for Lacaze at Walmart on the day before the Kim Anh murders, but stated that she was a police officer and that there was nothing wrong with her buying ammunition. According to her statement, she claimed that she and Lacaze were not dating and had never been intimate. Frank refused to discuss anything regarding the murders - every time the investigator asked her a question, she told him to "look it up in the record," or asserted her innocence. However, during her interview with the DOC investigator, Frank did claim to have had a male suitor, but refused to go into specifics because he worked for the police department.
Two men who claimed they met Lacaze at a party on February 4, 1995, John Stevens and Anthony Wallace, testified in court. As the two were leaving the party, a verbal altercation between Stevens and Lacaze ensued, but Wallace suggested that they leave. The two men got in a car and drove several blocks until a police vehicle pulled the car over. Frank, in police uniform, exited the squad car and told both Wallace and Stevens to get out and go to the back of the car. At that point Wallace saw Lacaze, and noticed that he was holding a gun. According to Stevens, Wallace then rushed Lacaze and the two men began fighting, then both Stevens and Frank also jumped in the fray and the weapon discharged. Stevens began running, but another man appeared and grabbed both Lacaze and Wallace. Frank then told the man that "Lacaze was the good guy" and that Wallace was the one causing the problems. Wallace was restrained until a back-up unit arrived on the scene, when he was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder and armed robbery.
Irvin Bryant, a civil sheriff in 1995, testified that on the evening of February 4, he observed a stopped police vehicle with its lights flashing. Bryant thought that the officer was making a traffic stop, but as he got closer he saw the officer and two black men fighting on the side of the road. At that time Wallace broke away, ran and picked up a TEC-9 semi-automatic weapon off the grass. Bryant ordered Wallace to drop the gun, which he did immediately and was restrained - Lacaze then lunged towards Wallace but Bryant grabbed him. Frank informed him that Lacaze was with her and ordered him released. Despite his involvement in the altercation, Bryant was never questioned by police and he never gave a formal statement.
Restaurant robbery murders
After midnight on March 4, 1995, Frank and Lacaze visited Kim Anh, a Vietnamese restaurant run by the Vu family in New Orleans East. Frank had sometimes worked there off-duty as a security guard. As the employees cleaned the closed restaurant, Chau Vu went into the kitchen to count money and entered the dining room of the restaurant to pay Ronald A. Williams II, a New Orleans Police Department officer and a colleague of Frank, who had been working as the security guard that night. When Chau went to pay Williams, Chau noticed Frank approaching the restaurant.
Frank and Lacaze had been at the restaurant twice earlier in the night to get leftover food to eat. When Chau had let her out on the last visit, she could not find the front door key, and with Frank returning again for a third time, she sensed something was very wrong. Chau ran to the kitchen to hide the money in the microwave. Frank entered the front door using the key that she had stolen from the restaurant earlier, and walked quickly past Williams, pushing Chau, one of Chau's brothers, Quoc, and a restaurant employee into the doorway of the restaurant's kitchen. Williams started to follow in hopes of finding out what was going on when shots rang out. Lacaze had slipped behind Williams and shot him in the neck, severing his spinal cord and instantly paralyzing him. As Williams fell, Lacaze shot him in the head and back, mortally wounding him. As Frank turned back to the dining room of the restaurant, Chau grabbed Quoc to hide somewhere.
Chau, Quoc, and the employee hid in the rear of a large walk-in cooler in the kitchen, turning out its light as they entered. They did not know the whereabouts of their other sister and brother, Ha and Cuong Vu, who had been sweeping the dining room floors when Frank entered the restaurant. From inside the cooler, Chau and Quoc could partially see the kitchen and the front of the restaurant. Chau initially could see Frank looking for something in the kitchen. As Frank moved out of Chau's line of vision, additional gunshots were fired but then observed Frank searching where the Vus usually kept their money. Frank and Lacaze had been shouting at Ha and Cuong demanding the restaurant's money, but they did not know where Chau had hidden it. Frank pistol-whipped 17-year-old Cuong when he hesitated in revealing the location of the money. Frank got the money out of a microwave, then shot 21-year-old Ha three times as she knelt pleading for her life. Then, she shot Cuong six times. After Frank and Lacaze left the premises, Quoc emerged from the cooler and ran out the back door of the restaurant to a nearby friend's home to call 911 to report the murders while Chau tried frantically to call 911 on her cell phone, but the cooler prevented her from getting a usable signal.
The robbers fled the restaurant, and Frank dropped off Lacaze at a nearby apartment complex, both knowing that there were witnesses left behind. Ironically, Frank heard the 911 call on her portable police radio saying that an officer was down at the Kim Anh restaurant. She borrowed a patrol car and returned to the scene. Posing as a responding officer, she intended to kill Chau and Quoc in order to ensure there would be no witnesses. Parking in the rear, Frank entered through the back door of the restaurant and made her way through the kitchen to the dining room, where Chau waited for help at the front door. As Chau bolted through the restaurant's front door to the safety of arriving officers, Frank immediately identified herself as a police officer. Chau told Frank that she knew what she had done and cried to the officers that Frank had committed the crimes.
