LAFAYETTE — A jury deliberated for about an hour Friday before returning a unanimous guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of Louis Joseph George, who was accused in the 1989 attack that left a woman lingering in a 12-year coma until her death in 2001.
George now faces a mandatory life sentence in the killing of Michelle Steven, who was found unconscious in her Lafayette home on the morning of April 1, 1989.
During his closing arguments Friday, Assistant District Attorney Keith Stutes described the aftermath of that attack: “She had abrasions and contusions all over her body and she was in a deep coma.”
And even though she did not die until 12 years later, “the person she was, the life that she was, extinguished on April 1, 1989,” Stutes said.
The state alleged the attack was sexually motivated, that George gained access into Steven’s home on Cobb Road through a bathroom window and then attempted to force Steven to have sex with him.
When she refused, George beat her and strangled her, Stutes said.
George was dating Steven’s sister, Debra Steven Anderson, at the time of the attack.
Over the two-day trial, jurors heard from a DNA expert who testified that George could not be excluded from a bloodstain found on Steven’s pants; and a fingerprint expert who testified George’s fingerprints were found on a bathroom window outside Steven’s home.
The jurors heard from two women, one of whom was the victim’s sister and both of whom testified that on two separate occasions George threatened to do to them what he had done to Steven.
Jurors were also shown a photo of George’s swollen right hand, which investigators photographed soon after the attack.
George was a person of interest in the case early on, but he was not arrested because an inexperienced crime scene technician who found George’s fingerprints at the scene could not say with certainty at the time that the fingerprints belonged to George.
“The file fell into a crack and no one got arrested for years,” Stutes said.
The cold case gained new life in 2003 when the fingerprints were reexamined and investigators with the Lafayette
Parish Sheriff’s Office determined the fingerprints did belong to George.
In 2005, the Sheriff’s Office created a cold case division and began working the case again, which ultimately led to DNA testing that yielded a possible match from a blood sample found on Steven’s pants.
Stutes said there was a 1-in-11,000,000 chance that it was not George’s blood.
“The weight of all this evidence is the nail in the wall,” Stutes told jurors.
The defense rested its case late Thursday afternoon without calling any witnesses.
During his closing arguments, defense attorney Harold D. Register asked jurors to consider the case for what he said it is: a case where the evidence was “missing in action.”
Register said the state’s case consisted of “excuses, compassion and poor police work.”
Register questioned why some evidence, such as a rape kit and fingernail scrapings taken from Steven, were not tested.
After the verdict, Debra Steven Anderson, Michelle Steven’s sister, offered only a brief comment.
“After 20 years, the verdict was correct,” Anderson said.
George will be sentenced Sept. 29 at 10:30 a.m. by 15th Judicial District Judge Edward D. Rubin.