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Trial underway for former East Feliciana coroner accused of falsifying documents

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UPDATE: Laura DeJohn has been found guilty of filing or maintaining false public records and conspiracy to do the same. Under a state statute presented by prosecutors, the jury found that by instructing her deputy, Melanie Vines, to write her (DeJohn’s) signature and thereby falsely attest to personal examination of patients, DeJohn had filed or deposited “for record in any public office or with any public official ... with knowledge of its falsity … any document containing a false statement or false representation of a material fact.”

BATON ROUGE - Opening statements lasted roughly 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon in the trial of Laura DeJohn, the former East Feliciana coroner facing conspiracy and filing and maintaining false public records charges.

The Attorney General's Office prosecuting the case says DeJohn instructed her deputy Coroner, Melanie Vines, to sign Dejohn's name on some two dozen Coroner Emergency Certificates, or CECs. The CECs were for East Baton Rouge Patients sent to the state mental facility in Jackson, Louisiana. 

Those CECs were then sent to East Baton Rouge coroner, Dr. Beau Clark, for payment. 

DeJohn's attorney, John McLindon, says there was a reason for all of that.  McLindon argued that after Clark refused to pay, DeJohn and Vines decided that maybe if Dejohn's name were on the documents, they might get paid. 

McLindon acknowledged that having Vines sign DeJohn's name on the CEC's was a misrepresentation, but claimed there was no criminal intent and DeJohn never received any payment, making the phony signature essentially meaningless. 

"When it comes to forgery it just doesn't matter what the context was," LSU law professor Ken Levy said. "Forgery is forgery, it's illegal."

The Louisiana statute for filing or maintaining false public records, any forged document filed with a public agency or public official violates the law.

"In this case, it sounds like they said not only was the signature forged, but DeJohn knew that and that is pretty much is a direct violation of the statute," Levy said.

McLindon argued that because Laura DeJohn gave Melanie Vines permission to sign her name on the documents in question, it isn't a forgery. In a scenario posed to the six-person jury, McLindon compared what happened in this case to filling out a driver's license form at the Office of Motor Vehicles and writing down the incorrect weight.

"It seems like the defense wants to talk about whether this was merely a white lie, a small lie, or a big lie, a material lie," Levy said. "But forgery is not a lie, forgery is just a different type of animal."

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