Eddie Rantz, the homicide detective who worked the case, believed Frank and Lacaze planned the robbery to get revenge on Williams. Frank believed Williams was shortchanging her on hours and pay at the Kim Anh, and wanted revenge. Rantz subsequently described Frank as the most cold-hearted person he'd ever encountered in three decades as an officer.
Chau and Frank were questioned in detail while seated at different tables in the restaurant. Frank was arrested and charged with three counts of first degree murder. Lacaze was arrested and charged later that night. Frank was taken to police headquarters for additional questioning, where she later confessed to the crimes along with Lacaze. She was believed to be the first New Orleans police officer to have been charged with killing a fellow officer.
Trial and conviction
Frank and Lacaze were indicted by an Orleans Parish grand jury on April 28, 1995. Their trials were severed, and Lacaze was tried first on July 17–21, 1995 before Judge Frank Marullo. He was found guilty as charged, and sentenced to death. His main error had been using Williams' Chevron credit card at a Chevron station in Gretna just minutes after the robbery and murder.
Frank's trial began on September 5, 1995, also before Marullo. Although Frank's attorneys had subpoenaed 40 witnesses, they didn't call a single one, apparently believing that it was enough to argue that the prosecution hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. On September 12, 1995, the jury needed only 22 minutes to return a guilty verdict on all counts—at the time, a record for a capital murder case in New Orleans. The next day, it needed only 45 minutes to recommend the death penalty. She was formally sentenced to death on October 20, 1995, and sent to Death Row at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, near Baton Rouge.
Aftermath and recent developments
Initially, the Vu family kept the restaurant open at the site of the tragedy in New Orleans East for a decade, until suffering flood damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and post-storm looters stealing jewelry which Ha and Cuong had been wearing when they were killed. After that, Quoc Vu and his mother Nguyet sold the location, re-opening the restaurant in Harahan, and moving their residence to Metairie, where they said they felt more safe.
In 1993, a year and a half before the murders at the Kim Anh, Frank's father had stayed at her home for a time before she then reported him missing. In November 1995, a month after she received her first death sentence, a dog led police to find a human skull with a bullet hole buried under Frank's house. In a 2005 retrospective, Chuck Hustmyre said, "As for those human bones unearthed beneath Frank’s house, so far, authorities have made no serious effort to identify them. The 10-year-old case, they say, remains under investigation." Police and prosecutors believe that the skull was that of Adam Frank, and that Antoinette murdered him. However, since she is facing the death penalty in the Kim Anh murders, they have made no effort to try her for her father's death.
On October 18, 2006 Frank's attorneys argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court that her death sentence should be overturned because she was denied state-funded experts to help prepare for the sentencing phase of the trial. On May 22, 2007 the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 5–2 that the death penalty should be upheld.
On April 22, 2008 District Judge Frank Marullo signed the death warrant for Antoinette Frank. According to the warrant, Frank was scheduled for execution by lethal injection on July 15, 2008. In May, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued a 90-day stay of execution effective June 10 pending ongoing appeals. On September 11, 2008 the day that the state supreme court stay was to end, a new death warrant was signed by the same judge. According to this second warrant, Frank was scheduled for execution by lethal injection on December 8, 2008. In a new round of appeals, defense attorneys argued they had had too little time to review the voluminous record before the deadline for filing appeals. The Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled on the case again. Their decision, made public November 25, 2008 effectively canceled the death warrant signed by Judge Marullo in September.
In September 2009, Frank moved to have Judge Marullo removed from her ongoing post-conviction appeals on grounds of blaming him for bias, given that he had already signed two death warrants for her. Louisiana state Judge Laurie White heard the motion in September 2009 and on January 3, 2010 ruled that Marullo should not be taken off the case. Her attorney stated she would appeal the ruling to the state supreme court, which had already overruled both of Marullo's death warrants. However, yet another lower court state judge, ruled in October 2010 that Marullo had to be recused from the Frank and Lacaze cases because it was unclear if he had been open with the defense teams about his own surprising connection to the gun used in the restaurant murders. Marullo's signature appeared on an order authorizing Frank to take the murder weapon from the evidence room; Marullo has long maintained the signature was forged. If Frank were to be executed, she would be the first female to be put to death in the state since 1942.
On July 23, 2015, retired district judge Michael Kirby threw out Rogers Lacaze's conviction and sentence and ordered a new trial. Kirby said that Lacaze deserved a new trial because one of the jurors had hidden the fact that he was a Louisiana state trooper and had previously worked as a railroad policeman. At the time, commissioned law enforcement officers were legally barred from sitting on a jury. Kirby wrote that while he felt the evidence of Lacaze's guilt was "overwhelming," the juror misconduct amounted to a "structural defect" and a "violation of a constitutional right so basic to a fair trial" that the only remedy was a new trial. Kirby's ruling has no affect on Frank's conviction. An appellate court later overturned the new trial order for Lacaze. 4th Circuit appellate judges Edwin Lombard, Paul Bonin and Madeleine Landrieu ruled "After review of the state's writ application in light of the applicable law and arguments of the parties, we find that the trial court erred in finding that the seating of Mr. Settle on the defendant's jury was a structural error entitling him to a new trial,"
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