Jailed Trucker Jean Claude Meus Gets New Trial: Did TV Help Make It Happen?
It has taken years, but Trevena has finally won a new trial for the 44-year-old Haitian immigrant truck driver, who started a 15-year prison sentence in 2003 after his conviction on vehicular homicide charges after an accident in which prosecutors alleged he fell asleep at the wheel.
I wrote about Meus and Trevena back in 2005, when Trevena tipped WTVT-Ch. 13 investigative reporter Doug Smith to the seeming disparity. At the time, Jennifer Porter, a 29-year-old, part-Cuban woman widely perceived to be white, had received three years of probation, two years of house arrest and 500 hours of community service after leaving the scene of a car accident in which she struck two children, who died.
Didn't hurt that she was represented by the most powerful criminal lawyer in town, Barry Cohen.
I wrote about how national media outlets were surprisingly indifferent to Meus' story, despite its parallels with the Porter case and questionable outcome. Trevena and Smith stuck with the case, however, and saw their efforts pay off Tuesday. See Smith's story from last night here.
Meus, who stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigators, was charged with homicide in Hardee County for the accident, which killed a 40-year-old woman and her daughter. His case was striking enough that two sisters of the woman killed in the accident took up his cause, arguing that the trial wasn't fair.
Smith's story, along with a later piece in the St. Petersburg Times, suggested Meus may have faced tougher charges and received a stiffer sentence because of his race and lack of wealth (Trevena didn't represent him in the original trial). Smith noted, for example, that another trucker, Thomas Smith, had a similar accident in 2002 in Hardee County which killed a man, but that driver admitted falling asleep at the wheel and got a traffic citation for it as his only punishment.
The difference between Smith and Meus? Smith is white and Meus is not.
But it sounds like justice may finally be at hand, thanks to a persistent lawyer and TV reporter.