NEW ORLEANS - A former New Orleans police officer whose 2010 manslaughter conviction was touted as a milestone in the city's healing after Hurricane Katrina was acquitted Wednesday by a different jury of charges he fatally shot a man without justification during the storm's chaotic aftermath.
David Warren spent more than three years behind bars after he was charged in the September 2005 death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, whose body was burned in a car by a different officer after a good Samaritan drove the dying man to a makeshift police compound.
Leaving the courthouse a free man, Warren, 50, was reunited with his wife and five children after jurors acquitted him of a civil rights violation and a firearm charge.
Warren told reporters that he "took the action that I had to take" when he shot Glover once with a rifle from a second-story balcony at a strip mall he was guarding.
"We have spent years talking about something that lasted seconds," he said.
Warren's trembling relatives wept and embraced each other after the verdict, which jurors delivered less than two hours after they informed a judge they were struggling to reach a unanimous decision.
"Oh my gosh, I can't even get it in my head," his wife, Kathy Warren, told a supporter. Her husband had been in custody since June 2010, when he surrendered to authorities following his indictment.
On the other side of the courtroom, Glover's sister, Patrice, slumped over and wailed so loudly that U.S. District Judge Lance Africk paused as he spoke to jurors. After a man carried Patrice Glover out of the room, several jurors wiped away tears as they filed out.
Friends and relatives tried to console Patrice Glover as she sat in a chair in the lobby of the courthouse.
"He was a good child," she said of her brother. "That was my baby."
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. said in a statement that prosecutors were disappointed by the verdict but thanked jurors for their "attentive service."
His predecessor, Jim Letten, said after the 2010 verdict that it marked a "critical phase in the recovery and healing of this city, of the people of this region."
Africk had sentenced Warren to nearly 26 years in prison after the jury in his first trial convicted him and two other former officers of charges stemming from Glover's death.
But an appeals court overturned Warren's convictions and ordered a new trial last year. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit ruled that Warren should have been tried separately from four other former officers charged in an alleged cover-up of Glover's death. The panel agreed with Warren's lawyers that the "spillover effect" of evidence about the cover-up, including testimony about the burning of Glover's body and photos of his charred remains, denied him a fair trial.
A different officer, Gregory McRae, was convicted in 2010 of burning Glover's body. The 5th Circuit upheld McRae's convictions.
The jury for Warren's retrial was barred from hearing any testimony about what happened to Glover in the aftermath of the shooting.
On Monday, Warren testified that he feared for his life when he shot Glover because he thought he saw a gun in his hand as he and another man ran toward the building he was guarding. Prosecutors, however, said Glover wasn't armed and didn't pose a threat.
Defense attorney Richard Simmons said the case was always about "a policeman's worst nightmare, that split-second decision."
"The benefit of the doubt has to go to the officer," Simmons said, adding that "there's no winners or losers, there's just survivors."
Warren and another officer, Linda Howard, were guarding a police substation at the strip mall on the morning of Sept. 2, 2005, when Glover and another man pulled up in a truck. Warren said he screamed, "Police, get back!" twice after Glover and his friend, Bernard Calloway, exited the truck and started to run toward a gate that would have given them access to the building he was guarding.
Calloway, however, testified that Glover was standing next to the truck and lighting a cigarette when Warren shot him. Howard testified Glover and Calloway were running in different directions when Warren opened fire.
Jurors also heard testimony from a former officer, Alec Brown, who said Warren told him shortly after the shooting that he believed looters were "animals" who deserved to be shot. Warren denied saying that.
Earlier on the same morning as Glover's shooting, Warren had fired what he called a warning shot at a man who had been riding a bike near the mall. Warren said he knew officers aren't allowed to fire warning shots, but was worried the man intended to do "something stupid" because he had circled the mall several times.
Warren was one of 20 officers charged in a series of federal investigations of alleged police misconduct in New Orleans. His December 2010 conviction was touted as a major milestone in the Justice Department's ambitious efforts to clean up the city's troubled police department.
The same jury that convicted Warren and McRae also convicted a third former officer, Travis McCabe, of writing a false report on the shooting. Africk later ordered a new trial for McCabe based on new evidence that surfaced after the trial: a different copy of the report that McCabe is accused of doctoring.
The jury at the first trial also acquitted two other former officers of charges related to the alleged cover-up.