Trial opens for two in students’ deaths in 2007 case
A former LSU Police officer and a woman who lived at the school’s Edward Gay apartments testified Monday they were hypnotized three days after two graduate students from India were murdered at the complex in December 2007 to help them recall details of what they witnessed that tragic night.
Ezie Smith and Brinna Ryan, whose testimony came on day one at the second-degree murder trial of Casey Jermaine Gathers and Michael Jermaine Lewis, said their hypnosis sessions with a law enforcement officer were followed by meetings with a police sketch artist.
They both described the hypnosis as strange.
The resulting sketches were shown Monday to the jury.
Smith testified he was patrolling the north side of LSU’s campus the night of Dec. 13, 2007 — the same night Kiran Kumar Allam, 33, and Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma, 31, were shot to death inside Allam’s Edward Gay apartment — and pulled into the complex’s parking lot just as what he described as a suspicious vehicle with three black males inside was leaving the complex.
“I do recall making eye contact with the black male in the rear of the vehicle,” he said, acknowledging that the contact was for only a few seconds.
He estimated the time to be about 9:45 p.m.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Steve Danielson told the jury in his opening statement earlier Monday that Devin Jamell Parker, who pleaded guilty in the case in 2011 to armed robbery and accessory to second-degree murder charges, has admitted to being the person in the back seat of the car that Smith passed.
Danielson said authorities believe Allam and Komma were killed between 9:26 p.m., when Allam received a final phone call from Komma, and 10:37 p.m., when Allam’s then-pregnant wife came home and discovered the gruesome scene.
Both men were shot once in the head, and Komma’s hands were tied with a yellow computer cord.
“Chandra Komma was executed,” Danielson said.
Kelechi Osigwe, who moved to the United States in January 2007 and was living at the Edward Gay complex when the murders took place, testified he was watching television when he heard gunshots.
Osigwe said he opened his door and saw three black males walking fast toward a car backed into a parking spot. He said the car drove off very fast between 9:40 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Ryan, who was 16 at the time of the murders, testified she was doing laundry at the apartment complex that night when she passed two black males in a stairwell.
She said she watched the men walk to a light-colored car.
“They just seemed off. They didn’t belong,” she said. “As they were walking across the parking lot they scanned each level of the apartment complex.”
She estimated the time at about 9:30 p.m.
Ryan said the man whose face she saw got into the front passenger seat. Danielson said Parker identified that man as Lewis.
Ryan said she identified a man in a six-person photographic lineup in February 2008, but she said she made it clear the person she identified was the one who most resembled the man she saw at the apartment complex.
“It wasn’t him,” she stressed.
Smith said he was shown photo lineups in December 2007 and March 2008, and each time picked out one person.
“I would describe them as the individuals that resembled them the most,” he said in testimony similar to Ryan’s.
Ironically, Danielson said, the big break in the case came in April 2008 from an unlikely source: Parker’s half-brother, George Parker.
George Parker was jailed in West Baton Rouge Parish at the time and told authorities Devin Parker confided in him during a jailhouse visit that he, Gathers and Lewis were responsible for the slayings.
Danielson argued Monday that greed was the motive for the killings and said Allam and Komma were the victims of an armed robbery.
“Kiran Allam and Chandra Komma lost their lives for less than $200 and two cellular telephones,” he said.
Gathers’ and Lewis’ attorneys insisted their clients are innocent.
“He is not simply not guilty. He is innocent. He didn’t do this crime. He wasn’t there,” Andre Belanger, one of Gathers’ attorneys, told the jury.
Belanger called Devin Parker a street thug who has received “the mother of all deals” to testify against two men he falsely implicated.
Jason Chatagnier, one of Lewis’ attorneys, said Lewis is the victim of a crime just as Allam and Komma.
Belanger said authorities overlooked a prime potential suspect in Anatol Litoshka, who was kicked out of LSU’s graduate program in the spring of 2006 for threatening Allam, who was a member of the same program.
Swapna Gunbalpally, who had been married to Allam for two years when he was murdered and is now remarried, testified Monday that Allam and Litoshka were vying for the same PhD admission.
“He (Allam) was not in lots of fear,” she said. “I know he was worried about Anatol and went to the LSU Police Department.”
Allam was a chemistry student from Hyderabad, India. Komma was a biology student from Kurnool, India.
The trial was scheduled to resume Tuesday. State District Judge Chip Moore said the jury is expected to visit the crime scene Wednesday.
Gathers, 25, the alleged triggerman, and Lewis, 24, both of Baton Rouge, each are charged with two counts of second-degree murder. They face automatic sentences of life in prison if convicted as charged.
Parker, 24, also of Baton Rouge, is awaiting sentencing Oct. 21.