OPELOUSAS — A state district judge declared a mistrial Friday during the second day of testimony in a second-degree murder trial after jurors listened to a portion of a prosecution witness’s videotaped interview that was supposed to have been deleted.
Judge James A. Doherty Jr. agreed with defense attorney Roy Richard that an interview witness Brittany Berry had with an Opelousas police officer mentioned previous crime allegedly committed by the defendant, Deonta Ware, who was on trial for the 2010 second-degree murder death of Tyrell Jenkins.
Doherty set May 25-27 as the dates for a new trial for Ware, who is being held in St. Landry Parish Jail, according to defense attorney Michael Grimes.
The mistrial ruling on Friday is the second during the past eight months in murder cases presented in 27th Judicial District Court by the St. Landry Parish District Attorney’s Office.
On July 29, state District Judge Alonzo Harris concluded the prosecution presented prejudicial evidence during a taped interview with a sheriff’s deputy during the middle of the second-degree murder trial of Robbie Miller III. On the tape, a deputy was overheard asking Miller about allegations of previous crimes for which Miller was never charged.
Miller was accused of second-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Victoria Renee LeJeune, who was living with Miller and her mother, Victoria LeJeune, in a trailer west of Eunice.
Ware’s lawyer, Roy Richard, also represented Miller in that case.
Berry was the first witness who testified on Friday in the case that alleges Ware, 24, was driving a pickup truck when he intentionally killed Jenkins, who was riding a bicycle on the Lewisburg highway south of Opelousas.
During her testimony, Berry said she is a half-sister of Ware’s mother.
Prosecutor Donald Richard, who also represented the District Attorney’s Office in the Miller case, asked Berry during direct examination whether Ware, during a 2014 cellphone conversation, had confessed to her that he had intended to kill Jenkins.
“He (Ware) said, ‘Yeah, I did it,’ ” Berry testified.
When questioned further by Richard about whether Ware specifically named Jenkins as the man he intended to kill, Berry said she could not recall.
The prosecutor then asked to play Berry’s interview with police Officer Crystal LeBlanc.
Roy Richard objected to playing the tape, and Doherty removed jurors from the courtroom so he and both attorneys could listen to the tape in its entirety.
After reviewing the 20-minute tape without jurors present, Doherty said the tape could be played before jurors but stipulated that certain parts of the tape in which Berry discusses some of Ware’s alleged previous crimes should be omitted.
Later, when jurors began listening to the tape, the jurors heard Berry tell LeBlanc about a previous crime.
After that occurred, Doherty met privately with both attorneys away from the courtroom. When the men came back about 10 minutes later, Doherty told jurors he was declaring a mistrial.
Roy Richard said he felt the matter was an unintentional mistake.
“It was a case of inadmissible evidence being offered to the jury. It’s just a case of human error,” Roy Richard said.
Trial testimony began on Thursday, following opening statements by the prosecution and defense.
On Thursday, retired Opelousas police detective Donald Young testified that the case file in Ware’s murder case has apparently been lost by investigators since it was first compiled. The missing files include a recording of an interview detectives conducted with Ware in 2012.
Young testified that during the interview, Ware gave detectives conflicting accounts of what he was doing and saw on the night Jenkins was found lying dead next to a drainage ditch.
Donald Richard, the prosecutor, said Ware’s motive in killing Jenkins was a previous encounter Jenkins had with Ware’s grandmother.
Roy Richard criticized the prosecution’s case during his opening statement.
The prosecution, Roy Richard said, was presenting a case supported mainly by hearsay testimony from prison inmates seeking to reduce their time served.
Roy Richard also said the prosecution’s case contains no records of phone conversations, no crime scene evidence and no witnesses.