New evidence casts doubt on Black man’s attempted rape conviction

Residents in a rural part of Louisiana have wondered for years: Did Vincent Simmons, a Black man, get a fair trial in 1977?

Simmons was accused of attempted aggravated rape of 14-year-old twin sisters Sharon and Karen Sanders, who are White. Less than two months after he was arrested, Simmons, who was 25 at the time, was sentenced to 100 years in prison after being convicted by a jury of 11 White men and one Black woman. Justin Bonus is the latest lawyer to step in and represent Simmons. He cites evidence not presented at trial as well as “explosive” claims made by one witness.

” There is no evidence to link 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 told Bonus.

“Sharon speaks about the possibility of bleeding from all parts of her car. Karen speaks out about a brutal rape. Is there any evidence? Is there blood in the car or is it just evidence? Bonus stated that there is nothing to support a crime, and that it’s not clear that a Black person committed the crime.

The sisters continue to believe that Simmons raped them and threatened them decades later.

“He threatened to kill us. We believed everything he said,” Karen Sanders explained to Begnaud.

Two weeks after the alleged incident, the sisters reluctantly told the sheriff some details, claiming they were forcibly taken by a Black man to a country road and sexually assaulted for three hours in a car belonging to their 18-year-old cousin Keith Laborde, who they say was locked in the trunk. We called him “Simmons” all night. That night was so much more than that. Sharon Sanders stated that he gave his name to us.

The sisters did not tell the sheriff their name. They only described his race and didn’t give details about the man’s appearance.

Karen and Sharon Sanders

CBS News

“They testified before the jury they were brutally raped. Simmons testified at a parole hearing that they repeatedly asked Simmons and Begnaud if they could identify the person they were raped.

The twins told Begnaud that they had never given a full description to the sheriff.

“No. We didn’t,” Sharon Sanders said.

“You said all –” Begnaud began.

“All Blacks are alike,” they shared.

“And you said all N-word look alike,” Begnaud said.

“That’s right. Sure did,” said Sharon Sanders.

About a month ago, current district attorney Charlie Riddle offered to release Simmons — “40 years would probably be the sentence that we would request in a case like this” nowadays, he said — but Simmons would have to register as a sex offender.

Simmons declined the offer and maintained his innocence.

“He is not a sexual offender,” Bonus stated.

Riddle now has to defend the case, which, on the basis of new information raises further questions as to whether Simmons is innocent.

Since he had been sentenced, Simmons was able to obtain the evidence file of the district attorney for his case. Simmons claimed that the file contained an revealing medical exam conducted by the coroner who was a physician.

A defense lawyer claimed that the defense didn’t know during the initial trial that the coroner had said one of these girls was virgin, and there wasn’t evidence of sexual assault on them.

The medical examination wasn’t presented as evidence during Simmons’ trial.

” The truth is that he tried (rape), but he was unsuccessful, and so he raped my. Sharon Sanders stated that he did indeed rape her. “All I can see is that if they were lying, we’d have given up. However, I am not giving up. “

In 1994, Simmons took the medical examination report to a parole board and presented another piece of evidence he found in the file — what he said was a lineup photo showing him in handcuffs. This is a joke. It is a joke. Bonus stated that it doesn’t get more suggestive than this.

Neither the line-up nor the photograph were mentioned during the trial.

The sisters and their cousin picked Simmons from the lineup. Sharon Sanders claims that Simmons wasn’t in handcuffs at the time they chose him. According to the district attorney, the other deputies at the lineup supported that account.

CBS News attempted to talk with Eddie Knoll (the former district attorney) about the allegations that Knoll withheld evidence which might have exonerated Simmons. But Knoll refused an interview.

But, Knoll stated in a sworn statement that the defense had full access to all files and that he was certain the evidence supports Simmons’ conviction. Knoll claims 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 said that the evidence that had been withheld might have caused the jury doubt the allegations.

” It was clear that I did not know the information that defense had to impeach witnesses. They did not possess the police report and they didn’t have a photograph of the physical lineup. The coroner could not physically have examined the two victims if they did not have what is known as a rape tool at the time. White stated to Begnaud that if a jury had heard them, they wouldn’t have been convicted or convicted of this charge.

White’s appeal and the one Simmons made to the parole board are among the nearly 16 unsuccessful attempts to get his conviction thrown out. Now, it’s Bonus’ turn.

Bonus told the judge what he called “explosive” evidence that Laborde’s cousin Dana Brouilette gave him in a sworn declaration.

According to Bonus Brouilette stated that Laborde had admitted Simmons had raped the sisters but did not put Laborde in his car trunk.

“Dana Brouilette continues to state, “He said that he had consensual sexual relations with one of his sisters and left the other in his trunk as he traveled on Little California Road.” Bonus added.

Brouilette’s affidavit says that in 2020, “Karen admitted to me that Keith raped her.”

Sharon Sanders replied: “Oh, my God. She’s a very sick woman. It is not possible for a woman who is sick to go anywhere. She didn’t know. That’s sick. I’m sorry. That is so disgusting.

“Say it was true and believe that this really did happen, so why didn’t anyone report it? Karen Sanders asked Brouilette why he didn’t tell police about the allegation.

Laborde declined CBS News’ requests for an interview. However, he said Simmons was guilty of the allegations and denied that he had sex or with Karen Sanders.

When asked whether she consented to sex with Laborde her response was “We were children.” It was an experiment. We experimented.

Karen Sanders said it happened before she accused Simmons of raping her, when she was 9 or 10 years old but not on the night of the alleged crime. That’s the best evidence that has been discovered, and it comes out of the horse‚Äôs mouth. Bonus stated that it makes her appear like she is no longer a victim. My client is a victim. It is evidence Vincent’s defense lawyers would have run to this so quickly they would have blamed Keith. “

” We were children, so we tried things. Vincent’s actions are unrelated to that. Those are two distinct incidents. Karen Sanders said that it was two distinct incidents.

The sisters claim they are victims and accuse the legal system of failing to ensure that Simmons’ unanimous conviction was unrefutable. They are aware of the challenges they face.

Sharon Sanders stated that she was willing to give evidence in a new trial. However, her sister said otherwise. Sharon Sanders attempted to persuade her sister to reconsider her decision.

” If we do not and we back down, it allows the world to claim they are lying more easily. That is why we’re backing down. Sharon Sanders stated that they don’t want to fight it.

“Sharon – Guess what?” Karen Sanders stated. 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 God. “

The judge who will rule on Simmons’ motion to be released has stated that Simmons was convicted in the first instance without any evidence having been presented. This is considered a violation of the Constitution. Sources say that the district attorney won’t pursue Simmons in a fresh trial if the judge doesn’t give him all the evidence. He believes Simmons will lose.

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