The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision overturning a jury’s manslaughter conviction of a burglar accused of literally scaring an elderly Lafayette woman to death in 1999 when she returned home and found him inside.
Because prosecutors did not present medical or forensic testimony to explain how Willie James Robertson may have caused Irene Schoofs to suffer cardiac arrest and die, the higher court upheld the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal’s 2014 acquittal, Justice Scott J. Crichton wrote in the Tuesday opinion.
“The absence of such testimony led to the result here: a rational juror could not have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Crichton said.
Judge Glennon Everett in 2013 sentenced Robinson to the maximum sentence for manslaughter, 40 years, when 11 of 12 jurors determined Robertson’s presence in the home caused Schoofs, 86, to have a heart attack.
District Attorney Keith Stutes was unavailable Wednesday evening for comment.
Schoofs had been dead at least 18 hours when her granddaughter found the woman’s body in the kitchen of her Adrienne Street home. She was still clutching grocery bags from the nearby Piggly Wiggly, but her wedding ring was missing.
Only in 2011, when Robertson was jailed on a burglary charge, did investigators link Robertson to the crime. Detectives matched his fingerprints to those taken from Schoofs’ home upon her death in 1999, when fingerprint analysis technology was less successful in making matches.
But a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit said Robertson’s fingerprints were the only evidence in the crime, with prosecutors failing to prove Schoofs didn’t die of a heart attack before Robertson entered her home.
Because the state Supreme Court affirmed that decision, prosecutors cannot bring Robertson to trial again for Schoofs’ death.
Robertson, who had been held in the Avoyelles Parish Correctional Center, was no longer listed as an inmate there as of Wednesday evening.
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