Update, 11:05 a.m.: Derrick Stafford, the Marksville officer charged with murder in 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis' death, took stand for about 90 minutes Friday morning. SEE THE FULL STORY HERE.
MARKSVILLE — The defense team for a former Marksville deputy marshal accused in the shootings of Christopher Few and his young son at the end of a chase began their case Thursday by calling Few's ex-girlfriend, who said she saw the pursuit begin following a confrontation at a stoplight in town.
Megan Dixon, who testified she was dating Few at the time though the pair was "on the outs, kind of," told the court she'd gone to TJ's Lounge to shoot pool around 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2015, about two hours before a hail of gunfire took the life of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis.
MARKSVILLE — Jurors sat glued to a big-screen TV in a cramped upstairs courtroom, listening …
Dixon, who has been arrested a number of times in the past year, was led into court with her hair roughly hewn short and wearing a bright red jail jumpsuit and shackles. Her current arrest was not mentioned in court.
She was the first witness called by attorneys for Derrick Stafford, a 33-year-old former town marshal and Marksville police lieutenant on trial for second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the shootings, which came at the end of a two-mile chase through Marksville.
The couple shot pool at the bar but Few became angry and threw his pool stick after Dixon began dancing with the bartender, Dixon told jurors Thursday morning.
After leaving the bar separately, Dixon said, Few pulled up behind her at a stoplight and got out of his SUV — while Jeremy sat in the passenger seat — to try to convince her to come home with him. Dixon said Few stood in front of her van, so she reversed it several feet and then drove around him to make a right at the intersection.
"Before I could finish turning, I heard the sirens," Dixon told the courtroom.
No definitive explanation has yet been given about why Norris Greenhouse Jr., a deputy Marksville city marshal patrolling alone, first tried to pull Few over that night. Stafford, riding in a car along with fellow deputy Jason Brouillette, joined in midway through the chase, which ended in a hail of gunfire after Few turned down a dead end. Greenhouse has also been charged with murder and is scheduled to go on trial in June.
One portion of Dixon's testimony did confirm one part of Few's testimony: That he tried to flag her down and pointed out Jeremy in the passenger seat in an attempt to get her to take the boy home in case Few, who admitted to having a few drinks earlier in the night, got arrested.
He passed her twice while trying to grab her attention, with Greenhouse's patrol car, lights flashing, trailing behind, Dixon said. Sally LaBorde, a passenger in the van Dixon was driving, also testified Thursday, saying she could clearly see Few pointing to Jeremy in the car, and the implication was unmistakable that he wanted Dixon to take care of his son.
Few, 26, returned to the witness stand Thursday at the request of Stafford's defense attorneys and walked into court directly from work, wearing a bright yellow shirt with his hands and boots still coated in a thick layer of dust.
After Dixon refused to pull over, Few testified, he was trying to make his way to find his mother when he turned down Martin Luther King Drive, a street Few said he'd never been down before in an area of town he was unfamiliar with.
Pressed about details of the night by Jonathan Goins, one of Stafford's attorneys, Few admitted he has a hazy memory of the night, in part because of a bullet that passed through his forehead and damaged his brain. Few couldn't recall if he drove past several town landmarks — the courthouse, a fire station — during the pursuit, though surveillance footage shows he did.
Dixon's testimony contradicted other portions of what Few and Vernon Brown, the TJ's Lounge bartender, previously told jurors. Brown and Few said earlier this week that Few never threw his pool cue. Both also denied that Dixon dancing with the longtime bartender created any issue, at least in part because Brown is gay.
"I can't speak for Mr. Vern, but it would've been hard to miss," Dixon said when challenged by prosecutors over Brown's version of events.
Another bar patron that night, Michael DeSoto, told the court Thursday that Few arrived at the bar angry and threw his pool stick while in the establishment.
While testifying on Tuesday, Few said his encounter with Dixon at the stoplight — in which he stood in front of the van she was driving to try to convince her to come home with him — happened before he fetched Jeremy from Dixon's aunt's house and wasn't the reason Greenhouse tried to pull him over.
But LaBorde, like Dixon, testified Thursday that she heard sirens just as she and Dixon pulled away at the intersection.
Dixon said that at least once Few came to a stop and the deputy — whom she did not identify by name — began to climb out of his unit before Few drove off again and the chase resumed. LaBorde, testifying Thursday afternoon, disputed a defense attorney's characterization of Few as "flying" down the road.
"It was not a high-speed chase," she said.
The others in the van with Dixon wouldn't let her pull over, she told jurors, and they went on to the Paragon Casino on the outskirts of Marksville.
"I didn't find out what happened until the next day," Dixon said.
The driver in the fatal incident, 26-year-old Christopher Few, testified for over an hour Tuesday afternoon, describing the events of Nov. 3, 2015, and recounting the hail of gunfire that wounded him and killed his 6-year-old son, Jeremy Mardis.
But testimony from a relatively minor character witness, former Marksville Police Chief Ellis Walker, nearly derailed the trial when prosecutors asked him about seven months Stafford spent on unpaid suspension in 2011 because of a two-count aggravated rape indictment in Rapides Parish.
Defense attorneys strenuously objected to the question, since the rape indictment was later dismissed by the Rapides District Attorney's Office. Christopher LaCour, an attorney for Stafford, asked Judge William Bennett to declare a mistrial and argued the testimony would unfairly taint the jury's opinion of Stafford and made a fair and impartial verdict an impossibility.
Bennett, though, swiped those complaints aside, saying the defense's own decision to question in detail Stafford's internal affairs history (cleared of all complaints) and Stafford's annual evaluations (each "above average") made questions about the officer's lengthy suspension and the dismissed cause — which ordinarily wouldn't have been allowed — relevant.
Stafford's defense team responded by calling Angelo Piazza III, the Marksville city court judge who defended Stafford from the rape charges. Piazza maintained that physical evidence, incomplete statements, and inconsistencies in the case exonerated Stafford and led an assistant district attorney to drop the charges.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, LaCour, the defense attorney, said he figured most jurors had already heard about the rape indictment — which was widely reported in the media — and that he's "thankful we were able to explain that situation and what happened."
MARKSVILLE — Prosecutors have wrapped up their case against a former Marksville deputy marsh…
Among others who took the stand Thursday were several current and former Marksville police officers who addressed two unrelated incidents — both in 2011 — during which Stafford allegedly used excessive force while making arrests.
Stafford's former colleagues said he acted reasonably during the arrests, which they described as violent struggles, and his use of pepper spray and a stun gun wasn't excessive.
Also taking the stand: Norris Greenhouse Sr., the father of the other Marksville deputy awaiting trial in the case, who as an assistant with the Avoyelles District Attorney's Office prosecuted the cases against two of the people who'd claimed earlier in the trial that Stafford used excessive force.
The elder Greenhouse wasn't asked about his son or the case, instead simply recounting from the stand how each defendant was found guilty by a judge of resisting arrest and disturbing the peace.
The defense also called a state trooper, Aaron Lemoine, who arrested Few nine months before the shooting for driving under the influence after Few wrecked his truck in a single-vehicle crash.
Lemoine said he met Few at the hospital and, reading from his arrest report, had to re-introduce himself to the severely intoxicated Few at least seven times during their conversation.
At one point, Lemoine said, Few began laughing and said he was disappointed his truck was too badly damaged to drive off from the scene because otherwise "he would've hauled ass."
Lemoine also said that Few remarked he'd never "driven that messed up" before.
The defense, which has not yet rested, is expected to present more testimony Friday.