Judge weighs dismissing indictment against couple in killing of son

A state judge said Monday she will consider a motion to dismiss charges against a Reserve couple charged with killing their 8-year-old son on the grounds of double jeopardy.

Errol and Tonya Victor appeared in 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard for a half-hour hearing. 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.

Covington attorney Stephen Yazbeck argued before Judge Mary Hotard Becnel that second-degree murder charges against the couple should be dropped because the state chose not to appeal when the couple’s 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.” Multiple prosecutions “allow the state to hone its trial strategies through successive attempts at conviction,” the motion said.

Julie Cullen, who is prosecuting the case for the state Attorney General’s Office, said prosecutors chose not to appeal, but rather dismissed the indictment, which she said allowed them to file another one.

The first indictment, charges of first-degree murder for Errol Victor and cruelty to a juvenile and being a principal to first-degree murder for his wife, 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 another indictment against the couple in 2009, this time 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.

A 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.

In April 2010, the couple was indicted for the third time in two years.

But because the couple has yet to be tried on the charges, “They have never been subject to any jeopardy in this case,” prosecutor Cullen told the court in arguing that the indictment should not be dismissed.

Removing the earlier indictment, she said, “had absolutely nothing to do with the merits of this case.”

Becnel said she would take the motion under advisement.

Errol Victor Sr., 48, and Tonya Victor, 39, were set for trial in August 2011 on the third indictment, but they fled on the eve of the proceedings.

In the five years since Lloyd died, the Victors have maintained their innocence, saying the boy suffered a severe asthma attack that was provoked by fighting with his brothers.

Authorities say the boy’s body had been badly beaten.

Several times during Monday’s hearing, Errol Victor interrupted Becnel and Yazbeck, even voicing his objection to one of the basic facts of the legal proceeding.

“We’ve been through many attorneys in this case,” Becnel said as she considered a motion to enroll Yazbeck as counsel for the couple, who have hired and fired their attorneys nearly a dozen times in the past five years.

“That’s a false statement!” Errol Victor said, interrupting the judge.

Becnel seemed to welcome Yazbeck’s participation in the case, after a long period in which Errol Victor has been representing himself and his wife in court.

Still, Becnel said, there could be a problem with the same attorney representing both defendants. Some witnesses, including family members, may present conflicting testimony, pointing blame at one parent and not the other, the judge said.

Errol and Tonya Victor were unfazed.

“We have always said from the beginning, there’s no way you’re going to get me to say something false about my husband,” Tonya Victor told the court.

In the meantime, Monday’s hearing could mark the end of a rotating cast of lawyers representing the couple. Becnel told the court she’s had enough of the musical chairs.

“No matter what, you can’t get rid of them, they can’t get rid of you,” Becnel told Yazbeck in granting his motion to enroll in the case.

Yazbeck said he’s developed a good rapport with the Victors.

“I’m in,” he said. “I’m honoring that commitment.”

The couple is due back in court in October.