LAFAYETTE — An HIV-infected man scheduled to stand trial next week in the 2013 rape of a 5-year-old boy will instead return home after bail was reduced Thursday when newly uncovered evidence implicated another suspect.
Judge Marilyn Castle reduced Conwell Cormier’s bail from $500,000 to $25,000 and postponed his trial.
Assistant District Attorney Pat Magee and defense attorneys David Rubin and Lilian Hangartner told Castle that evidence now indicates that Cormier’s former roommate could have raped the boy.
The suspect was not named during the court hearing, and the attorneys involved in the case declined to identify him or confirm there is a warrant for his arrest. Rubin said on Thursday afternoon the suspect was not yet in custody.
Cormier, in an orange prison jumpsuit with his wrists and ankles shackled, did not say a word in court.
Cormier, 30, was indicted June 5, 2013, on one charge each of aggravated rape and intentionally exposing a child to the virus that causes AIDS. He has been in jail since the April 2013 arrest.
Castle did not throw out the charges against Cormier, and she reduced bail only after stipulating that Cormier is not to be around children without another adult present.
Though Cormier could still stand trial on the charges, his attorneys said they believe it is unlikely.
“This confirms what we’ve said all along, that Conwell Cormier is innocent of these charges,” Rubin said after the hearing. “This is the first step in what we hope will be the end of this for Mr. Cormier.”
Hangartner said the child’s description of the man who allegedly raped him fits the new suspect far better than Cormier.
Magee, the prosecutor, on Thursday told Castle that the Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office believed delaying a trial and reducing Cormier’s bail was the correct way to proceed.
“The state is certainly inclined to make sure we have the correct person in custody,” he said.
Cormier was living at the same mobile home park as the boy, who is now 7, and his mother. After his arrest April 1, Cormier sat for an hourslong interview with two Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives and said repeatedly he didn’t rape the boy.
The detectives told Cormier the victim described sexually explicit acts that a child should not know.
“Now what 5-year-old child could describe something like that?” a detective asked, according to an interrogation transcript.
“One who have a sick mama,” Cormier said.
After the hearing Thursday, three members of Cormier’s family declined to comment.
Rubin said the new evidence was recently discovered by him and Hangartner, “persuasive, significant evidence that places” the new suspect in the home where the alleged assault took place.
Court documents indicate the boy was raped around Jan. 1, 2013. None of the court documents mentions DNA evidence, probably because the crime was reported months after the assault, far too late to collect bodily fluids that could positively identify the rapist.
Rubin and Hangartner have questioned whether the child, who is the state’s only witness, was competent to testify. The attorneys also asked Castle to conduct jury selection in one-on-one sessions so some jurors’ biases would not affect others. Castle ruled the boy was competent and that potential jurors would be questioned in groups, the typical way.
Rubin in the motion on jury selection singled out what could have been Cormier’s biggest obstacle to a fair trial: public fear of AIDS, and racist and homophobic attitudes by some. Rubin pointed to public comments on online news sites that were filled with “vitriolic, hate-filled, racist and prejudicial” slurs.
The judge set the next hearing for Jan. 29.