3 years for ex-prosecutor accused of sex for leniency

AP News
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Posted: Aug 17, 2016 3:49 PM
3 years for ex-prosecutor accused of sex for leniency

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former Louisiana prosecutor was sentenced Wednesday to three years for obstructing justice, though prosecutors accused him of soliciting sex from women in exchange for favorable treatment.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt also fined Harry Morel $20,000.

He announced the prison term before asking whether anyone wanted to speak for or against Morel. He did so because such statements would not have changed the sentence, he said later during the hearing.

Any complaints that the sentence was too low should be directed at those who decided the charge against Morel, Engelhardt said.

Engelhardt also said Morel would be on supervised release for a year once he is released from prison. The judge said he would leave it up to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to determine where Morel will serve the time.

He may remain free on bond until Sept. 26, his reporting date, Engelhardt said.

Morel made a vague apology: "It's unfortunate that I did what I did. I'm very sorry."

Morel was district attorney for 33 years in St. Charles Parish, about 20 miles west of New Orleans.

At a news conference when his plea agreement was announced in April, prosecutors and investigators called him a sexual predator. But he was never charged with a sexual crime.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said that was because time limits had passed on some crimes, and prosecutors faced both significant problems with evidence and victims whose personal histories might lead jurors to doubt them.

And a key witness was dead.

Defense attorney Ralph Capitelli has accused prosecutors of a smear campaign to influence sentencing.

Nearly 120 people, including former employees of Morel's, people who said he had helped them as district attorney, and former state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, wrote to Engelhardt asking leniency for Morel.

Ieyoub wrote, "Harry Morel devoted 36 years of his life to serving the people of his state during which time he helped thousands of Louisiana's citizens."

Chloe K. Lawler said Morel had helped her and her family more than once. "I can assure you that he always conducted himself like a gentleman and handled everything in the most business-like and professional manner," she wrote.

St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne was among a half-dozen people who wrote to say Morel should get the maximum sentence.

"I firmly believe that Harry Morel 'infected' the criminal justice system of St. Charles Parish and beyond," Champagne wrote. He said Morel victimized vulnerable women "by asking them for sexual favors, groping them, and in several cases engaging in oral sex with them."

The FBI began investigating Morel in April 2010, after a woman accused of drunken driving called 911 and accused him of sexually assaulting her at her home.

Agents wired Danelle Keim for video. Authorities say one video shows him coming to Keim's house with two bottles of wine, discussing her case, and then starting to grope her.

But Keim died of a drug overdose in 2013, less than 24 hours after The Times-Picayune newspaper reported that the FBI was investigating whether Morel had been trading leniency for sex with defendants or their relatives.

Morel's guilty plea admitted to telling Keim to destroy photographic evidence of their meetings.

In an accompanying signed statement, he also admitted that he had solicited sex from other defendants or people whose relatives were defendants in St. Charles Parish, in exchange for prosecutorial "benefits."

Keim's mother, Tammy Glover, said, "To me, three years is nothing. He's going to get out and go about his life."

Morel's guilty plea and prison term won't make his victims in St. Charles Parish feel any safer, she said: "The fear of him is still here. They just allowed this man to get away with 20-plus years of hurting women."

In the hall outside the courtroom Wednesday, Keim's sister, Tessie Keim, spoke about the sentence and her conflicting feelings.

"Justice hasn't been served. He didn't get charged with what he should have been," she said.

But she then said, "We're just excited that he got anything. We're very happy the judge gave him the full sentence."

She praised Engelhardt, saying, "He at least abides by the law ... And sticks to his vows."

Also in court Wednesday were a woman who told investigators that Morel sexually assaulted her after helping her get child support and one who said he asked for a "number that your boyfriend will not answer" and tried repeatedly to get her alone after she was cited for drunken driving.

The woman who said she was sexually assaulted said she wishes now she had filed a complaint then, because it might have stopped him.

"I thought it was my shame. And it's not," she said.

Engelhardt repeated several times that he couldn't give Morel more than three years.

The decision wasn't difficult, he said.

"It is difficult to imagine justification for less than the maximum."

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Kunzelman reported from Baton Rouge.