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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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Judge denies new trial for triple murder convict

Judge denies new trial for triple murder convict

A judge denied the request for a new trial Thursday for a Houma man convicted of killing a Lockport woman and her two daughters.

A jury on Oct. 30, 2016, unanimously convicted David Brown of the first-degree murders of 29-year-old Jacquelin, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela Nieves. Brown stabbed all three victims, raped Jacquelin and Gabriela, and set the family’s apartment on fire.

The jury decided Nov. 1, 2016, that Brown should get the death penalty. It marked the first time in nearly 40 years a jury has voted to put someone to death for a crime committed in Lafourche Parish.

Brown’s attorneys, Cormac Boyle and Cecelia Kappel, of the New Orleans-based Capital Appeals Project, contended their client was not mentally equipped to represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial when he waived his right to counsel.

He was not informed how the penalty phase of the trial functioned or that he could have re-invoked his right to counsel at any time, the defense argued.

Defense attorneys also argued that Brown’s mother, Judy Courteaux, was not allowed to be present in the courtroom during the trial to offer emotional support because she was under sequestration as a witness.

Due to the stressful nature of the trial, including a six-week jury selection process, Brown was not in a lucid state of mind to represent himself during such a crucial phase, Boyle said.

“I don’t believe today anyone could say he was competent or not, but there were red flags that were ignored,” Boyle said.

Brown’s attorneys contended mental illness and competency is fluid especially under stressful conditions.

“It was a stressful trial, and David Brown did not get a fair shake,” Kappel said. “His life is on the line. It was his intent to get a life sentence, not the death penalty.”

Although Brown’s decision to waive his right to counsel wasn’t prudent, it wasn’t illegal, Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet said.

“It’s probably a bad decision for a defendant to represent himself, but it’s his constitutional right,” Soignet said. “He was unequivocal in his desire to represent himself. We don’t have any red flags to call for a sanity hearing.”

After hearing arguments from both sides and testimony from mental health experts, District Court Judge John LeBlanc ruled in favor of the state.

At no point during the trial did Brown’s competency come into question, LeBlanc said. Brown was seen interacting with his attorneys during the trial and the weeks beyond and seemed to have an understanding of the proceedings, the judge said.

Although his mother was barred from the courtroom, she was a witness in the case and by law had to be sequestered during the trial, LeBlanc said. She still had opportunities to meet with her son during breaks and recesses.

“I find his waiver of counsel to be competent, voluntary and intelligent,” LeBlanc said. “I do not believe Mr. Brown was treated unfairly or his rights were violated.”

Following his ruling, LeBlanc scheduled Brown’s sentencing for 1:30 p.m. June 1.

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.