NEW ROADS — Two Ventress parents were convicted of second-degree murder Wednesday in death of their 3-month-old infant, who died from severe malnutrition and dehydration in 2014.
Jason Lutz, 34, and Ashley Cogar, 33, were immediately handcuffed in court and booked into the Pointe Coupee Parish Jail, where they'll await sentencing on Oct. 13 in the death of their son, Joseph Lutz.
Authorities have arrested the parents of a malnourished baby found dead on Jan. 28 in a hous…
State District Judge Edward “Jimmy” Gaidry convicted the couple following a three-day bench trial. The defense attorneys waived the couple's right to have the case tried before a jury.
When news first broke of the baby's death in January 2014, parish officials called it one of the worst child neglect cases they've seen.
Joseph's emaciated body was discovered the night of Jan. 28 by sheriff's deputies responding to a 911 call concerning an unresponsive infant. An autopsy report revealed the baby died from starvation and dehydration.
"You can see from the pictures there was severe malnutrition," Gaidry said before handing down his ruling.
Prosecutors introduced into evidence an array of photos taken by deputies showing deplorable living conditions in the Ventress home the couple shared with their three other children, all below the age of 5, and a female friend who was living with them.
There was a substantial amount of drug paraphernalia scattered throughout the home, suggesting heavy drug use. Jason Lutz and the female friend living with the couple had admitted to struggles with drug addiction.
There was no evidence Cogar used drugs.
"This is a case of negligence beyond a reasonable doubt," Assistant District Attorney Chad Aguillard said in his closing remarks Wednesday. "In America, there is no excuse for this. We have a baby that was basically skin and bones."
Defense attorneys used an expert witness to argue the stunted growth of some of the baby's organs showed he could have been suffering from a medical condition that should have been caught by his pediatrician during his two regular doctor visits before his death.
The couple's attorneys also presented photos in court showing cabinets and a refrigerator in the home stuffed with food and baby formula a day after the child was discovered.
Cogar's mother, Gail Seaman, testified the baby was having difficulty eating and breathing after it was born. Seaman also said her daughter was overwhelmed by the duties of caring for all four children without much help from Lutz.
"She was by herself a lot," Seaman said. "Ashley is a loving person. She was always making cookies and cakes with her kids; spending time with them. People complained about the house being messy, but that's because she was spending time with her children."
Since their arrest, the couple's other three children have been living with Seaman and her husband in Texas.
Prosecutors used testimony from a forensics pathologist who said the child died from a lack of nutrition over an extended period of time based on how deteriorated some of his internal organs were at the time of the autopsy. Judge Gaidry, in his ruling, said he found that testimony compelling.
"I do believe they loved their children; however, loving your child and properly caring for a child are two different things," the judge said. "Both of them knew what had to be done to properly care for that child."