Inconsistent statements by state’s witness cited in defendants’ acquittals
Inconsistency-riddled statements the state’s star witness gave police armed a jury with all the reasonable doubt it needed to find two Baton Rouge men not guilty Monday night in the 2007 slaying of two LSU graduate students from India, an attorney for one of the acquitted men said Tuesday.
“I believe it came down to reasonable doubt — there was just too much reasonable doubt,” said former East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor Beau Brock, who represents Casey Jermaine Gathers.
Gathers, 25, and Michael Jermaine Lewis, 24, were acquitted at the end of a six-day trial in the Dec. 13, 2007, shooting deaths of Kiran Kumar Allam and Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma inside Allam’s unit at the Edward Gay Apartments on the north side of LSU’s campus.
A third Baton Rouge man, Devin Jamell Parker, pleaded guilty in the LSU case to armed robbery and accessory charges in 2011 and testified for two days last week against Gathers and Lewis.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spoke privately Monday night with the 10 women and two men who deliberated for more than six hours before finding Gathers and Lewis not guilty on two counts each of second-degree murder.
“They didn‘t think the state met the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Tuesday. “I respect their decision. They worked extremely hard.”
“We really appreciate the jury paying attention to this case,” Jason Chatagnier, one of Lewis’ attorneys, said Monday night.
Moore and Brock both said the jury had a problem with Parker’s description of the car in which he and Gathers and Lewis allegedly were riding around town the night of the double-murder, a description that differed from those given by other witnesses.
Parker initially told police the trio was traveling in Lewis’ orange car, then said they were in Gathers’ blue car.
Several witnesses, including an LSU Police officer, described a suspicious looking car in the Edward Gay parking lot as being white or light colored.
“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the car,” Brock said.
“That was a big piece for them,” Moore added.
Allam, 33, and Komma, 31, each were shot once in the head, and Komma’s hands were bound with yellow computer cord.
Parker testified he was standing next to Gathers and Allam when Gathers shot the student as he tried to escape. Parker claimed he then ran outside and heard a second gunshot but did not see who shot Komma.
He testified Lewis later told him Gathers shot Komma.
Moore, who acknowledged he would have liked to have had additional evidence — such as DNA — that tied everything together, said he stands by his decision to take the case to trial and would do it all over again.
“There’s absolutely no question in my mind that we had the right people,” Moore stressed, adding that his office does not shy away from tough cases.
Brock, who said the jury was highly intelligent and followed the law, told jurors in his closing argument that the case cries out for further investigation. He repeated that statement Tuesday.
“I believe they thought Devin Parker was lying,” he said of the jury. “I think the case should be investigated further. I think the wrong people were on trial.”
“I believe Casey’s innocent and have always believed he’s innocent,” Brock added.
Parker gave three videotaped statements to police, the last one two days after he pleaded guilty.
In his first statement on May 21, 2008, Parker tells detectives that Lewis was driving the car that took Parker,
Gathers and Lewis to the apartment complex. Parker says he witnessed Gathers shoot Allam, states Gathers was armed with a .22-caliber revolver, and admits to stealing a cellphone from the apartment and selling it to a girl for $40.
He makes no mention of stealing Allam’s wallet.
In a second statement that began the night of May 22, 2008, and ended about 12:30 a.m. on May 23, 2008, Parker tells detectives he grabbed a wallet from Allam’s back pocket and took $40 from it before tossing it in a storm drain.
He says Lewis stole Komma’s wallet and split the $80 in it between Lewis and Gathers. Parker also states he did not recall Gathers and Lewis wearing gloves, but says the three of them passed an LSU Police officer as they drove out of the complex.
“You just can’t make that up,” Moore said Tuesday. The officer testified at the trial that as he drove into the parking lot that night, he passed a suspicious-looking car with three black males inside.
In his last statement on June 29, 2011, Parker tells detectives Gathers was driving the car that night, that Gathers had a .38-caliber revolver and Lewis had a .22-caliber handgun, that Gathers and Lewis put gloves on before getting out of the car in the complex’s parking lot, and that Lewis told him later that Gathers shot Komma.
Gathers, who had been in custody since his July 2011 indictment, was released Monday night, Brock said. Lewis, who faces a second-degree murder charge in another case, remains behind bars.
Parker, 24, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 21.