- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A federal judge has overturned Todd Wessinger’s death sentence in the shooting deaths two decades ago of restaurant co-workers Stephanie Guzzardo and David Breakwell.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1LP99Ff) U.S. District Judge James Brady ordered a new penalty phase hearing be held for Wessinger who has been on death row for 18 years.

Brady’s decision did not disturb Wessinger’s first-degree murder convictions for the Nov. 19, 1995, shooting deaths of Guzzardo, 27, and Breakwell, 46, at the now-closed Calendar’s Restaurant that Guzzardo managed.

Wayne Guzzardo, Stephanie Guzzardo’s father, called Brady’s ruling a stab in the back.

“We’re so disappointed. It just took the wind out of us again,” Wayne Guzzardo said Monday of his and his wife, Carol’s, reaction to Brady’s written ruling. “He has no compassion for the victims.”

Brady, who held an evidentiary hearing in January and March on Wessinger’s claim that his trial attorneys provided him ineffective assistance at the 1997 penalty phase of his capital murder trial, ruled Monday that those lawyers were indeed deficient, thus violating Wessinger’s constitutional rights.

“We believe the judge’s ruling is the correct and appropriate decision under the law,” said Rebecca Hudsmith, federal public defender for the Middle and Western Districts of Louisiana and one of Wessinger’s current attorneys.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he has great respect for Brady but disagrees with his decision. Moore said his office will review the ruling and file an appropriate response.

If the judge’s ruling stands on appeal, Wessinger will be entitled to a new penalty phase hearing.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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