AMITE — By order of the state fire marshal, the largest courtroom at the Tangipahoa Parish courthouse has a maximum occupancy of 280, and the room was packed to the gills with defendants, their families, court officials, witnesses and law enforcement on Tuesday as 21st Judicial District Judge Douglas Hughes attempted to clear a massive docket listing 175 defendants.
It is unclear exactly how many passed before the bench, as a few defendants did not show up, other names were added and a handful were passed on to other officials, but the judge triaged dozens of cases, including multiple alleged murderers and Grant Carruth, the former Amite city police officer accused of abducting and sexually assaulting two women after pretending to arrest them.
Tuesday, his attorney, Michael Thiel, said evidence suggests there may be surveillance footage of Carruth at a hotel that could be related to the case. The District Attorney’s Office was ordered to investigate and report back to the defense. Thiel also made reference to expert witnesses who may be called to testify, including a DNA expert. Carruth, who has posted a $275,500 bond, declined to comment when approached after his court appearance.
In another high-profile case, Assistant Public Defender Allen Harvey said he expects doctors to declare Daryl Lynn Hill mentally unrestorable. She is accused of shooting her brother last year, then hiding in her nearby home in Amite. During a standoff with law enforcement, officers threw tear gas into the building, and Hill responded by calling 911. After she was taken into custody, authorities performed a search of her brother’s home and found hundreds of thousands of dollars in counterfeit cash. Harvey has previously declined to discuss her particular diagnosis but has said psychiatrists believe she may be unable to defend herself in court. Tuesday, Harvey told the judge he anticipates her doctors will write a report to that effect, but he has not yet received the paperwork.
Three men charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in a drive-by over rap lyrics also appeared in court Tuesday. One, Verdale Moore, achieved additional notoriety — and extra criminal charges — when he escaped from the Tangipahoa Parish Jail last summer. Law enforcement linked him, Kenneth Johnson and Davontaye Jackson to the shooting death of 37-year-old Sandra Butler, of Independence, who was killed last year, though authorities said at the time that she was not their intended target.
The three were given court dates in March. When Johnson appeared before the judge, Assistant District Attorney Britain Sledge said his office and Johnson’s defense attorney were trying to resolve some unspecified issues out of court.
Most appearances Tuesday were brief, including Robert Lafargue, the only person on the day’s docket who faces a first-degree murder charge. Hammond police have said he called 911 himself and reported that he had shot his father, Laurent Lafargue, in 2013 at the home they shared. On Tuesday, Robert Lafargue was swiftly given a new court date next month.
In addition to alleged murderers, Tuesday’s courtroom was filled with others facing charges related to drugs, burglary, fraud and other crimes.
Sledge and Assistant Public Defender Erica D. Williams said the docket had grown so large because the last time the people assigned to their specific criminal division appeared in court, the 2016 schedules hadn’t been created, so they all got crammed onto the last docket of the year.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.