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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Judge allows prosecutors to introduce rape allegations during triple-murder trial

Judge allows prosecutors to introduce rape allegations during triple-murder trial

By Bridget Mire

Daily Comet Staff Writer

Prosecutors can use rape allegations against the defendant in a Lafourche Parish triple-murder trial despite his attorneys' assertion of a lack of physical proof of sexual assault, a judge ruled last week.

David Brown, 38, of Houma, is charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 4, 2012, stabbings of 29-year-old Jacquelin and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela Nieves.

Brown is also accused of sexually assaulting Jacquelin and Gabriela Nieves and then setting the family's Lockport apartment on fire. He is no longer formally charged with rape or arson, but prosecutors plan to use those claims to justify seeking the death penalty if he is convicted in his trial starting Sept. 12.

In a hearing in Thibodaux, state District Judge John LeBlanc denied several requests by New Orleans attorney Kerry Cuccia, of the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana.

Cuccia asked to void the sexual-assault allegations in Brown's indictment. He told LeBlanc that although there was trauma to Jacquelin's and Gabriela's genitals, there is no evidence it was caused by rape.

He also pointed out that male DNA was found on the bodies, but it was not from semen. He said any reference to semen or sperm fractions in experts' explanation of how they collect and analyze DNA samples would lead the jury to believe semen or sperm was found at the scene.

All DNA in the case came from skin cells, Cuccia noted. He said prosecutors couldn't prove who sexually assaulted the victims or with what, and that only evidence proving something should be allowed.

"When rape allegations are based on circumstantial evidence and semen is not found, physical injuries 'strongly' suggestive of sexual assault are not sufficient, as a matter of law, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a rape or attempted rape has occurred," Cuccia wrote in one motion.

He added that "allegations of rape – especially those involving child victims – are very inflammatory" to a jury.

First Assistant District Attorney Kristine Russell told the judge that the introduction of all samples, whether they supported prosecutors' allegations or not, would allow expert witnesses to give honest, thorough testimony. Attorneys would be also able to question why some samples had the Y-chromosome and others didn't, she added.

"The thoroughness of the investigation is extremely relevant," Russell said, especially with capital cases.

She said complexity of evidence shouldn't bar prosecutors from using it, as it's the attorneys' job to clearly explain terms to the jury.

Cuccia also argued that seven to nine other men in Lafourche, along with every male on Brown's father's side of the family, could match a group of genes found at the crime scene. He noted that a type of analysis used on the samples only tests the paternal side and not the maternal side.

LeBlanc ultimately determined that the evidence found at the scene was relevant to the investigation of the case. He also said if he were to caution the jury about what is and is not included in each type of analysis, he would be commenting on the evidence.


-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.