Less than a month after a popular Vietnamese businessman was fatally shot at his north Baton Rouge convenience store a decade ago, the murder weapon was found hidden in the trunk of a car Joseph M. Brown was driving and blood was detected on his shoes, several police officers testified Wednesday.
Cpl. Mindy Stewart, a Baton Rouge police crime scene investigator, said the distinctive tread pattern of the shoes Brown was wearing when police stopped him Jan. 16, 2004, was eerily similar to bloody shoeprints found Dec. 20, 2003, inside Peter T’s Excel Market and Liquor on Baton Rouge Avenue.
One such print was found on the back of Xuan V. Duong, 49, who was discovered face-down behind the counter in a pool of blood, Stewart testified on the opening day of Brown’s second-degree murder trial.
Brown, 33, of Baton Rouge, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Barry Fontenot and fellow prosecutor Stephen Pugh said a verdict is expected as early as Thursday.
Detective Brian Higginbotham said Brown initially falsely identified himself in 2004, when Higginbotham and fellow officer Derek Moore pulled him over for traffic violations.
Moore testified he found a stolen semiautomatic pistol concealed under the carpet in the trunk of Brown’s car.
Moore said he also discovered a box of ammunition.
Fontenot told jurors earlier Wednesday the State Police Crime Lab determined the bullet casings found at the murder scene were fired from the pistol found in Brown’s car.
Fontenot also said the DNA found on Brown’s shoes was consistent with Duong’s DNA.
Circumstantial evidence that Fontenot labeled overwhelming is “flimsy at best,” Brown’s attorney, Stephen Sterling, countered in his opening remarks to the jury.
Sterling called Duong’s death a tragedy but added, “If an innocent man goes to jail for something he didn’t do, then a greater travesty has occurred.”
Brown’s co-defendant, Marlon “One Black” Washington, 31, also of Baton Rouge, has not been tried in the shooting death of Duong.
Washington, a three-time felon, is serving a 70-year prison term for the 2007 slaying of Harold Flowers III on Leonidas Street.
Fontenot, who acknowledged there are no eyewitnesses to Duong’s slaying, said Washington’s fingerprint was found inside Duong’s store. He conceded he could not tell the jury who pulled the trigger.
Duong, a native of Vietnam, was shot three times, including once in the back.
“They both participated in this crime, in the murder of this victim,” Fontenot said of Brown and Washington.
Sterling was quick to point out to the jury that Washington is not on trial.
“Marlon Washington doesn’t sit in this seat,” he said, pointing to where Brown sat in state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom. “This is not Marlon Washington. This is Joseph Brown.”
Stewart, who testified two different shoes left behind bloody prints, said the cash register drawer was open when she arrived at the murder scene, and the register indicated a $1.19 sale had been recorded.
A fully loaded .38-caliber revolver that belonged to Duong was sitting on a shelf behind the counter, she added.
Detectives Higginbotham and Moore said full boxes of candy — the types found on convenience store shelves — were found in the trunk of Brown’s car, as were assorted cans of beer.
The detectives said they do not know if those items were ever traced back to Duong’s store.
Brown and Washington were indicted on second-degree murder charges in November 2009, six years after Duong was killed.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said the Duong case is one of the cold cases his office reviewed when he took office in January 2009.