Drug defendent sought after walking out of court

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 1, 2004


Staff Reporter

EDGARD – Authorities are searching for a 24-year-old LaPlace man who fled the St. John the Baptist Parish Courthouse in Edgard, Tuesday afternoon, to avoid a possible prison term stemming from narcotics charges, said Public Information Officer Sgt. Dane Clement.

According to Clement, Shawn Housley slipped out of the courthouse while a 12-member jury was deliberating the verdict in his felony case being tried before State District Judge J. Sterling Snowdy. Although the jury reached a final decision, Housley fled before the jury could announce it.

“Everyone searched the parking lot and the building – looking for him,” said Assistant District Attorney Robert Becnel. “When he could not be found, I immediately asked Judge Snowdy to issue a bench warrant on the fugitive from justice.”

Becnel, who prosecuted the case, said Snowdy set a $350,000 bond on Housley.

“The parish is considering filing theft charges on Housley for the clothes he was wearing. Housley borrowed clothes kept in the courthouse for indigent cases. When he fled in the clothing, he, in essence, stole them,” said Becnel.

Housley was tried Monday and Tuesday for purportedly selling crack cocaine, valued at $40, to undercover narcotics agents inside the E-Z Stop located on the intersection of Airline Highway and Main Street.

The incidents took place on Feb. 25, 2003 and March 21, 2003.

Becnel said the jury had five possible verdict choices from which they could choose. The choices included distribution of cocaine, attempted distribution of cocaine, possession of cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine and not guilty.

Although the incidents were caught on tape, the jury found Housley guilty of two counts of attempting to distribute cocaine instead of two counts of distribution.

“He (Housley) was shrewd. The transaction was not hand-to-hand. Housley placed the cocaine on the top of a liquor bottle. He had the undercover agent place the money inside a cooler within the store. He (Housely) knew there was a possibility the transaction was being taped,” said Becnel.

Because a hand-to-hand sale did not take place, Becnel maintained the jury opted not to charge the defendant with distribution.

Before the 2003 incidents, Housley had at least two prior drug arrests and two definite prior drug convictions.

Following his drug convictions, he was placed on probation until 2007.

“Housley would not take the stand to testify. Because he never testified, I could not bring up his prior convictions. Had he taken the stand, I definitely would have brought up the prior convictions. The jury did not know about the prior convictions. They also did not know Housley was on probation until 2007,” said Becnel.

According to Becnel, the United States Supreme Court will not allow past cases to be brought up during trial.

“It would unfairly prejudice the jury. Knowing about a defendant’s past cases could influence a jury,” conveyed Becnel. “Had he taken the stand, I could have opened the door to question his truth and credibility as a witness. His past convictions would have come out,” declared Becnel.

Becnel said he is still pleased with the outcome of the trial.

Housley faces a minimum 15-year jail sentence.

Becnel was asked why a convicted felon was released on bond pending the outcome of his trial. He was also askeed why tighter security had not been provided during the Housley’s trial.

Becnel answered the questions by saying, “The judge set bond. Housley wasn’t watched because he wasn’t really a threat. If his crimes had included violence, the court would have placed better security on him.”