An attorney for Camari Bookter told a jury Friday that Bookter did not kill a Baton Rouge woman whose charred remains were found in a St. Gabriel pasture June 9, 2010, but he said jurors will hear from another accused killer who claims to be responsible for the woman’s death.
“We don’t know Darnell Mealey. We don’t know his credibility. All we know is that this man (Bookter) did not kill Kasey Eackels,” Chokwe Lumumba said in his opening statement at Bookter’s second-degree murder trial.
If convicted as charged, the 32-year-old Bookter, of Baton Rouge, would be sentenced to life in prison by state District Judge Tony Marabella.
Mealey, 24, of Alsen, is charged in an unrelated case with second-degree murder in the Dec. 28 shooting death of his 75-year-old grandfather, James Spears. State District Judge Trudy White is presiding over that case. A trial date has not been set.
Mealey testified Thursday at a pretrial hearing in Bookter’s case that he wants to testify for the defense.
“I just want to get it off my chest and tell the truth,” Mealey said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Mealey’s attorneys, who have strongly advised him not to testify at Bookter’s trial, contend Mealey has a history of mental illness. Mealey’s family has said he is schizophrenic and bipolar.
In Mealey’s murder case, White has appointed a sanity commission to examine him.
Mealey said Thursday he has not been promised anything to testify at Bookter’s trial.
Prosecutor Kory Tauzin acknowledged in his opening statement Friday that the state’s case against Bookter is “circumstantial.”
Eackels, a mother of three young children, was last seen with Bookter on June 3, 2010, the day her family reported her missing, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office officials have said.
Bookter and Eackels, 22, were seen early that morning at the Triple A Bar on Bennington Avenue and later at Bookter’s apartment on GSRI Avenue, Tauzin said.
Bookter was seen leaving the apartment later that day and returning again a short time later, Tauzin said, but Eackels was not seen leaving the apartment.
Detective Michael Birdwell testified Friday he had a cellphone conversation with Bookter on June 7, 2010. Bookter’s call to the Sheriff’s Office was relayed to Birdwell, the detective said.
“He would not meet with me or give me the number he was dialing from,” Birdwell testified while being questioned by Tauzin. “I offered to meet him wherever it was convenient for him.”
Lumumba, the defense attorney, pointed out that Birdwell indicated in a report that Bookter said he was frightened because Eackels’ family had threatened to kill him if they found him.
Birdwell testified Bookter told him that he and Eackels returned to his apartment after leaving the bar and had sex. Bookter said Eackels asked him to take her home, but he said he couldn’t because he had too much to drink, the detective stated. Bookter told Birdwell that Eackels left his apartment after they argued, he added.
Two days later, a St. Gabriel resident checking on his horses found what turned out to be Eackels’ body near La. 141, about three miles from the highway’s intersection with La. 75.
Witnesses told investigators they saw a fire burning in the area June 3, the day Eackels was reported missing, but did not report it to authorities because the blaze was in a field and not close to any residences.
Bookter was arrested June 21, 2010.
Bookter was previously convicted of second-degree kidnapping, attempted armed robbery and illegal possession of stolen things, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. He was in prison for those crimes from March 1998 until July 2007. Bookter went back to prison in September 2007 after his parole was revoked, and was released again in April 2008.