Jury selection starts in LSU grad students slaying trial

The fate of two men set to stand trial Monday in the 2007 slaying of two LSU graduate students from India could hinge on whether the jury believes the prosecution’s star witness, who has implicated himself and the defendants in the crime, or the defense, which suggests a former LSU grad student from Belarus had a motive to kill.

At some point during the second-degree murder trial of alleged triggerman Casey Jermaine Gathers and Michael Jermaine Lewis, jurors will hear directly from Devin Jamell Parker, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to armed robbery and accessory charges in the case and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

The jury also will see Parker’s videotaped statements to police — statements that Gathers’ attorneys contend are riddled with inconsistencies.

Jurors, however, apparently will not see or hear from ex-LSU grad student Anatol Litoshka, who in mid-2006 was kicked out of the graduate program in which Kiran Kumar Allam was a member.

Allam, 33, a chemistry student from Hyderabad, India, and his friend, Chandrasekhar Reddy Komma, 31, a biology student from Kurnool, India, were found dead Dec. 13, 2007, inside Allam’s Edward Gay apartment on the edge of the Baton Rouge campus. Both men were shot in the head and one was bound. Allam’s then-pregnant wife discovered the bodies.

Former prosecutor Beau Brock, one of Gathers’ attorneys, has argued in court that Litoshka had a motive to kill Allam.

The chairman of LSU’s chemistry department testified in February that he went to campus police the morning after Allam and Komma were slain and told police that Litoshka might be a potential suspect.

Andrew Maverick, who also is a chemistry professor at LSU, said he told police Litoshka may have held a grudge against Allam and also faculty members who voted to remove Litoshka from the graduate program.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has characterized as completely bogus and disingenuous the defense’s suggestion that Litoshka may have killed Allam and Komma or hired someone to kill Allam. Prosecutor Steve Danielson has noted in court that Litoshka left the United States on Feb. 17, 2007, and there is no evidence he ever returned, meaning he is not a viable suspect.

Gathers, 25, and Lewis, 24, both of Baton Rouge, face mandatory sentences of life in prison if convicted as charged.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning.

Gathers, Lewis and Parker, 24, also of Baton Rouge, were booked in May 2008 in the killings. Four months later, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Parker on second-degree murder charges but chose to neither charge nor clear Gathers and Lewis. Those two men were released from Parish Prison.

Then, with jury selection slated to start in his trial, Parker pleaded guilty in June 2011 to charges of armed robbery and accessory after the fact to second-degree murder. He also testified in front of the grand jury, which swiftly indicted Gathers and Lewis on second-degree murder charges in July 2011.

In videotaped statements played in court during pretrial hearings, Parker told authorities he was with Gathers and Lewis when they forced Allam and Komma into the apartment. Parker said he was inside the apartment and watched one of the students cry out for help moments before he was shot while trying to flee.

Parker said he ran from the apartment with that student’s wallet and a Nextel cellphone he found in the apartment and was outside when the second student was shot. Parker said he threw the wallet away, but kept the $40 it contained.

Parker accused Lewis of taking the second man’s wallet, which contained $80, and said the money was split among the three men.

Parker, who pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of Allam and as an accessory to second-degree murder in the killing of Allam, is awaiting an Oct. 21 sentencing date.

Armed robbery carries a sentence of 10 to 99 years in prison, and accessory after the fact is punishable by up to 5 years. Parker’s written plea deal indicates there is no agreement as to the actual sentence he will receive.

State District Judge Chip Moore, who will preside over the trial of Gathers and Lewis, refused in February to bar the jury from hearing Parker’s statements to police.

Brock, the defense attorney, contends the 2008 and 2011 statements are full of inconsistencies, including the make and color of the car in which the three men allegedly were riding and the type of gun Gathers and Lewis allegedly had with them. Brock also claims Parker, in the statements, minimizes his own involvement in the crime.

Prosecutor Danielson has maintained in court that Parker told detectives details of the crimes that only someone present at the scene would have known.

Lewis and another man, Melichi Corbin, also face second-degree murder and other charges in the Feb. 13, 2011, shooting death of a 14-year-old boy while the boy was buying candy from a home on St. Gerard Avenue. A 17-year-old boy also was wounded in the incident.

Moore has said Lewis is not the alleged shooter in that case.