Trial witnesses describe moments before & during Feed Store killing

Published 9:29 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2019

EDGARD — The two witnesses closest to the February 2014 LaPlace Feed Store armed burglary-turned-homicide took their testimonies to the stand Tuesday in Edgard.

Connie Finckbeiner, owner of LaPlace Feed & Supply, detailed the moments before and after the fateful encounter that claimed the life of her husband, Steven Finckbeiner, and left her bleeding at the scene from a gunshot wound to her head.

Charles McQuarter III, the alleged shooter in the case, is on trial and being represented by attorney Lisa Parker of the St. John the Baptist Parish Public Defender Office.

Charles McQuarter III

In an effort to prove McQuarter’s second degree murder and armed robbery charges, prosecuting attorneys also solicited testimony from Dracier Dewey, who was indicted alongside McQuarter by a St. John Parish grand jury in 2014 for alleged involvement in the Feed Store killing.

Much of Finckbeiner’s testimony was corroborated by Dewey’s account, though cross examination by the defense called Dewey’s credibility into question.

Finckbeiner was first to take the stand Tuesday afternoon, dressed in a black and white striped blouse. She looked out into the gallery, filled with more than a dozen family, friends and supporters.

She identified McQuarter as he sat beside his legal team in the courtroom. Behind him, several of his family members and supporters sat in the courtroom.

According to Finckbeiner’s testimony, McQuarter and Dewey entered the Feed Store the afternoon of February 25, 2014.

It started off as a normal Tuesday. Finckbeiner was in the back of the store, working on her sewing, when her husband Steve walked through the side entrance and asked for help with two customers.

The taller, skinny young man, later identified by Finckbeiner as McQuarter, asked about purchasing shots for a three-week-old puppy. The Finckbeiners told him he’d have to return in three weeks when the puppy was old enough for the shots, and both men exited the store.

Finckbeiner then walked to the front office to turn on an embroidery machine and caught sight of the duo standing at the edge of the property.

When she told her husband they were still outside, Steve looked out the window and said, “They’re on foot.” Almost immediately after, Finckbeiner turned around to find a gun pointed at her head.

The trigger pulled and she fell to the ground, blacking out after hearing a second gunshot and an impassioned cry saying, “I want the (expletive) money.”

When she came to, head screaming in pain, she was met with another expletive-laced question about money as the man she identified as McQuarter threw the store cash register at her.

According to Finckbeiner, the cash register broke before the offender scooped up part of it and ran out.

After rolling over and pulling herself up to see the two men still outside, Finckbeiner pushed the door shut and checked on Steve. She found him fallen over in the office, lifeless.

“He was just hunched over, and I held him and told him ‘You’d better not be dead,’” Finckbeiner said. “He wasn’t moving. I couldn’t find the panic button.”

Prosecuting attorneys Lea Hall Jr. and Hugo Holland introduced pictorial evidence during Tuesday’s two testimonies, including images of blood, glasses and a piece of cash register on the floor of the Feed Store. Evidence also included lineups produced by the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, in which Finckbeiner identified McQuarter and Dewey among photos of other African American men.

During opening remarks for the defense, Parker noted identification of the two suspects came 10 days after the homicide, after McQuarter’s face was featured in newspapers and on television.

Those details leave reasonable doubt, according to Parker.

“Compare it to what the witnesses say, and I can guarantee at the end, you will not have all the pieces to put the puzzle together,” Parker told the jury.

Finckbeiner adamantly denied seeing McQuarter or Dewey in media reports prior to the identification, adding she spent time in between recovering in the hospital and laying Steve to rest.

The defense’s claim that the story isn’t as simple as it seems continued during Dewey’s testimony.

Like Finckbeiner, Dewey reported visiting the Feed Store with McQuarter on Feb. 25, 2014.

As the day began, he and McQuarter grabbed a ride to LaPlace before 10 a.m. so McQuarter could get his hair cut. When a sign on the door said the barber wouldn’t be back until 2 p.m., Dewey and McQuarter went to the house of an acquaintance. Later in the day, when the barber still had not returned, they walked back toward their friend’s house, stopping at the Feed Store along the way.

Dewey said he heard McQuarter mumbling under his breath as they exited the store minutes later. After Dewey jumped a ditch and turned back to grab his shoe, he saw McQuarter re-enter the store.

Seconds later, there was a gunshot. Then at least two more.

Dewey said he hurried away from the scene and threw away his red jacket at a nearby house, not before seeing McQuarter exit the store with a cash register in hand.

Dewey later encountered law enforcement near the St. John Parish Animal Shelter and lied about coming from the Feed Store. After conversations with family members who saw a video of him near the scene released on the news, Dewey turned himself in.

Five years later, he remains incarcerated, charged as a principal to second degree murder. According to the St. John Public Defenders Office, Dewey’s trial is being handled separately at an undetermined date following McQuarter’s trial.

Sitting at the witness stand Tuesday in handcuffs and a khaki jumpsuit, Dewey was flustered and uncomfortable. He changed his answer, citing poor recollection, when attorneys asked him whether he entered Mini Hui Mart in LaPlace with McQuarter the day of the incident.

He originally answered “yes,” though he reported standing outside in previous statements to the police. Dewey also denied motioning to McQuarter to “come here” after the shooting, and maintained he had no knowledge of McQuarter having a gun.

At the beginning of the examination, Dewey said he had come to the stand in return for “his freedom,” though he retracted the statement after agreeing with prosecutors that he had been promised nothing.

McQuarter’s father, Charles McQuarter Jr., said the testimony casts doubt on the state’s case.

“It’s been a blessed day,” the elder McQuarter said.

Nolan Boutte attended the proceeding in support of Finckbeiner, and he noted Dewey showed emotion and remorse on the stand, though he seemed to be holding back in his testimony.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Edgard Courthouse, and witness testimony is expected to finish on Friday.

If convicted of second-degree murder, McQuarter will face life in prison at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. His armed robbery charge could result in a 10- to 99- year sentence.

Since the offense occurred before a recent Louisiana law change requiring unanimous juries, only 10 of the 12 jurors must be in agreement to convict.