Judges to remain in Victor cases

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 2, 2010



EDGARD – An ad hoc judge on Thursday denied a request from a Reserve couple accused of murder to remove two St. John Parish judges from criminal and civil cases pending against them.

Retired First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank Foil ruled that attorneys for Errol and Tonya Victor, charged in the death of their 8-year-old son, did not provide enough proof that they would not receive a fair trial from District Court Judges Mary Hotard Becnel and J. Sterling Snowdy. Becnel has been assigned to a criminal case involving the Victors, while Snowdy is handling child custody court battles.

Errol and Tonya Victor were indicted in April and charged with murder in connection with the death of M.L. Lloyd III. The civil cases pertain to custody battles over several of the Victors’ young children, who were taken from the home and placed in state custody following Lloyd’s death.

The couple originally filed a recusal request to remove all three judges on May 12 prior to a scheduled civil hearing. Morris Reed, an attorney for the Victors, withdrew that motion Thursday and offered a new motion to only recuse Becnel and Snowdy.

Reed claimed Becnel and Snowdy had continued court proceedings in the Victor cases after the recusal order was filed. Errol and Tonya also both testified Thursday they are victims of “a conspiracy against their family in St. John Parish.”

Errol Victor claimed that an unnamed Becnel family member involved in real estate ventures in St. John Parish has historically been a direct competitor to similar ventures he has spearheaded in the past. He claimed this relationship could potentially “cloud her judgment and create an unfair court situation.”

“That relationship and the ‘character’ of some of the people her family associates with would make it impossible to get a fair trial,” Victor said.

Reed also questioned Thursday why the criminal case, originally set in Judge Madeline Jasmine’s court, was moved to Becnel’s court following a new indictment in April.

Lori Colas, a representative for the St. John Clerk of Court, said the original case was thrown out in February by Jasmine because a member of the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office served on the grand jury and wore a shirt advertising his employment with the force.

She said the new indictment created a new case which required a new allotment drawing.

“The parish uses a random allotment system that utilizes a bingo-style machine,” Colas said. “Each judge gets 25 balls with individual numbers. A ball bearing one of Becnel’s numbers was pulled.”

Following the recusal hearing, Becnel returned to the stand to begin hearing a request of habeas corpus from the Victors that was filed in May. The Victors claim they have been held on a substantially high bond of more than $3.4 million apiece.

Becnel ruled that she would honor a $1 million bond she set on both of them back in April. She said the Victors would only be responsible to come up with the difference of the $1 million out of what they have already paid in bonds. She said Errol Victor had paid $400,000 in bonds, and Tonya had paid $600,000.

Becnel also ruled the Victors are ordered to stay away and cut off contact from any minor children taken from their homes. This order includes phone calls and third party contact.

The next hearing for the family is scheduled for Aug. 4 in LaPlace.