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Hundreds of murder cases still awaiting trial in Baton Rouge due to backlog

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BATON ROUGE - As crime continues spiraling out of control in Baton Rouge, the WBRZ Investigative Unit learned there are hundreds of homicide cases that are awaiting trial in the 19th Judicial District Court.

"Justice right now is not swift," District Attorney Hillar Moore said. "It's very slow right now. We need to return to swift and certain justice."

Moore said a number of factors have led to the delays, with some of the oldest cases dating back to 2015.

"Really, since the flood we've been backlogged," Moore said. "After that, we've had ice days and rain days, wind days. Every time that happens it sets back jury trials and jurors coming in."

Despite all the weather problems, COVID delays dealt the court the biggest blow as trials stopped for nearly two years.

"Last year, we got back to 12 to 15 trials... and now we are trying to get back to trying cases in earnest. Now we are trying a case from 2018, but we have cases that are backlogged from 2015," Moore said.

The grueling task is not easy to tackle when you factor in the amount of cases that keep stacking up with each murder arrest, as Baton Rouge and other cities continue to see record homicide numbers over the past couple of years.

"The entire court system—meaning the public defender, district attorney and the police and the crime lab—we are understaffed," Moore said. "The crime lab is understaffed, and police are way understaffed. We have to staff everyone up to handle the backlog of 200 murder cases."

One of the cases backlogged to 2015 is the murder trial of Hamid Ghassemi. He's accused of plotting a murder-for-hire hit after his ex-wife Tahereh Ghassemi was found dead. For seven years, there have been multiple delays—with some of them attributed to Ghassemi and delays he's caused.

Two others involved in Ghassemi's case entered pleas, but one withdrew his plea.

"Evil exists in the world, and unfortunately, this evil was closer to home than I ever expected," Hamed Ghassemi, the suspect's son, told WBRZ in 2015.

WBRZ verified there are also large backlogs at the State Police Crime lab due to staffing shortages too. Everything is having a ripple effect on the trials that are ready to go.

"I can see it here," Moore said. "I can feel it. You can see it on their face. Every day we demand more and more. And when we go on call-outs and have another body, another killing and no cooperation, everyone is breathing another sigh. They come back to work the next day, and the pile is still in front of them, just gets higher and higher. It's very stressful right now."

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