Hearing on Stafford expert witnesses set for Nov. 7
Mon, 10/31/2016 - 05:00
Police Jury appeals order to pay for one; 3rd Circuit overturns denial to pay for the other
Raymond L. Daye
An “open door” may have swung a little wider when the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ruled a hearing must be held on Derrick Stafford’s request for public funds for a “use-of-force expert.” The result could be costly to the Avoyelles Police Jury. The appellate court overturned 12th Judicial District Judge William "Billy" Bennett’s rejection of Stafford’s request and ordered the district court to hold a hearing on the matter.
That issue will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, at the same time as a hearing on the Avoyelles Police Jury’s appeal of Bennett’s order that the parish pay $4,368 for an accident scene reconstruction expert in Stafford’s murder case.
Bennett had declared Stafford met criteria to be considered indigent, thus making him eligible for public funds for his defense. On Oct. 12, Bennett ordered the Police Jury to pay $4,368 for accident scene reconstruction expert Victor Holloman, of Sugarland, Texas. But the judge denied the request of defense attorneys Jonathan Goins and Christopher LaCour for funds to hire a use-of-force expert.
The Police Jury balked at paying the bill, choosing instead to hire a private attorney to appeal the court order. That request was filed on Oct. 21, the same day the 3rd Circuit issued its ruling.
‘Opening the Door’
Police Jury President Charles Jones said the jury feared the accident scene reconstruction expert would be "opening the door" for future requests for defense funding in this and other upcoming trials. The district attorney's office would usually represent the Police Jury in such a matter, but the office has recused itself from this case because the co-defendant, Norris Greenhouse Jr., is the son of an assistant district attorney.
Stafford and Greenhouse are charged with 2nd-degree murder of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis and the attempted 2nd-degree murder of the child's father, Chris Few, following a traffic stop at the dead-end of Martin Luther King Drive, in front of the Marksville State Historic Site park and museum, on the night of Nov. 3, 2015. A reported 18 bullets were fired into the stopped vehicle, killing the child and critically wounding Few.
Although both men are full-time law enforcement officers in other agencies, they were moonlighting as Ward 2/Marksville City Marshal's Office deputies at the time of the shooting. They were arrested by State Police three days later after body camera video of the shooting was reviewed by investigators.
That video has since been made public and shows Few had his hands raised prior to the shots being fired. Stafford's trial is scheduled for Nov. 28. Greenhouse will go to trial on March 13.
More on motions
Police jurors voted not to approve the funds during a special meeting on Oct. 17 and authorized Jones to seek an attorney to represent the jury in the issue.
Jones said jurors felt they had not had an opportunity to argue that Stafford either is not indigent or, if he is, that the parish is not the appropriate party to pay those costs.
The motion filed by Andrew P. Texada of the Alexandria law firm of Stafford, Stewart and Potter makes those same arguments.
The motion states that if Stafford "is indigent, as determined by this court, then any expert witness fees and expenses should be paid by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, through the 12th Judicial District Court Public Defender District, not the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury."
In its ruling on the other expert witness issue, the 3rd Circuit noted Stafford “is entitled to a hearing on his motion for funds to hire a use-of-force expert” and “the trial court’s ruling denying the motion for funds to hire a use-of-force expert is vacated and this matter is remanded for a contradictory hearing on the motion.”