Brutal beating or accident? Jury will decide in Victors’ trial

Errol and Tonya Victor Show caption
Errol and Tonya Victor

Couple on trial in 8-year-old’s death

Eight-year-old M.L. Lloyd III suffered a brutal beating at the hand of his stepfather as punishment for a stolen ice cream snack, while his mother stood by and did nothing, prosecutors said during closing arguments Thursday in the second-degree murder trial of Errol and Tonya Victor.

“This child basically bled to death inside his own body,” prosecutor Julie Cullen, from the state Attorney General’s Office, told jurors at 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard, as she described the alleged beating in graphic detail.

Cullen said the boy’s injuries caused “so much blood under the skin that it was affecting his ability to breathe.”

The jury will begin deliberating Friday morning.

The Reserve couple, who are representing themselves in the trial, are each charged in the killing of Lloyd, Tonya Victor’s biological son, who was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace in April 2008.

Tonya Victor, who testified earlier this week in her husband’s defense, took the stand again Thursday in her own defense. She was the only witness who testified in her defense, and she talked at length, as she turned to face the jury of 12 women and four men.

She acknowledged several times, as she has throughout the trial, that she physically reprimanded Lloyd on April 1, 2008, though not to the extent that prosecutors allege ultimately caused the boy’s death.

“My husband wasn’t there when I chastised my son,” Tonya Victor said — a sticking point that she returned to throughout her testimony.

At times, she spoke incoherently and appeared physically shaken, and sometimes she fought back tears. She once said, “I have a right to live. I know when the sun rises. I know when the sun sets.”

Tonya Victor said she took responsibility for disciplining her son that morning but by no means suggested she savagely beat him.

Four of Tonya Victor’s biological sons testified Monday that Errol Victor Sr. told several of his boys to hold Lloyd down by the arms the night before he died so that he could be beaten. Errol Victor has denied that account and accused authorities of goading his stepchildren into testifying against him.

On Tuesday, Errol Victor’s biological sons took the stand to testify, generally agreeing that their father had not physically punished Lloyd the day he died and that he wasn’t even home at the time.

Cullen on Thursday described their testimony as inconsistent and said she believed they were out to protect their father.

In cross-examining Tonya Victor on Thursday for a second time during the trial, Cullen sought to home in on inconsistencies with her earlier statements, including stating what time her husband returned home that morning.

Cullen, in her questioning and again during closing arguments, contended that it was, in fact, Errol Victor who beat the boy and that Tonya Victor witnessed it and did nothing to stop her husband.

For years, the Victors have maintained their innocence, saying young Lloyd suffered a severe asthma attack provoked by fighting with his brothers. Medical authorities have disputed that claim, suggesting 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.

“Nobody in my family are murderers,” Tonya Victor said on the stand.

She testified that after disciplining Lloyd, she gave him a bath.

Cullen was incredulous at how Victor could not have noticed the extensive bruising on the boy. “How do you miss something like this?” Cullen said to the jurors, holding up photos of Lloyd’s body that were taken after he died. “That’s absolutely ludicrous.”

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.

Cullen has described a chaotic scene at the hospital after the Victors arrived with an unconscious — and possibly already dead — child. She said the boy was dressed in his school uniform, which medical personnel had to cut off of him, revealing extensive bruising.

“I wasn’t expecting to hear that my son died that day,” Tonya Victor testified. She said she left the hospital to go home to check on the rest of her family.

Prosecutors contend that St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies later seized a family car and found more than $180,000 in cash inside a briefcase, which they contend was a sign that the family was considering leaving the area.

Errol Victor’s sons generally testified that they did not fight but that Tonya’s biological children caused problems in the household and disrupted an otherwise happy family life.

Cullen played off that in her closing argument.

“He was frustrated, he was angry, he was tired of those kids being there, and he wanted them gone,” she said of Errol Victor.

Meanwhile, Errol Victor, dressed in a white shirt and tie to present his closing argument, said prosecutors relied mostly on circumstantial evidence, like the cash in the car and a call he made to his attorney shortly after arriving at the hospital.

“We had a tragedy, and they’re telling horror stories,” he said, motioning to prosecutors.

Errol Victor said it was no surprise that not all of the children’s testimony lined up perfectly. “As a parent of 13 children, I live that every day,” he said.

Still, much of his statement fell back on analogies, and he continued to remind jurors that he and his wife were “real people living real lives,” trying to raise a large family and that prosecutors did not know anything about him.

“I’m not on trial for spanking my child,” he said, his voice rising. “When it was necessary, I spanked my child.”

Wrapping up, he said: “You say murderer, you’re out of your mind.”

Tonya Victor, who spoke next, continued to admit reprimanding her child but said nothing of the alleged incident the night before, when prosecutors allege the trouble began. “I ain’t a murderer. I didn’t decide to take my son out,” she said.

“I’m not covering up for my husband. I’m not covering up for my children,” she said.

The Reserve couple each had children from past marriages when they married: Errol Victor, a businessman and real estate developer, had six children; Tonya Victor, a stay-at-home mom, had five. Together, they added two more to the family.

In April 2010, the couple was indicted on second-degree murder charges. It was the third time they were indicted in relation to Lloyd’s death.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.