LAFAYETTE — An attorney for a Carencro man with HIV who is accused of raping a boy indicates in court documents that picking an unbiased jury could be tough when the trial begins Dec. 15. But the judge handling the case denied a defense request to change the jury selection process.
David Rubin, a court-appointed attorney for Conwell Cormier Jr., said news stories about his client’s alleged molestation of the 5-year-old in early 2013 have carried headlines with “some conjugation of the word ‘rape’ and the mention of HIV or AIDS.”
Cormier, 30, is accused of raping the boy in late 2012 or early 2013 at the Carencro mobile home park where both lived. A grand jury charged Cormier with one count each of aggravated rape of a minor and intentionally exposing a person to the virus that causes AIDS. He faces life in prison on both counts.
Rubin said stories posted on news outlets’ websites have included readers’ comments that are racist and homophobic. He said the comments are “vitriolic, hate-filled, racist and prejudicial” and are indicative of the prejudice that could infect the jury.
In a motion filed last week, Rubin asked Judge Marilyn Castle to change the way jury selection is normally done. Rubin asked that potential jurors be questioned one-on-one or in small groups.
“The better procedure is to question jurors separately and out of the presence of each other on such matters,” Rubin wrote.
On Thursday, Castle denied Rubin’s request. Jury selection, she said, would be conducted in the normal way, with multiperson juror panels being questioned by Cormier’s defense team and prosecutor Pat Magee.
Magee said Friday that all sides would be careful when posing questions.
“We will rely on the professionalism of both prosecutor and defense to root out any biased juror,” Magee said.
Rubin declined last week to comment on Castle’s ruling.
The victim, who had just turned 5 at the time of the alleged incident, is now 7 and is the only witness for prosecutors.
In April, Castle held a closed-door hearing on the boy’s competency to testify. Rubin at the time challenged any child’s ability to accurately recollect a traumatic event. Rubin said children are highly impressionable and repeat what they’re told. Castle later ruled the boy could testify.
Castle has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 11, days before the trial begins, where Cormier could plead guilty. Magee said he’s preparing to go to trial but would not “close any doors on any possibility.”
After his arrest, Cormier was questioned by Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives who already had interviewed the victim. The boy, the detectives said, described things a 5-year-old should not know, according to a transcript of the interview.
“Now what 5-year-old child could describe something like that?” one detective asked.
“One who have a sick mama,” Cormier responded.
Throughout the interview, Cormier denied he had sexual contact with the child.