Defense calls no witnesses as murder trial nears end

Bullets and shell casings found inside a small grocery store after its Vietnamese owner was gunned down in December 2003 were fired from the same gun that police say they recovered from a Baton Rouge man’s car in January 2004, a forensic scientist testified Thursday.

The man, Joseph M. Brown, 33, is standing trial on a second-degree murder charge in the killing of Xuan V. Duong, 49, at the now-closed Peter T’s Excel Market and Liquor on Baton Rouge Avenue.

Brown faces an automatic sentence of life in prison if found guilty as charged.

The prosecution and defense rested their cases late Thursday afternoon, clearing the way for closing arguments, jury instructions and jury deliberations Friday. The defense called no witnesses.

Charles Watson, a forensic scientist and firearms examiner at the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, said he test-fired a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol — the stolen one police say they found hidden underneath carpet in the trunk of a car Brown was driving Jan. 16, 2004 — and concluded the gun was used to kill Duong on Dec. 20, 2003.

“These bullets and these cartridge casings were fired from this firearm,” Watson said of the ballistics evidence recovered at the murder scene.

Another forensic scientist at the State Police Crime Lab, Pat Lane, testified shoes that police say they seized from Brown had a similar tread pattern to some of the bloody shoeprints left at the murder scene, including one left on the back of Duong’s jacket.

Duong was discovered face-down in a pool of blood behind the store counter.

“It (the shoe print on the jacket) could have been made by this shoe,” Lane said as he held the shoe for the jury to view. “It cannot be eliminated” as the source of that shoeprint.

Lane actually examined two sets of shoes — one that Brown was wearing when he was arrested Jan. 16, 2004, and the other that was seized during the search of Brown’s Nicholson Drive home the same day.

“They cannot be excluded as the source of at least some of the prints” found inside Duong’s grocery store, he added.

Lane acknowledged under questioning by Brown’s attorney, Stephen Sterling, that he cannot definitively say the shoes left the prints at the murder scene.

Prosecutor Barry Fontenot told jurors Wednesday that blood was found on the shoes Brown was wearing Jan. 16, 2004.

A forensic DNA analyst, Amanda Kelist, testified Thursday she found a mixture of DNA on the left shoe, and Duong and Brown could not be excluded as contributors of the DNA material.

Kleist said it is 438 million times more likely the material was a mixture of DNA from Duong and Brown than a mixture of DNA from Brown and a randomly selected individual.

She further testified the material was 1.18 billion times more likely to be a mixture of DNA from Duong and Brown than a mixture of DNA from Duong and a randomly selected person.

In other testimony Thursday, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark said Duong was shot in the face, chest and palm of one of his hands.

“It looks as though it would be a defensive wound,” he said of the hand wound.

Brown is serving a 70-year prison term following his 2006 conviction on charges of attempted armed robbery, aggravated burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced as a habitual offender.

Marlon “One Black” Washington, 31, of Baton Rouge, also is charged with second-degree murder in Duong’s slaying but has not been tried.

Washington, a three-time felon, is serving a 70-year prison term for the 2007 slaying of Harold Flowers III on Leonidas Street.

Brown and Washington both were arrested in January 2004 in Duong’s killing, but they were not indicted until November 2009.

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.