After two trials, man acquitted in murder

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — After three years and two separate trials, a jury acquitted a LaPlace man who was accused of murdering a Greenwood Drive resident after an argument over a broken windshield and speeding down a residential street.

Prosecutors said Kenchristopher Hilson, 25, was cleared of murder charges stemming from a July 9, 2005 altercation involving him and 26-year-old Donald Guarino. The jury of 12 spent about three hours in deliberation and came away with a 10-2 vote to acquit the defendant.

“We were hoping and thought we could get a guilty plea in the case,” said Assistant District Attorney William O’Regan, the lead prosecutor on the case.

According to a St. John Sheriff’s Office report on the incident, witnesses say a man hurled a beer bottle at an Oldsmobile Cutlass that was speeding down Greenwood Drive while numerous residents were outside at a party. The bottle broke the car’s windshield and ignited the fight. Hilson was a passenger in the car at the time of the incident.

Residents of the street said the shooting was the culmination of simmering frustration over speeding in the subdivision. It would originally lead to a community activist group and a neighborhood watch in the area.

District Court Judge Mary Hotard Becnel declared a mistrial when the case went to court in March of 2008 after the jury could not come up with enough votes to convict Hilson. O’Regan said the jury was in deliberations for over eight hours.

“I’m just frustrated after all that time and effort in the case,” said O’Regan. “It just seems like a lot was wasted.”

At the time of the incident the men in the vehicle confessed their involvement in the crime to police, including Hilson, who admitted to firing the gun. The defense attorney in the case claimed that Hilson felt threatened and shot in self-defense.

Attorney David Belfield, Hilson’s lawyer, argued that the fracas was racially motivated. He said witnesses recalled hearing racial slurs and curse words throughout the argument, and that his client handled himself reasonably based on the environment he walked into.

Belfield said the men in the car were speeding down the street to escape a carload of men who were chasing them. He said the car did not stop when the bottle was thrown, but returned when it was discovered that the windshield was broken. When Hilson returned to the area to find out who would pay for the damage, Guarino confronted him.

Witnesses on the scene that night said the argument went on for several minutes before Hilson produced a gun and fired on Guarino.

Belfield also claimed that racial tensions escalated further when St. John Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene. The first deputy on the scene, an African-American woman, testified in court that when she attempted to take Guarino’s pulse, she was told to get away from him because of her race. She said she was forced to produce a weapon to maintain order.