Accused killer Mason Chiapuzio, who has been free on $250,000 bail for 21 months in a 2012 Tigerland slaying, avoided being sent back to jail Wednesday after telling a Baton Rouge state judge he now has paid $1,600 to help defray the cost of his court-appointed lawyer.
Chiapuzio, of Baton Rouge, is scheduled to stand trial in May.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors recently balked after learning that Chiapuzio, who turns 22 on Thursday, had not paid a dime of the $5,000 he was ordered to pay the local public defenders office last year.
State District Judge Don Johnson set that amount in April 2014 after prosecutors brought to the judge’s attention the fact that Chiapuzio — who had been given a court-appointed lawyer at no cost to him in November 2013 — was able to post the $250,000 bail in January 2014 and be let out of jail.
Prosecutors said it was ludicrous that Chiapuzio had a free lawyer but still was able to post such a large bail.
Chiapuzio’s attorney, Gail Ray, said Wednesday that friends of the Chiapuzio family put up the money to bail him out of jail because he did not have the financial ability to do so.
Under state law, people jailed but not convicted can pay a bail bondsman 12 percent of the bail — in Chiapuzio’s case, $30,000 on a $250,000 bail — to be released from jail. The bondsman ensures a defendant’s appearance in court. Defendants also can post bail putting up private property.
Last week, state District Judge Beau Higginbotham, who is now presiding over the case, ordered Chiapuzio to make a substantial payment to the local public defender’s office by Wednesday or face returning to jail.
Chiapuzio told Higginbotham last week that he has a job at a pizza restaurant but needs the money he earns to pay his rent, which prompted the judge to say that if Chiapuzio did not make a large payment on his $5,000 bill, the state would pay for his housing — meaning he would go directly to jail.
Chiapuzio told the judge Wednesday he was paying another $1,000 in addition to $600 he recently paid.
Prosecutor Will Morris told Higginbotham he remains unhappy with the arrangement crafted by Johnson and said Chiapuzio should not have the services of a court-appointed attorney when he is able to post such a large bail.
Higginbotham, who said he was not going to step on Johnson’s toes and alter the $5,000 fee, decided not to revoke the bail. But the judge said he would consider doing so if Chiapuzio does not continue making payments on the $5,000 tab.
Higginbotham said he wants the amount paid in full by March 29.
Ray acknowledged that the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender’s Office is in need of funds and said she has no problem with the way Johnson or Higginbotham have handled the Chiapuzio matter.
Chiapuzio is slated to stand trial May 16 on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of 29-year-old Brandon Harris on April 12, 2012.
Chiapuzio’s mother, Tressie Newberry, was convicted last month on the same charge and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison when she is sentenced Dec. 8.
Chiapuzio is the alleged triggerman.
Prosecutors contend Harris died during a drug-related robbery. His body was found on Sharlo Avenue. His pockets were emptied, and he had been shot three times.