EBR prosecutors drop murder charge after witness killed

Death of witness weakens case

East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors say the savage beating death in September of a transvestite prostitute who was the sole witness to a 2013 killing forced them to drop a murder charge Wednesday against the suspected killer.

But on the same day that second-degree murder charges were dismissed against Shingo Edwards for the Jan. 5, 2013, killing of Keith Matthews, a grand jury indicted the man accused of killing the only apparent witness to that murder.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office had no choice but to dismiss the charges against Edwards after the witness, Shaun Hartley, turned up dead Sept. 12.

Hartley, 31, had previously requested and received protection from the District Attorney’s Office after identifying Edwards, his former roommate and fellow transvestite prostitute, as the triggerman in Matthews’ slaying.

“At this point in the investigation Shaun Hartley was the sole witness,” Moore said. “Now that he has died and his testimony was not preserved in any fashion, we were required to dismiss the murder charge against Shingo Edwards.”

Moore said the investigation into Matthews’ death remains open, and charges could be refiled against Edwards if additional evidence comes to light.

Edwards, 32, was indicted in July, accused of shooting Matthews, 43, of St. Francisville, inside Matthews’ vehicle outside a vacant home on Erie Street.

Shortly after Edwards’ charge was dropped Wednesday, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury charged Jeremy Daniel Brown with second-degree murder in the fatal beating of Hartley.

Moore said there is no evidence to suggest Hartley was killed to silence him from testifying against Edwards in the Matthews slaying.

Hartley, 31, was beaten to death with a wooden board inside the abandoned half of a Wenonah Street duplex near Plank Road, authorities have said. Brown was arrested Sept. 18 in the killing.

Hartley, who told police Edwards repeatedly threatened to kill him if he told authorities about the Matthews shooting, died just a week after his release from Parish Prison following a monthlong stay for a prostitution arrest.

Prosecutors have acknowledged they lost track of him after his release from prison. Moore has said Hartley proved exceedingly difficult to keep in touch with as he returned to prostitution.

Brown, 29, 2727 Osceola St., is accused of arguing with Hartley before delivering the fatal blows. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Brown’s case has been assigned to state District Judge Chip Moore.