The admission came during a hearing in the 31st Judicial District Court on a motion to compel filed by Cassidy.
Cassidy noted that a lot of grief could have been avoided had KPLC advised him or the court of the footage’s destruction before the scheduled hearing.
Many of the victim’s family members were in court Thursday to hear the arguments and the judge’s ruling, but were left with nothing but discouragement after hours of waiting.
“Shame on [KPLC] for being unprofessional,” said Cassidy. “The effect of their actions on these families has been callous and cruel.”
The bodies of seven of the eight murdered women, Loretta Lynn Chaisson Lewis, Ernestine Marie Daniels Patterson, Kristin Elizabeth Gary Lopez, Whitnei Charlene Dubois, LaConia Shontel Brown, Crystal Shay Benoit Zeno and Brittany Ann Gary, were found in Jeff Davis Parish. The body of the eighth woman, Necole Jean Guillory, was discovered along Interstate 10 south of Egan in Acadia Parish.
At issue was the unedited footage of interviews videotaped by KPLC in connection with a 2009 documentary, Unsolved: Mystery in Jeff Davis Parish.
The footage became the subject of litigation almost immediately after the documentary aired, when then-Sheriff Ricky Edwards subpoenaed KPLC for it.
KPLC refused to produce the video, reporting on its website at that time that it had “decided not to turn over its unedited footage,” but would instead file a motion to quash the subpoena on the grounds that the form of the subpoena did not comply with applicable state statutes.
Because of the state of the law at the time, it was unclear what the outcome of litigation over the subpoena might be, so Cassidy was hesitant to pursue the matter.
But KPLC News Director Scott Flannigan, who is no longer with the news organization, told Cassidy at that time that although he would not release the footage without a court order, he would hold on to it.
The matter sat on the back burner until last October, when Sheriff Ivy Woods and the multi-agency task force formed to investigate the murders requested access to it.
Having found case law that would support a ruling that KPLC was required to produce the footage, Cassidy again approached the news station and requested that it allow law enforcement officers to view it, or to allow the court to review it “in camera.”
An “in camera” review is one that occurs in private in the judge’s chambers and gives the judge a chance to determine whether particular evidence should be produced in discovery, admitted in court, etc.
KPLC declined to cooperate.
Cassidy then filed a motion to compel production of the video in connection with a matter under investigation. KPLC objected and the matter was set for hearing Jan. 3
At that point, Cassidy and the court were in for a surprise when KPLC attorney James Doyle advised that the unedited footage no longer exists.
In fact, KPLC actually destroyed the footage itself by recording over it. According to Doyle, the station uses expensive chips for filming, and because it cannot afford very many, it is necessary to record over them once usable footage is downloaded.
According to Doyle, the station did not realize that the footage had been destroyed until it was time to prepare for the hearing.
Cassidy expressed both shock and disappointment at KPLC’s handling of the matter.
As Cassidy noted, law enforcement officials will now never know if the footage could have been helpful in their investigation.
At the close of the hearing, the judge continued the matter and ordered KPLC Vice President and General Manager Jim Serra to submit an affidavit stating the facts regarding the destruction of the footage. Cassidy is waiting to review the affidavit, which was ordered to be filed within a week, before determining his next step.
Cassidy wants to assure the public, however, that Sheriff Woods’ office is continuing to investigate the deaths. According to Cassidy, they are continuing to receive new leads on a daily basis and “will leave no stone unturned.”
Calls to KPLC and its attorney were not returned as of press time.