Jury finds three guilty of Bridge City murders

Charles Smith saw his friend, Theodore Pierce gunned down in the 400 block of Fourth Street in Bridge City on Jan. 2, 2011. Eight months later, Smith was fatally shot as he walked outside to check his mail.

He had blamed Pierce’s death on Quentin McClure and Chasity Griffin. Because of that finger-pointing, the two, while in jail, recruited Jeffery Nelson to kill Smith, Jefferson Parish prosecutors argued during a six-day trial.

Late Wednesday night, a jury agreed, finding the three guilty of second-degree murder and conspiring to commit obstruction of justice. The decision came after six hours of deliberations.

Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies handcuffed the three defendants and led them out of Judge Henry Sullivan’s courtroom at the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna just before 11 p.m., past relatives who had wept as the verdict was read.

During the trial, prosecutors sought to convince the jury that McClure and Griffin were callous killers who took Pierce’s life in broad daylight, possibly as retribution for another slaying, and were only worried about getting off their murder charges by killing the man who could send them to jail for life.

Defense attorneys, however, tried to paint Smith as a less-than-reliable witness to Pierce’s death since he had a history of drinking and could have imbibed the day Pierce was killed. Testimony he gave to a grand jury also contained inconsistencies, the attorneys noted, with Smith going back and forth between the number of shooters he saw fire at Pierce.

The transcript of Smith’s grand jury testimony was read aloud in court.

“They figured if they removed him from the face of the earth they could walk free,” prosecutor Vince Paciera said during his closing arguments. “He is here today. ... He did testify in this trial.”

But Smith’s words also were used against him.

Cameron Landry, who represented McClure, hammered on inconsistencies between the grand jury testimony and statements Smith made to an assistant district attorney. That, Landry said during a closing argument that lasted nearly two hours, raised questions about the reliability of his eyewitness account, especially since Smith was known to drink.

“I don’t know what else to say to make this witness more unreliable,” Landry told the jury.

The jury, halfway through its deliberations, filed back into the courtroom to ask Sullivan if they could have a copy of the testimony in the jury room. State law, however, prohibits having written materials in the room.

The jury returned around 10:45 p.m. and gave their the verdict.

In addition to the murder and conspiracy charges, each defendant also was found to be guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, though the jury downgraded one charge to attempted possession for McClure.

McClure also was found guilty of intimidating, impeding, or injuring witnesses since he threatened Smith after learning that he had agreed to cooperate with authorities.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Smith’s brother, Troy, said outside of the courthouse after the verdict. “I’m not surprised a bit.”

Each of the defendants will be sentenced to mandatory life in prison. A hearing was set for Sept. 9 at 9 a.m.