Court upholds robbery verdict

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2002

A guilty verdict and 35-year prison sentence for a Hammond, La.,man convicted of a January 1999 armed robbery in Brookhaven hasbeen upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

During a March 2000 trial, Lonnie Banks, 39, also known asLonnie Smith, was convicted of armed robbery in connection with theJan. 11, 1999 taking of a woman’s purse in the parking lot of aHighway 51 shopping center.

In his appeal, Banks argued three factors that he contendedwarranted a reversal of his conviction. He argued that errors weremade in Judge Keith Starrett’s decision to allow him to representhimself at trial, in the decision to not suppress the victim’sidentification of him and that the weight of the evidence did notsupport the verdict.

In the ruling handed down Tuesday, the appeals court foundminimal merit in Banks’ argument about his representinghimself.

Citing case transcripts, the court said there was no questionthe trial court failed to follow rules regarding a defendant”knowingly and intelligently” waiving assistance of counsel.However, while pointing out the Banks was assigned a publicdefender to help him at trial, the court said the failure amountedto “harmless error” and was not fatal.

“The record reflects that Banks stated a desire to representhimself and was given counsel to assist in an advisory capacity,”the ruling said. “He points to nothing which would have resulted ina different verdict had counsel acted as an advocate rather than amere advisor.”

Regarding Banks’ other issues, the appeals court said there were”sufficient indices of reliability” to not warrant suppression ofthe victim’s identification. The court said there was sufficientevidence where a reasonable juror could find Banks guilty, and thecourt was therefore obligated to accept the verdict.

Banks also alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, but theappeals court ruled that issue was not properly raised before thecourt.

The appeals court affirmed Banks’ 38-year sentence with thefirst 35 years to be served in prison with the remaining threeyears served under post release supervision. A $10,000 fine andpayment of court costs was also included in the affirmedsentence.