A man convicted last year of driving drunk in a fiery 2011 interstate crash that killed two adults and three children should get a new trial because the Baton Rouge judge who presided over his jury trial had prejudged him guilty, the man’s attorney argued before another judge Monday.
“This case needs to be tried again before a judge who hasn’t made up his or her mind,” Jim Boren, who represents David Leger, argued to state District Judge Chip Moore.
But prosecutor Ron Gathe countered that an East Baton Rouge Parish jury unanimously found Leger, 32, of Palmetto, guilty in July of five counts of vehicular homicide.
“This was a jury trial,” Gathe argued. “No injustice was done.”
Moore took Boren’s and Gathe’s arguments under advisement and said he will issue a ruling March 10.
Leger, who has not been sentenced, faces a prison term of five to 30 years on each count.
Leger’s case was randomly reassigned to Moore after state District Judge Don Johnson, in November, disqualified state District Judge Trudy White from sentencing Leger. Boren had argued to Johnson that White was biased against Leger or had displayed an appearance of impropriety in the case.
White convicted Leger’s co-defendant, Kelsye Hall, on five counts of negligent homicide in 2013 and sentenced the 25-year-old Baton Rouge woman to two years in prison. Hall, who testified at Leger’s trial but not her own, was released in July. She remains on probation.
Authorities and witnesses have said Leger and Hall were engaged in a reckless and high-speed game of “cat and mouse” or road rage on Interstate 10 West on March 13, 2011, when Leger’s pickup spun out of control, crossed the grassy median and collided head-on with a car driven by Effie Fontenot on I-10 east between the Highland Road exit and the Bluff Road overpass near the Ascension Parish line.
State Police said Leger was intoxicated at the time. Hall was not impaired.
Boren argued Monday that White demonstrated at Hall’s sentencing hearing that she already had determined Leger was drunk and guilty — well before his trial.
“While you were determined to be criminally negligent, the evidence also showed that David Leger traveled erratically as he operated his vehicle under the influence of alcohol,” Boren quoted White as saying at Hall’s sentencing. “It was Leger who overcompensated with his steering as he tried to merge back … from the right shoulder.”
Boren then told Moore, “It causes us to have great doubt in the fairness of this proceeding.”
Boren, who was not Leger’s trial attorney, told Moore that White denied Leger’s motion for a new trial without reading the motion.
Boren said White gave the Leger jury improper instructions on the definition and requirement of a causal connection between alcohol and a crash for a vehicular homicide conviction. Boren said a court transcript of a related bench conference between White, Gathe and Leger’s trial attorney, Tommy Damico, is missing and apparently never recorded.
Moore expressed concern over the incomplete trial transcript, saying, “I don’t understand what happened.”
Gathe, who denied White had any control over the jury’s verdict, argued the judge gave the jury the definition of vehicular homicide.
Co-workers Fontenot, 29, and Kimberly Stagg, 19, both of Prairieville, and Fontenot’s three sons, Austin Fontenot, 3, Hunter Johnson, 7, and Keagan Fontenot, 11, were killed in the crash.