A federal jury on Friday convicted five police officers in connection with the fatal shootings of two New Orleans residents in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Jurors, however, decided that the shootings did not amount to murder.
The officers, several of whom were no longer with the department when the trial began, were found guilty of attempting to cover up the incident, and four of the five were also found guilty of civil rights violations in connection with it. The fifth, who was tasked with investigating the shootings, was charged only in the cover-up.
During the five-week-long trial, prosecutors argued that the officers opened fire on unarmed residents on New Orleans's Danziger Bridge – killing a 40-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy, and injuring four others – then plotted to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports to cover their tracks.
The defense, meanwhile, contended that the four officers were merely returning fire after being shot at while answering the distress call of a fellow officer.
The Associated Press explains the importance of the verdict:
The trial was a high-profile test of the Justice Department's effort to clean up a police department marred by a reputation for corruption and brutality. A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged last year in a series of federal probes. Most of the cases center on actions during the aftermath of the Aug. 29, 2005, storm, which plunged the flooded city into a state of lawlessness and desperation.
Sentencing for the officers is set for Dec. 14. All but the investigating officer face a possible life sentence.