NEW ORLEANS — Five former New Orleans police officers pleaded guilty Wednesday in deadly shootings in the days following Hurricane Katrina, abruptly ending a decade-old case that tainted an already scandal-plagued police force and reawakened memories of the chaos and devastation from the catastrophic 2005 storm.

The case also spotlighted misconduct by federal prosecutors. The men had been convicted by a jury in 2011 but U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt set aside the verdict two years later because federal prosecutors leaked information to the media and made anonymous online comments about the case.

The plea agreement means significantly shorter sentences for the former officers, with credit for years already served. It also avoids another long and painful trial.

“Hopefully, today will mean further closure for the victims of these crimes and the city itself,” Engelhardt said.

He castigated the Justice Department for what he called evasive and sometimes false responses to questions about the online comments, calling it “jiggery pokery.”

Four of the former officers have been locked up for nearly six years while the fifth has been out on bond. Their original convictions called for them to serve anywhere from six years to 65 years in prison. The plea deal calls for them to serve a range of three to 12 years.

On Sept. 4, 2005, days after the levees failed and water swamped the city, police gunned down 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who were both unarmed, and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge. To cover it up, the officers planted a gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports, prosecutors have said.

The shootings at the bridge happened as much of the city remained under water and without power after the Aug. 29 deluge. Tens of thousands had been stranded at the Superdome and the Morial Convention Center for days. The police force was under immense strain as looting was rampant and authorities were struggling to account for, and collect the bodies of hundreds killed in the flood waters.


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