Harry Connick Sr., the former district attorney of New Orleans for 30 years, passed away on Thursday at the age of 97. He faced accusations that his team occasionally withheld evidence that could have benefited defendants.
Connick passed away peacefully at his residence in New Orleans surrounded by his wife, Londa, and his children – Suzanna and musician/actor Harry Connick Jr. – as stated in an obituary released by Harry Connick Jr.’s publicist. The cause of his death was not disclosed.
In 1973, Connick defeated Jim Garrison, the current prosecutor, in an election. He was reelected four times and was able to gain support from both white and black communities as the city’s political influence shifted towards African Americans.
Connick never lost a case and retired in 2003. However, he faced ongoing scrutiny regarding allegations that his office deliberately withheld evidence that could have helped defendants. This became a major topic of discussion after the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by John Thompson in 2011. Thompson had spent 14 years on death row in Louisiana for a crime he did not commit before being exonerated.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reverse a $14 million payout to Thompson, stating that the New Orleans district attorney’s office cannot be held accountable for not adequately instructing prosecutors on their duty to disclose evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg strongly objected to the “deliberately indifferent attitude” of Connick.
In 2014, the matter was brought back to attention when a murder charge against Reginald Adams, who had been incarcerated for 34 years, was overturned. Lawyers from the Innocence Project New Orleans revealed proof that the detectives and prosecutors involved in the trial had withheld crucial information prior to Adams’ conviction in 1990.
Later on, Adams was awarded $1.25 million as part of a legal resolution.
Connick refused to give any statements regarding the cases. However, in 2012, he spoke about his accomplishments in an interview with The Times-Picayune, adding in sports analogies.
According to the newspaper, Connick stated that his reputation is not solely determined by a few instances, such as one or two cases or five cases, or a single interception or 20 interceptions. He believes that his overall track record, which includes having more yards than anyone else, should be taken into consideration.
He stated, “I need to reflect on my actions and accept responsibility for who I am. I may not be perfect, but I have not committed any wrongdoings that would warrant confessing in that workplace.”
Jason Williams, the current district attorney of New Orleans, offered his sympathies to the family of Connick.
“According to a statement, Mr. Connick holds the record for being the District Attorney with the longest tenure, serving from 1973 to 2003. Public servants like him contribute a great deal to their community, as well as their families. Our condolences go out to the Connick family during this challenging period.”
Connick, a former member of the Navy who was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, encouraged his son to develop his talent as a jazz pianist. He achieved this by arranging for his son to play with renowned New Orleans Dixieland musicians, including Eubie Blake and Buddy Rich.
Born on March 27, 1926 in Mobile, Alabama, Connick relocated to New Orleans with his family when he was 2 years old. In the 1970s, he became an integral part of the city’s political landscape.
In 1973, Connick was a relatively unknown federal prosecutor when he challenged Garrison, a district attorney who had held the position for three terms and was well-known beyond New Orleans.
In a 2001 interview, Connick stated that he worked as a legal aid attorney for more than three years and gained direct experience with Garrison’s office. He also expressed his belief that he could perform the job better than Jim Garrison.
Garrison, also known as “Big Jim,” stood at a towering height of 6 feet 7 inches (201 centimeters). He gained global attention for his prosecution of a New Orleans businessman linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He strongly believed that there was a large-scale cover-up surrounding the assassination.
Following Garrison’s defeat in the major lawsuit, Connick issued a challenge to him. Connick presented himself as a reformer and ultimately emerged victorious by a narrow margin of 2,000 votes.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Connick enforced strict measures against prostitutes and utilized laws based on 19th century moral standards to close down adult bookstores in the French Quarter.
During the 1990s, organizations against capital punishment criticized Connick for his strong stance on requiring prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in the majority of first-degree murder cases.
Connick gained personal experience as a defendant when he was accused by federal prosecutors of racketeering and assisting in a sports betting scheme in 1990. The charges stated that Connick gave betting records back to a known bookmaker who needed them to collect outstanding gambling debts.
Connick was cleared of charges, and also secured his fourth victory in the same year.
For many years, the older Connick regularly entertained audiences with performances at nightclubs in the French Quarter.
Harry Connick Jr. performed classic songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Louis Prima. While his vocals occasionally faltered, even as he got older, Connick remained lively and passionate on stage, showcasing his dance moves and interacting with the audience.
His performances were also strategically advantageous in terms of politics. By playing at various venues, Connick formed strong bonds with Black artists and voters, which was essential for a white candidate in a city where almost 70% of the electorate was comprised of African Americans.
The backing of influential Black politicians played a crucial role in his ability to remain in politics. In 1996, Connick emerged victorious over a Black opponent and acknowledged Mayor Marc Morial, whose followers strongly campaigned for Connick.
In 2002, Connick chose not to run for reelection and was replaced by Eddie Jordan, a former U.S. attorney who was responsible for successfully prosecuting former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards was found guilty in 2000 of accepting bribes from individuals seeking licenses for riverboat casinos during his last term as governor in the 1990s.
There are currently no set plans for Connick’s funeral.