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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Man loses appeal in south Lafourche murder case

Man loses appeal in south Lafourche murder case

A state appeals court has affirmed the conviction and sentence of a man serving life in prison for a 2013 fatal shooting in Lafourche.

Robert Chouest, 33, of Cut Off, shot and killed Shawn Galjour, 41, of Larose, in the early morning of May 22, 2013.

Galjour had been lying in Chouest’s grandparents’ driveway near the defendant’s home on ABC Lane.

State District Judge John LeBlanc of Thibodaux found Chouest guilty of second-degree murder Jan. 29, 2016, and handed down the mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Chouest appealed, saying the evidence at his trial was insufficient to support a guilty verdict. He argued that because he was intoxicated at the time of the shooting, he lacked motive. Therefore, he said, life in prison is excessive even though it is the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder.

The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal denied Chouest’s appeal.

Lafourche Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet said prosecutors are satisfied with the decision.

“We always felt that everything was done properly, the appropriate way,” he said. “Reading what the opinion was on the appeal, it kind of aligned with all of our arguments.

Baton Rouge attorney Michael Fiser, representing Chouest, could not be reached for comment.

In his appeal, Chouest said because he was intoxicated at the time of the shooting, the state failed to prove specific intent.

Chouest testified at trial that he’d been up for three days and consumed crystal methamphetamine, five rocks of crack cocaine, about six beers and several pain pills before the shooting. Toxicology tests showed Galjour’s blood-alcohol concentration was .140.

The defendant initially told investigators he’d called out to the victim that he was on private property and that Galjour was crawling toward his grandparents’ home. He said it appeared that Galjour rolled toward him, at which point he fired.

Chouest later said Galjour never moved. At trial, he testified that he thought he’d seen an alligator.

“The defendant’s varying statements in the aftermath of the shooting could be considered as indicative of his knowledge that he committed a criminal act,” the 1st Circuit judges wrote in their opinion.

They also pointed out that LeBlanc listed Chouest’s untruthfulness among his reasons for finding him guilty. Chouest testified that his initial versions of events were lies told to keep his family from knowing about his drug addiction.

“A finding of purposeful misrepresentation reasonably raises the inference of a guilty mind,” the 1st Circuit judges wrote. “In the instant case, any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence presented in this case in the light most favorable to the state, could find that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and to exclusion of every reasonable hypothesis of innocence, all of the elements of second-degree murder.”

In one interview, Chouest told investigators he aimed for the back of Galjour’s head.

When announcing his verdict, LeBlanc said he never heard Chouest describe the alligator he was shooting at, and he didn’t believe Chouest’s actions were merely negligent. Rather, he said, Chouest intended to aim and fire at a person’s head.

LeBlanc said he believed Chouest was intoxicated at the time of the shooting but not that he thought he was shooting an alligator. He said the accuracy of the gunshot was proof of intent.

The 1st Circuit noted that Chouest was about 130 feet away from the victim and used a scoped rifle to kill him. He also worked and drove his truck during the day, despite being intoxicated.

Chouest testified that the amount of drugs wasn’t a lot for his system and that he could make decisions while on drugs.

The defendant also argued in his appeal that because he was intoxicated at the time of the shooting, he lacked motive and, therefore, life in prison is excessive even though it is the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder.

But the 1st Circuit said Chouest failed to show that “he is exceptional and that he is a victim of the Legislature’s failure to assign a sentence that was meaningfully tailored to his culpability, to the gravity of the offense, and to the circumstances of the case.”

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