The Louisiana Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower court’s decision overturning a jury’s manslaughter conviction of a burglar who prosecutors say literally scared a Lafayette woman to death in 1999 when she returned home and found him inside.
The Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office is seeking to reverse the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal’s 2014 decision to throw out Willie James Robertson’s manslaughter conviction in the death of Irene Schoofs.
Robertson was convicted in 2013 by 11 of 12 jurors who determined Robertson’s presence in the home caused Schoofs, 86, to have a heart attack when she returned home and found him inside. Judge Glennon Everett sentenced Robertson to the maximum sentence for manslaughter, 40 years.
The 3rd Circuit last April overturned the manslaughter conviction, and then went a step further and acquitted Robertson, basically finding him not guilty. That means if the Supreme Court does not overturn the 3rd Circuit decision, prosecutors cannot bring Robertson to trial again for Schoofs’ death.
Lafayette Parish District Attorney Keith Stutes said the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments, but has not set a hearing date. Stutes said there was little else to say about the appeal.
One of Stutes’ assistant district attorneys, Roger Hamilton, prosecuted the case in state court and last year argued to uphold the guilty verdict before the 3rd Circuit.
Hamilton also will argue the appeal before the Supreme Court, but this week declined to comment on the case. He cited a new District Attorney’s Office media policy that permits comments by Stutes only.
Edward Marquet, the attorney who successfully argued for Robertson before the 3rd Circuit, did not return messages left at his office this week.
Schoofs’ granddaughter found the 86-year-old’s body in the kitchen of Schoofs’ home on Adrienne Street. She was still clutching grocery bags from the nearby Piggly Wiggly and had been dead for at least 18 hours.
But it took years to identify a suspect because of the fingerprint analysis system in use in 1999. In 2011, while Robertson was in jail on a burglary charge, detectives using a computer matched his fingerprints with those found in Schoofs’ home.
Schoofs’ son-in-law, Raymond Cordova, said he attended every hearing and the June 2013 trial with his daughter, Karen.
“I tried to be objective. As personal as it was for us. I tried to make a decision in my own mind,” Cordova said Wednesday. “But me and 11 out of the 12 jurors all felt he was guilty with the evidence presented.”
But a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit said the only evidence was Robertson’s fingerprints, and that prosecutors didn’t have any evidence that Schoofs didn’t die of a heart attack before Robertson entered her home.
“It was speculated that the burglary was in commission at the time of the victim’s arrival (at home) since groceries were missing from the plastic bags and her wedding ring was gone from her finger,” the 3rd Circuit said in a seven-page ruling. “However, the state failed to eliminate beyond a reasonable doubt the very real possibility that the victim was already deceased when the burglary commenced.”
Cordova said his mother-in-law was a “feisty” and fit woman who played golf well into old age. He also said Schoofs would have fought hard to prevent someone from taking her wedding ring.
“He (Robertson) will answer to God, one way or another,” he said.
Robertson remains incarcerated in the Avoyelles Parish Correctional Center.