Considering it took a jury just 50 minutes or so Sept. 25 to convict suspected serial killer Jeffery Lee Guillory of second-degree murder in the 2002 strangulation of Renee Newman in Baton Rouge, he should be thankful the crime occurred so long ago.
If the crime had occurred more recently, the 45-year-old Guillory might be facing a death sentence rather than a mandatory term of life in prison.
The three murders Guillory is accused of committing in Baton Rouge in 1999, 2001 and 2002 predated legislation Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law in 2009 making serial killers more-easily subject to the death penalty in Louisiana.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors sought the change to the first-degree murder statute after alleged Baton Rouge serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis was convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder.
The jury in the Gillis case deadlocked during the penalty phase, which resulted in a mandatory life sentence.
Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
First-degree murder requires an aggravating circumstance, such as murdering someone while committing another crime, or killing someone under the age of 12.
Prosecutors complained to state lawmakers after the Gillis trial that serial killers often murder without committing another aggravating crime.
That is the case with Guillory, who was arrested in December 2009 and booked in the deaths of Florida Edwards in 1999, Sylvia Cobb in 2001 and Newman in 2002.
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Guillory in 2010, but only in the killing of Newman and only on a charge of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence upon conviction.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III said then that the Newman case was presented to the grand jury as a second-degree murder, not a first-degree murder, which could have resulted in the death penalty.
“I think the only appropriate charge for the facts at the time was second-degree murder,’’ Moore said after the indictment was handed down.
The key words there are “at the time,’’ because at the time of Newman’s killing, authorities needed an aggravating circumstance to go after Guillory for first-degree murder.
They didn’t have one.
At Guillory’s trial in the killing of Newman, prosecutor Dana Cummings was allowed to introduce evidence from Edwards’ slaying in an effort to show it was Guillory who strangled both women.
A DNA analyst testified that Guillory’s genetic material was found on both women.
At Gillis’ 2008 trial in the 2004 strangulation of Donna Bennett Johnston, prosecutor Prem Burns presented evidence in the penalty phase linking Gillis to the murders of two other Baton Rouge women — Katherine Hall in 1999 and Johnnie Mae Williams in 2003.
Gillis also is serving a life term in the 1999 killing of Joyce Williams, of Baton Rouge, in Port Allen.
Gillis confessed to killing eight south Louisiana women between 1994 and 2004, according to authorities.
Guillory remains a suspect in other unsolved killings of women in Baton Rouge that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, authorities have said.