For the first time in nearly 40 years, a jury has voted to put someone to death for a crime committed in Lafourche Parish.
Twelve jurors took about an hour Tuesday to make the unanimous decision for David Brown, 38, of Houma. That's the same amount of time they took Sunday to unanimously convict Brown of first-degree murder in the Nov. 4, 2012, slayings of 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela.
The jury also found that Brown sexually assaulted Jacquelin and Gabriela and set the family's Lockport apartment on fire. A forensic pathologist who conducted the victims' autopsies determined Jacquelin and Izabela died from stab wounds, while Gabriela, who was also stabbed, died of smoke inhalation.
Lafourche Parish District Attorney Cam Morvant II thanked the jury as well as his staff for their hard work.
"Justice was done," he said. "I don't think anybody's rejoicing on either side, but it is what it is. Based upon the evidence that was presented to them, they made the right decision in giving David Brown the death penalty. ... I am not a big advocate of the death penalty, but I do believe the death penalty should be used in certain circumstances, and I think, undoubtedly, this was one of them."
New Orleans attorney Kerry Cuccia and his Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana represented Brown.
"Obviously we're disappointed," Cuccia said. "We felt there were substantial questions in the guilt phase that could not be resolved, and we felt those were sufficient to prevent the guilty as charged verdict. But the jury disagreed, and we accept that."
A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, but prosecutors can pursue the death penalty.
On April 10, 1978, a jury decided David Dene Martin should die for shooting and killing his wife's lover and three other people Aug. 14, 1977, in a Bayou Blue trailer.
Martin was electrocuted Jan. 4, 1985. Now, execution is done by injection.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet gave the opening statement today for the penalty phase of Brown's trial at the Lafourche Parish Courthouse Annex in Thibodaux. If this case didn't merit the death penalty, he told the jury, he didn't know what would.
"Justice demands it, and it is the only appropriate sentence for this man," he said.
The jurors should also consider Brown's character and propensity for crime, Soignet said.
A former relative of Brown's testified last week that Brown stabbed her in the back of the head and neck when she refused sex. The crime occurred in 1996, and Brown pleaded guilty the following year to aggravated battery.
First Assistant District Attorney Kristine Russell gave the closing argument today, describing in horrific detail what the Nieveses endured and showing family photos of them.
"But for the defendant, those two baby girls would have been in costume trick-or-treating last night," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Heather Hendrix also helped prosecute the case.
'BEAUTY OF OUR SYSTEM'
Brown decided to represent himself for the penalty phase of his trial, although state District Judge John LeBlanc allowed his former attorneys to sit with him. He addressed the judge directly today, saying he would not be calling any witnesses and asking that his mother be allowed to remain in the courtroom.
Witnesses the defense had planned to call included Brown's mother, Judy Courteaux, and brother, Jason, who is serving a life sentence in Angola for the 2008 shooting death of another man.
This was Cuccia's first time being involved in a case where the death penalty was given. He said he was disappointed that he couldn't present information in the penalty phase, but he will still coordinate representation for the appeals process.
Cuccia thanked the jurors for maintaining focus and composure throughout the process, everyone in Thibodaux for hospitality, and the judge and courthouse staff for fair treatment. He also expressed his condolences to the victims' family.
"I always have questions in my mind about what a jury will do, and it should be that way," he said. "We take 12 different individuals who generally come from 12 different backgrounds and bring 12 different perspectives. Anybody who dares to say, 'I know what this jury is going to do,' is asking to be disappointed. But that's the beauty of our system."
Morvant said this was his longest criminal jury trial.
Jury selection began Sept. 12 and lasted six weeks, with 2,000 potential jurors subpoenaed. The guilt phase of the trial began Oct. 24.
"I never try to figure out what a jury's going to do," Morvant said. "As the years have gone by, that's one of the hardest parts of the process for me, walking back to the courtroom not knowing what the verdict is going to be. I did feel that (guilty) was probably the verdict that they returned because of the fact that it came back a little quickly. The evidence was clear. It was overwhelming."
Attorneys will hold a phone conference with the judge Monday to schedule formal sentencing.
-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire
Posted on Wed, November 2, 2016
by Bridget Mire, Daily Comet Staff Writer