CLINTON — An East Feliciana Parish jury deliberated less than 45 minutes Thursday before convicting a Roseland man of second-degree murder in the death of his estranged girlfriend.
Twentieth Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr. set sentencing Nov. 7 for Antwoene Irving, 34. Second-degree murder is punishable by life in prison without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.
Kiewanna Sopsher, 33, suffered fatal injuries when she either jumped or was pushed from her moving car while Irving was driving it April 5, 2011, in the Tangipahoa Parish community where the two lived.
Prosecutor Lea Hall said in closing arguments Thursday that Irving forced his way into Sopsher’s car by choking her, making him guilty of second-degree murder because she died while Irving was committing the crimes of aggravated burglary and second-degree kidnapping.
Although Sopsher was killed in Tangipahoa Parish, Irving put her body back into the car and drove around for about three hours before he stopped the car in East Feliciana Parish.
Despite Ware’s warning against outbursts, some of the approximately 30 victim’s relatives let out a collective whoop when East Feliciana Parish Clerk of Court David Dart read the verdict of “guilty.”
A few minutes later, a member of Irving’s family broke down in uncontrollable sobs, and deputies ushered her to a side room. Irving showed no emotion as Dart announced the unanimous verdict from the panel of nine women and three men.
During his closing argument, Hall said the jury had to decide whether Sopsher was murdered or killed in a “bizarre accident,” as he said the defense attorneys suggested.
“What would it take for you to decide to jump out of a moving car?” Hall asked rhetorically.
“Something on the order that it threatens your life,” he said, projecting a picture onto a screen of Sopsher’s bloody, battered body on an autopsy room table.
In a statement to sheriff’s detectives, Irving said he was angry because he thought Sopsher was having sex with her estranged husband, but he denied attacking her the night she died.
Hall said Sopsher’s 11-year-old son witnessed the attack on his mother after she drove up to her house in order for him to retrieve a belt he needed for school the next day.
Sopsher temporarily was living with a sister, relatives testified.
The boy’s description of Irving choking his mother matched marks on her neck that a pathologist described in her testimony, Hall said.
Defense attorney Chuck Ward asked jurors to view the evidence critically, arguing that the pathologist did not say Sopsher had been choked the night she died, that neighbors in their yards did not hear a struggle between the two, and that none of Irving’s “contact DNA” was found on her body or clothing.
Ward also asked jurors to consider what Irving may have been asked before detectives turned on their recorder during an interview, noting that the only witness the defense called, East Feliciana sheriff’s Detective Don McKey, testified that Irving said he tried to keep her from jumping from the vehicle.
If Irving cared for Sopsher, why didn’t he do something to help her after her head hit the pavement in Roseland, Hall asked in his rebuttal argument.
“Why didn’t he just take her to the hospital?” Hall asked. “There’s only one answer: He was trying to cover up his act.”