What’s at stake for Matassa today?

Matassa (l) with his attorney, Lewis Unglesby arriving for his May 8 arraignment

This morning at 9:00 a.m. Ascension President, and felony criminal defendant, Kenny Matassa is due in Judge Jason Verdigets’ Division A courtroom in Gonzales for his Guilty Plea Cutoff hearing.  He will enter a plea of “Guilty” without an agreement worked out with prosecutor, Jeff Traylor, who is representing the Attorney General’s office on behalf of the State of Louisiana; or he will be tried by a six-person jury of his peers on February 21, 2018.

There has been no indication from Traylor that his boss, AG Jeff Landry, is in the mood to deal and we do not believe any plea agreement terms have been offered to Matassa.  While nothing prevents any criminal defendant from pleading “guilty, as charged,” it is the last resort of a desperate defendant seeking mercy from the court.  Assuming Matassa goes to trial, and further assuming he is treated like every other criminal defendant, what’s at stake for Matassa today if he opts for trial?

He was indicted for violating Louisiana Revised Statute 18:1461.5.  Election offenses involving bribery, threats or intimidation of election officials or candidates; penalties.  It reads:

A.  No person shall knowingly, willfully, or intentionally:

      (4)(a)  Give or offer to give, directly or indirectly, any money or any thing of apparent present or prospective value to a candidate for public office for the purpose of securing the candidate’s withdrawal from an election.”

Was Wayne Lawson a candidate?  Did Matassa offer Lawson any money or any thing of apparent or prospective value?  If so, was the offer made for the purpose of securing Lawson’s withdrawal from the November 8, 2016 election for Gonzales City Council, Division E?

Those are the three elements Jeff Traylor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict Matassa.

If convicted Matassa faces “imprisonment, with or without hard labor, for not more than two years” which does not include a mandatory minimum stay in one of Louisiana’s fine penal facilities.  According to Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 782; “Cases in which the punishment may be confinement at hard labor shall be tried by a jury composed of six jurors, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.”

Article 765 establishes “The normal order of trial shall” which sees the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, then the defendant, and the prosecution’s rebuttal, if any.  The state’s case includes nearly an hour of audio comprised of four separate recordings (that we are aware of; Lawson was contacted, and was contacted by, Matassa and co-defendant, Olin Berthelot, several times outside of our presence).  The prosecution witness list could include:

  • Wayne Lawson
  • Neal Bourque (Lawson’s election opponent)
  • Alan “Boxcar” Braud, Jr. (Matassa is overheard arranging Lawson’s choice of jobs with Braud)
  • Bernie Capone (the Ascension Parish employee who worked on Lawson’s trailer)
  • Tammy Kundler (Manager of Berthelot’s Bayou Financial who handed Lawson the items in the photo above)
  • Donna Michael (Manager of Berthelot’s Ascension Credit who delivered an envelope of cash)
  • Christy Burnett (the parish employee on hand to notarize Lawson’s withdrawal form)
  • Olin Berthelot (since his trial has, apparently, been severed from Matassa’s)

When the prosecution rests, who is Matassa’s lawyer going to call to the stand?  Just imagine President “Ezekiel Virus” under cross-examination.

Get him talking and Matassa will end up with additional criminal charges.  Would he implicate any of those politicos whose names he dropped on the Matassa Tapes?

According to the talk emanating from Matassa’s camp his trial strategy relies on the finding a juror sympathetic to the defendant, so much so that the Mount Everest of incriminating evidence will simply be ignored.  Nothing would prevent another trial if Lewis Unglesby’s proven abilities are sufficient to hang the jury.

Article 591 states: “No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of life or liberty for the same offense, except, when on his own motion, a new trial has been granted or judgment has been arrested, or where there has been a mistrial legally ordered under the provisions of Article 775 or ordered with the express consent of the defendant.  Article 775 reads:

A mistrial may be ordered, and in a jury case the jury dismissed, when; The jury is unable to agree upon a verdict.

Matassa’s only other option is to plead guilty, as charged, and hope that acceptance of responsibility is enough to garner mercy from the Court.