Victor trial to remain in parish, judge rules

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 10, 2010



LAPLACE – The second-degree murder trial of Errol and Tonya Victor will remain in St. John the Baptist Parish and district court Judge Mary Hotard Becnel will continue to preside, according to recent rulings.

The Reserve couple, awaiting trial in the 2008 death of 8-year-old M.L. Lloyd III, Tonya Victor’s son and Errol Victor’s stepson, lost two challenges that would have gotten their case moved into federal court under a different judge.

The first challenge was an April lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court asking for the case to be moved from the 40th Judicial District Court in St. John the Baptist Parish to federal court. The Victors’ suit alleged the state is “pursuing the indictment solely because (the) defendants are African-Americans in St. John Parish,” according to court documents.

In the suit, the Victors allege that, “African-Americans are more likely than white defendants to be treated unfairly, prosecuted and incarcerated in St. John. Louisiana’s ‘long history’ of racism, discrimination and partial treatment of African Americans in its court system requires a minimum inquiry as to whether this case (among others) should remain removed from Louisiana’s discriminatory legal system.”

According to a release from U.S. District Court, Judge Lance Africk ruled that he found “no legitimate statutory basis” to remove the case from district court.

He further stated precedent has shown that federal courts should not interfere with ongoing state court proceedings.

Africk determined the Victors did not provide any basis to assume they cannot enforce their federal rights in Louisiana. Under Louisiana law, cases can be removed from state courts if a defendant’s civil rights are violated or if those rights cannot be enforced in state court. Africk signed an order remanding the case to 40th Judicial District Court.

The second failed challenge was an Aug. 4 motion filed by the Victors asking for Judge Becnel to recuse herself from the case. In that motion the Victors and their court-appointed attorney, Edward Greenlee, accused the 40th Judicial District of “judge shopping.”

Greenlee argued that the case, which was reassigned after a new indictment in July, should not have been assigned to Becnel’s court. He asked that it be returned to Judge Madeline Jasmine’s court, which was originally assigned the case when the couple was indicted in 2008 after Lloyd’s death.

The Victors were indicted twice more since the original indictment. The couple was first indicted on first-degree murder charges, then re-indicted on second-degree murder charges. That indictment was thrown out by Jasmine earlier this year when it was determined that a member of the grand jury wore a shirt advertising his employment with the St. John Sheriff’s Office. On the third indictment, the case was reassigned and placed at random into Becnel’s court since it was a new case.

Greenlee said in a court appearance last month that allowing cases to be reallotted to different judges could allow the state to “judge shop” on this and any other case.

Becnel said in her ruling that when Jasmine voided the previous indictment, the charges were dismissed in the case. The new indictment created an entirely new case and was properly put back into the court system.

The Victors are still awaiting a decision as to whether they can be allowed to represent themselves through the course of the trial. The couple alleges the court-appointed attorney has been forced on them. A hearing on that matter is set for Sept. 20 in Edgard. The couple remains incarcerated in the St. John Parish Jail in LaPlace.