Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against a 52-year-old felon in the 2011 baseball bat beating death of a Southern University student after a judge refused Tuesday to delay his trial again to give prosecutors more time to find several crucial witnesses.

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Barry Fontenot pledged to refile a second-degree murder charge against Timothy Wayne Washington in the death of Sheena Marie Barnett, 26, if the witnesses are located.

Fontenot said outside state District Judge Beau Higginbotham's courtroom that two witnesses with criminal records are "avoiding us" for whatever reason, whether it be fear or lack of caring.

"We're going to continue looking for the witnesses. I think we're going to get them," he said.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said several law enforcement agencies have been searching for the essential witnesses.

"It is our desire to bring justice and closure to the victim's family," he said. "This family has been through a lot and have patiently waited for years for their day in court."

Washington's attorney, Bob Tucker, said he's ready to defend his client in a court of law.

"I don't care if they have the witnesses or not. It's a circumstantial case," he said.

Barnett's body was found Feb. 19, 2011, inside her burning apartment on GSRI Avenue. Her head was severely beaten, and a partially burned bat with blood on it was discovered near her body.

Washington's DNA was found on the bat, but Tucker said there is nothing unusual about that because Barnett and Washington were acquaintances.

Fontenot said the missing witnesses identified Washington as the man who was with Barnett the evening before her body was found.

Washington was indicted in May 2011, Higginbotham noted, adding that Tuesday's trial date was at least the fifth such date in the long-running case.

Washington's criminal past includes a manslaughter guilty plea and eight-year prison term in the 1999 slaying of rap artist Walter Servick on West Garfield Street during a party, and a 1992 second-degree battery conviction for choking a woman at a West Roosevelt Street residence.

  

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.