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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Judge: Triple-murder trial can continue in Lafourche

Judge: Triple-murder trial can continue in Lafourche

For the second time, a judge has rejected defense attorneys' requests to move a triple-murder trial out of Lafourche Parish and bar the death penalty from being considered.

David Brown's trial is now in its sixth week of jury selection in Thibodaux, and attorneys are expected to make opening statements Saturday, though that schedule could change.

Brown, 38, of Houma, is charged with first-degree murder in the Nov. 4, 2012, stabbings of 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela. He is also accused of sexually assaulting Jacquelin and Gabriela Nieves and then setting the family's Lockport apartment ablaze.

State District Judge John LeBlanc denied motions from the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, led by New Orleans attorney Kerry Cuccia. The defense team had unsuccessfully made the same requests to now-retired state District Judge Jerome Barbera in 2014, though for different reasons.

This time, Brown's attorneys argued that he couldn't get a fair trial in Lafourche because a sequestration requirement severely limited the number of potential jurors. They asked to bar the death penalty for the same reason.

Once jurors are selected, they will remain in a local hotel for the rest of the trial and won't have access to the news or be able to contact family members except for emergencies.

In court documents filed early this month, Cuccia said almost two-thirds of the potential jurors had been excused because sequestration would have presented too much of a hardship for them. Because so many people were eliminated, he wrote, the remaining pool may not be representative of the parish.

Among the groups underrepresented in the pool, Cuccia said, were black residents and working people.

LeBlanc sided with prosecutors, who noted that for most of the potential jurors released because of hardships, the defense asked that they be excused. In a written opposition to moving the trial, Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet said potential jurors were dismissed for individual, legitimate reasons and not as a class.

"What the defense motion ignores is that jury selection, by its very nature, is a process of attrition," Soignet wrote. "It is designed to take a large (yet never mandated) number of potential jurors and reduce it to only 12. Thus, the mathematical proportions are always 12/x, with the only variable being the number of potential jurors the trial court decides to screen. ... The process employed in this particular case need only result in the selection of 12 jurors and four alternates."

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