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updated: 10/18/2013 10:08 AM

Feds challenge new trial in Katrina shootings

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Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- The Justice Department is appealing a judge's decision to order a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

Prosecutors filed a notice of appeal late Thursday, asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review last month's decision by U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

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Engelhardt threw out the former officers' convictions, concluding the case had been tainted by "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct." The judge said at least three government attorneys posted anonymous comments on a New Orleans newspaper's website, creating a "carnival atmosphere" that perverted justice in the case.

Police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 storm. Five other former officers cooperated with the Justice Department's investigation and pleaded guilty to engaging in a cover-up to make the shootings appear justified.

Attorneys for the five former officers convicted at trial argued that prosecutors' online comments and leaks to news organizations were part of a "secret public relations campaign" that deprived their clients of a fair trial.

Engelhardt granted their request for a new trial, though he called it a "bitter pill to swallow." He had sentenced the former officers to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years.

Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December 2012 after two of his top deputies -- Sal Perricone and Jan Mann -- acknowledged they had posted anonymous comments on nola.com, The Times-Picayune's companion website, about cases their office had handled, including the Danziger Bridge investigation.

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