Residents of a rural Louisiana region have been wondering for years: Did Vincent Simmons (a Black man) get a fair trial?
Simmons was charged with attempted aggravated sexual assault of the 14-year-old twins, Sharon and Karen Sanders. Both are White. Simmons was 25 when he was arrested. He was sentenced to 100 year imprisonment by a jury that included 11 White men, one Black woman, and two witnesses.
Justin Bonus, the latest attorney to handle Simmons’ case has filed a motion to release him. He cites evidence that was not presented at trial as well as “explosive” claims made by one of his witnesses.
“There is no evidence to connect him with that crime. There is no blood. There is no blood, no semen. Bonus said that there is nothing.” David Begnaud, the national correspondent for CBS Mornings, agreed.
Sharon talks about bleeding all over her car. Karen speaks of a brutal rape. Is there any evidence? Is there blood in the car? Bonus stated that there is nothing to support a crime, and that there is absolutely no evidence that a Black man committed it.”
They continue to believe Simmons raped them and threatened them decades later.
“He said he was going after us to kill. We believed everything he said,” Karen Sanders stated to Begnaud.
Two weeks later, the sisters reluctantly gave the sheriff details. They claimed that they were taken to a country road by a Black man and then sexually assaulted for three hour in a car belonging their cousin Keith Laborde (18 years old).
“We called him Simmons all night. It was a night that has many interesting aspects. Sharon Sanders stated, “He gave us his name.”
When questioned, the sisters did not give the sheriff their name. They only described the man’s race and did not provide any details about his appearance.
They testified that they were brutally raped. They asked them repeatedly if they could identify the person if they saw them. Simmons stated this at a parole hearing.
Begnaud was confirmed by the twins that they had never given a detailed description to the sheriff.
Sharon Sanders said, “No, we didn’t.”
“You said all –” Begnaud began.
They said, “All Blacks look alike,” together.
“And you said all N-word look alike,” Begnaud said.
“That’s right. Sure did,” said Sharon Sanders.
A month ago, Charlie Riddle, the current district attorney, offered to release Simmons. “40 years would likely be the sentence that would be requested in a case such as this,” he stated. However, Simmons would need to register as an sex offender.
Simmons declined the offer and maintained his innocence.
Bonus stated, “He’s no sex offender.”
Riddle will now defend a case that is based on new evidence and raises further questions about Simmons’ guilt.
Simmons was sent to prison for a sentence of 20 years. He obtained the evidence file from the district attorney, many years later. Simmons claims that the file contained a detailed medical examination by the coroner who was a physician.
The defense attorney claimed that the defense didn’t know during the original trial that one of the girls was a virgin, and that no evidence was found of sexual assault on either of them.
Simmons’ trial did not include the medical examination.
“The truth is that he tried (rape) again, but he was unsuccessful, so he raped me. Sharon Sanders stated that he did indeed rape her. “By now, I believe if we were lying, we would have given up.” But I am not giving up.”
Simmons presented another piece to the parole board in 1994. He said that he had found a lineup photo of Simmons in handcuffs.
This is a joke. It’s a joke. Bonus stated that it doesn’t get more suggestive than this.
The trial did not mention the photo or the lineup.
Simmons was selected by the sisters and their cousins. Sharon Sanders insists Simmons wasn’t in handcuffs at the time they chose him. According to the district attorney, the other deputies at the lineup supported the account.
CBS News attempted to interview Eddie Knoll (the former district attorney) about the allegations that he withheld evidence which might have exonerated Simmons. But Knoll refused to talk.
Knoll, however, stated in a sworn statement that the defense had full access to the file and is confident the evidence supports Simmons’ conviction. Knoll claims that he was also told that Simmons was in handcuffs after the lineup.
Laurie White represented Simmons in his appeal to have him given a fresh trial. She did this to try to get him a second chance before she was appointed a Louisiana criminal court judge.
“It was quite clear to me that I did not know that the defense had information to impeach witnesses. They did not have the police reports, and they didn’t have a photograph of a physical line-up. The coroner could not physically have examined the two victims if they did not have what was called a rape tool at that time. White stated to Begnaud that if a jury had heard them, they wouldn’t have been convicted or would have been convicted of this charge.
White’s appeal, and that of Simmons to the parole board were just two of the 16 unsuccessful attempts to have his conviction overturned. Now, it’s Bonus’ turn.
Bonus told the judge about “explosive” evidence from Laborde’s cousin Dana Brouilette.
Bonus claims that Brouilette stated Laborde said Simmons didn’t rape the sisters and put Laborde in his car trunk.
Dana Brouilette continued, “He told me that one of the girls had consented to sex and had locked the other in his trunk while he was driving down Little California Road,” Bonus stated.
Brouilette’s affidavit states that Keith raped her in 2020.
Sharon Sanders replied, “Oh my God. She is a sick lady. It is not possible for a woman who is sick to go there. She didn’t know. That’s sick. I’m sorry. That is so sick.”
“Say they believed that it was true, and why didn’t the police report it to them?” Karen Sanders asked Brouilette why he didn’t report the allegation to police.
Laborde declined CBS News’ request to interview him, but he did admit that Simmons was guilty of the crime and denied having sex in public with Karen Sanders.
Karen Sanders answered a question about whether she had consented to sex with Laborde. … We experimented. We experimented.
Karen Sanders claimed it was before Simmons raped her when she was 9-10 years old, but not the night of the alleged crime.
“That’s as new evidence as it gets for man, and it’s right out of the horse’s mouth. Bonus stated that it makes her appear like she is no longer a victim. My client is a victim. It is evidence that Vincent’s defense attorneys would have run to that at trial so quickly they would have blamed Keith.
“We were young and we tried things. Vincent’s actions were completely unrelated to that. Those are two distinct incidents. Karen Sanders said that it was two distinct incidents.
They claim they are the victims and blame the legal system. Simmons’ unanimous conviction was unrefutable. They are aware of the challenges they face.
Sharon Sanders claimed she would testify in a new trial and her sister denied it. Sharon Sanders tried to persuade her sister to reconsider her position.
“If we don’t do it now and we back down, it gives the world more opportunity to lie and that is why we are backing down. Sharon Sanders stated that they don’t want to fight it.
Karen Sanders replied, “Sharon! Guess what!” He will not be happy when he stands before God. He has already been found guilty. He will die guilty. He will be found guilty even if he leaves and stands before the Lord.
Simmons’ motion to be released will be decided by the judge. He already ruled that Simmons’ original conviction, in which Simmons was convicted without any evidence being presented to him defense, is a violation of the Constitution. Sources say that the district attorney will not prosecute Simmons in a fresh trial if the judge does not order it. He believes that he will lose.