Appeals court throws out Princeton man’s child porn conviction/orders new trial

Crime

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned the conviction and 150-year sentence of a Princeton man who was convicted by a non-unanimous jury in March 2019.

In an 11-1 vote, a Bossier Parish jury convicted Russel Sullivan of 15 counts of possession of pornography involving juveniles, and on June 25, Bossier District Judge Michael Craig sentenced Sullivan to serve 10 years on each count, but allowed the sentences to run concurrently (at the same time).

However in April 2020 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Louisiana in Ramos v. Louisiana, that effectively mandated that people accused of felonies in Louisiana could only be convicted by a unanimous vote of the jury.

At the time, Louisiana was one of only two U.S. states that did not require a unanimous jury for conviction, which critics said hailed back to the old Jim Crow laws enacted after the Civil War to maintain racial segregation.

When the decision was handed down, incarcerated people in Louisiana who were convicted in 12-2 or 11-1 votes began filing with Louisiana’s five Circuit Courts of Appeals asking that their convictions be thrown out and requesting new trials.

Attorneys for the Promise of Justice Initiative, a legal non-profit in New Orleans, announced in April that in the year since the Ramos decision, they have filed more than 1,000 post-conviction relief petitions throughout the state for defendants who were convicted on split-jury verdicts.

Russell was arrested in December 2016 after agents with the Cyber Crime Unit of the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office conducted an undercover investigation and discovered an IP address registered to Sullivan that included files with terms commonly associated with child pornography. 

After multiple electronic devices were seized from Sullivan’s home and submitted for a forensic examination, investigators alleged that Sullivan downloaded and ran multiple anti-forensic programs to erase evidence of child pornography.

Despite the programs, agents were able to recover 15 images of child pornography. It was those 15 counts that Sullivan was convicted of following a four-day trial.

Sullivan’s appeal, prepared by his attorney Christopher Hatch filed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on August 10, and heard on April 12th by an appellate panel consisting of Judges Frances Pitman, James M. “Jimbo” Stephens and Joe Bleich (Pro Tempore).

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