Stafford, Greenhouse trials postponed

Avoyelles Police Jury will not have to pay for expert witnesses


   With funding for two expert witnesses “up in the air,” the murder trial of Derrick Stafford was rescheduled to March 13, 2017 -- once again bumping co-defendant Norris Greenhouse Jr.’s court date, this time to June 12, 12th Judicial District Judge Billy Bennett decided Monday. 
   Stafford was scheduled to go to trial Nov. 28 for the fatal shooting of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis. 
  Stafford and Greenhouse were serving as Ward 2/Marksville City Marshal deputies when they pursued Chris Few for an alleged traffic violation on the night of Nov. 3, 2015. When Few was hemmed in at a dead end on Martin Luther King Street in Marksville, the two officers fired into the stopped vehicle. Few was critically wounded and his son, who was seatbelted in the front passenger seat, was killed.
   Investigators reported 18 shots were fired -- 14 from Stafford’s pistol and four from Greenhouse’s.
   Bennett said Stafford is indigent and is entitled to public funds to pay for two expert witnesses in his murder trial. What is not known is where he will get the public funds for those witnesses.
   “If we had the money approved for those experts today, they would not have time to be adequately prepared for trial” on Nov. 28, Bennett said. “And we do not have the money today.”
Bennett reversed his decision that the Avoyelles Police Jury should pay for those witnesses, ruling that the state law which speaks of a parish’s responsibility to pay the expenses of witnesses does not include expert witnesses. 
   That financial duty is limited to the cost of serving subpoenas on witnesses and any costs involved in getting them to court, such as mileage expenses, Bennett decided after hearing arguments in a two-hour hearing on several issues in the case.
   Bennett said state law places the burden of providing essential witnesses for indigent defendants on the state, but does not indicate what agency of the state should pay those costs.
   The court will send an order to pay for Stafford’s incident scene reconstruction expert and use-of-force expert to the state, but is not sure which agency will eventually be called upon to pay the bill.
Bennett also reversed his previous denial of Stafford’s request for a use-of-force expert. He said Stafford’s attorneys have provided documentation that shows the expert is important to Stafford’s defense.
   The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal sent the denial back to Bennett with a request that he conduct a hearing on the matter.
Bennett met with defense attorneys in private for about 30 minutes, in which time they provided the necessary documentation to support their request, he said upon reconvening the hearing in open court.