LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette Parish jury on Wednesday convicted one of two men accused in the February 2009 killing and armed robbery of a Lafayette cab driver.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning a 10-2 guilty verdict for second-degree felony murder against 22-year-old Aaron Francois.
Francois and Kevin Dee Gildhouse, 22, are both charged with robbing and then fatally shooting Wallace “Wally” Badeaux, 33, a cabdriver for Dixie Cab Co., on Feb. 23, 2009 at 802 Fox Run Road.
Gildhouse is set to stand trial in October.
Prosecutor Pat Magee said after the verdict Wednesday evening that second-degree felony murder involves a killing that occurred during the commission of certain crimes, which in this case involved an armed robbery.
The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence in Louisiana.
During the trial Wednesday, jurors watched a taped interview with Francois in which he confessed to Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives that the killing was supposed to be a “clean robbery.”
“I’m looking at this guy and he’s crying and (Gildhouse) just pulled the trigger,” Francois told the detectives.
During closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, Magee told jurors that Francois was guilty of not only armed robbery, but also of murder.
“A man lost his life for $96 and Mr. Francois wants sympathy,” Magee told the jurors, referring to the amount of money the victim collected from fares. “He wants your sympathy.”
“Did Mr. Badeaux get sympathy when he was crying, begging for his life, saying he loved his kids? Did Mr. Francois and his co-defendant give Mr. Badeaux sympathy?” Magee said. “The state says to you, ‘No.’”
Francois initially denied his involvement in the killing, but later during the interview revised his story after detectives told him his partner had already implicated him.
“Kevin says it was your plan from the start to rip him and kill him,” Lt. Jack Lightfoot told Francois during the interview.
The detective told Francois that his partner had said they were both sitting in the cab when “out of the blue you pulled out the gun,” Lightfoot continued.
As the interview continued, Francois began to offer details about the killing.
“I knew this guy was dead just from the sound he made,” Francois said.
Francois later told detectives that had he known Badeaux was the father of a 10-year-old child, “this would have never gone down like that.”
As the details of the killing emerged, some of the victim’s family members left the courtroom, visibly upset from the taped confession.
“That man he, he was calm. He was saying he loved his kids,” Francois said, adding that after the shooting “some part of me wanted to shoot Kevin in the back of the head, but I didn’t have the balls to do it.”
Badeaux died from a .357-caliber gunshot wound to the neck, Magee said during his closing arguments.
Francois’defense attorney, Randal McCann, did not call any witnesses.
During his closing argument, McCann reminded jurors that his client admitted to taking part in the robbery, but he has steadfastly denied shooting Badeaux.
“The evidence is very clear that Francois did not shoot him,” McCann said.
The defense attorney pointed to gunpowder residue covering the black leather jacket that Gildhouse was wearing, as seen in surveillance video shown during the trial.
McCann also referenced his client’s statement to police, where he recounted being splattered with the victim’s blood after the shooting. The jacket Gildhouse was wearing had no blood on it, McCann said.
McCann told the jury that a second-degree murder conviction would mean a mandatory life sentence for his client. He asked them instead to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, which would allow the judge to determine how severely Francois should be punished for his involvement.
To Aaron Francois, this murder was not supposed to happen,McCann said.
In addition to the murder and armed robbery charges, Gildhouse also faces one count of simple escape stemming from his escape with a fellow inmate from the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center in March. Both escapees were captured hours later within the city limits.
Jurors also found Francois guilty of the armed robbery charge, but Magee said 15th Judicial District Judge Marilyn Castle vacated that conviction in favor of the higher grade offense.