A long-shot bid to dismiss second-degree murder charges against a Reserve couple who have been indicted three times for the death of their badly beaten 8-year-old son has been denied by a state judge.
Attorney Stephen Yazbeck, who recently became counsel for Errol Victor Sr., 48, and Tonya Victor, 39, had sought to dismiss the most recent indictment against the couple on the grounds of double jeopardy, arguing the charges should be dropped because the state chose not to appeal after the second indictment was dismissed.
The Victors have been indicted three times in the death of M.L. Lloyd III — Tonya’s son and Errol’s stepson — who was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace in April 2008.
The Victors have maintained their innocence, saying the young Lloyd suffered a severe asthma attack provoked by fighting with his brothers. Authorities have disputed that claim, suggesting they believe the boy may have died hours before arriving at the hospital. “Asphyxia due to neck compression” was listed as the cause of death; an autopsy showed extensive bruising.
The case’s legal twists and turns have drawn widespread attention for the past five years.
The Victors formed a blended family: When the couple met, Errol Victor Sr., a businessman and real estate developer, had six children; Tonya Victor, a stay-at-home mom, had five. Together, they added two more to their brood.
In a recorded statement played in court four years ago, one of Tonya Victor’s young children charged that Errol Victor Sr. typically withheld food from Tonya’s children, while his own flock could “eat anything they wanted.”
The night before he died, the child testified, Errol Victor Sr. told several of the boys to hold the young Lloyd down by his arms. They beat him, Tonya Victor’s son testified, for taking ice cream without permission.
For his part, Errol Victor Sr. has contended that authorities rallied his stepchildren to testify against him.
On April 1, 2008, Tonya Victor, along with the boy’s stepbrother, Errol Victor Jr., took the child to the hospital, but quickly fled the emergency room, according to law enforcement authorities.
Errol Victor Jr. was initially indicted as an accessory in the case, though the charge was not pursued.
Errol Victor Sr. was charged with first-degree murder, while Tonya Victor was charged with cruelty to a juvenile and being a principal to first-degree murder.
That indictment was dismissed after Tonya Victor allegedly acknowledged to sheriff’s deputies that she had hit Lloyd with a belt on the day he died.
Prosecutors then convened a second St. John the Baptist Parish grand jury, which returned an indictment against the couple in 2009, charging both with second-degree murder.
That meant prosecutors needed to prove the couple intended to inflict great bodily harm, but not necessarily to kill the boy.
Another judge vacated that indictment because a St. John sheriff’s deputy serving on the second grand jury panel had worn a shirt advertising his employment with the department. I
- April 2010, the couple was indicted for the third time.
In a ruling issued last week, Judge Mary Hotard Becnel of the 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard said the third indictment should have come as no surprise, noting that the dismissal of the earlier indictment “did not absolve defendants of their responsibility.”
“In fact, it is anticipated by the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure that a defendant will be re-indicted after a motion to quash is granted,” Becnel said in the Sept. 18 ruling.
Becnel also shot down any notion that double jeopardy was an issue. “In the case of a jury trial, jeopardy attaches when a jury is empaneled and sworn,” the judge said. “In a bench trial, jeopardy attaches when the first witness is sworn.”
The Victors were slated for trial in August 2011 on the third indictment, but they fled on the eve of the proceedings and remained on the lam for eight months. They are being held without bond.
The couple appeared in district court for a hearing on the defense motion on Sept. 16.
During the half-hour session, Yazbeck said the current charges against the couple should be dropped because the state did not appeal after the second indictment was dismissed. That should have ended the prosecution, he said.
“That was the state’s remedy,” Yazbeck told the court.
In a defense motion filed in July, Yazbeck said that repeatedly indicting the couple on the same charges raised “fundamental double jeopardy concerns.”
Becnel disagreed with that assessment. State prosecutors were left with two options: appeal the judgment, or vacate the indictment, the path they chose.
“If a district attorney chooses to dismiss a charge, that dismissal is not a bar to future prosecution on the same charge,” the judge said in the three-page ruling.
Julie Cullen, who is prosecuting the case for the state Attorney General’s Office, had argued in court that removing the earlier indictment “had absolutely nothing to do with the merits of this case.”
The couple is due back in court in October.