Crime scene experts working for the nonprofit law office representing Harrison Riley Jr., who’s accused of killing a police officer and a woman in Sunset last week, on Monday had begun examining the two crime scenes in an effort to strengthen their defense in a case that could lead to Riley’s execution.
Christine Lehmann — one of three attorneys from the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center working to protect Riley from capital punishment — said at a Monday court hearing that experts should soon be able to release the properties back to the families displaced by the crimes.
The Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, based in New Orleans, represents indigent offenders facing the death penalty.
Both sides in Riley’s case met in court Monday to follow up on a handful of motions Lehmann filed Friday in Riley’s defense, including one that requests the crime scenes be protected from tampering until defense experts could evaluate the scenes.
In response to that motion, state Judge Jason Meche on Friday had prohibited owners and family members from each of the two properties from tampering with the crime scenes until the defense could send in its own experts to investigate. Lehmann said in court on Monday that those examinations were underway.
The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office on Thursday had released both the Anna Street home and Napoleon Avenue convenience store involved in the Wednesday crimes to their owners. Family members had since been in and out of the Anna Street home, and the owner of the Sunset Mini Mart had boarded up his storefront and had begun sweeping up debris, two St. Landry Parish detectives testified in court on Friday.
At the Anna Street home, Riley is accused of fatally stabbing his first cousin, 41-year-old Shameka Johnson and using the knife to injure her sister, her mother and his wife during what police described as a drug-fueled rage indicative of PCP use. When Sunset Police Officer Henry Nelson, 52, arrived at the scene, Riley managed to shoot him dead with the officer’s own service weapon, police have said.
Authorities then became involved in a more than two-hour standoff with Riley, who had driven a car stolen from one of his relatives through the Sunset Mini Mart’s storefront. He hid in an office, ignoring State Police negotiators, before police tear-gassed and arrested him. Another two people were injured somewhere along the way, and the store ultimately caught fire amid the wreckage.
Another two motions Lehmann filed — to order the proceedings be recorded when a grand jury considers Riley’s charges and for prosecutors to disclose all evidence in the case — will be argued at another hearing on Sept. 23.
Riley is then scheduled for arraignment the following day in a separate case on counts of methadone, crack cocaine, morphine and diazepam possession and drug use in the presence of a minor.
Riley, who’s from New Orleans but has recent addresses in both Arnaudville and Opelousas, was denied bond on Friday and has been held since his Wednesday arrest on counts of first-degree murder of a police officer in Nelson’s death and first-degree murder in Johnson’s. Both counts are punishable by life in prison or death.
Riley also faces five counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated criminal damage to property, one count of obstruction of justice and a count of aggravated arson.
Authorities on Friday transferred him from the St. Landry Parish jail to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, where he’s awaiting medical assessment after jailers on Friday morning found him to be verbally unresponsive before his bond hearing, authorities said. Should professionals at the St. Gabriel prison determine a need, Riley would be transferred to the prison’s medical space that’s tailored for mentally ill inmates.
A medical evaluation at an Opelousas hospital Friday morning showed no signs for concern about Riley’s health, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said.
Guidroz said he suspects Riley is faking illness, but authorities are still acting with caution in his care.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.