A Reserve couple accused of killing their 8-year-old son will face a jury this week, the culmination of a six-year legal drama involving three different indictments and an appearance on “America’s Most Wanted.”
Errol Victor Sr. and Tonya Victor both face second-degree murder charges in the death of M.L. Lloyd III — Tonya’s son and Errol’s stepson — who was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace in April 2008.
The two defendants, who are representing themselves, and prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office spent two days this week questioning prospective jurors at 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard. Selection of a jury of 12 was completed Wednesday, but the process was set to continue Thursday in order to designate alternates.
For years, the Victors have maintained their innocence, saying Lloyd suffered a severe asthma attack provoked by fighting with his brothers. Authorities have disputed that claim, suggesting the boy may have died hours before arriving at the hospital. “Asphyxia due to neck compression” was listed as the cause of death; an autopsy showed extensive bruising.
Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, who is presiding over the case, whittled down the jury pool Wednesday afternoon by asking prospective jurors whether they knew the Victors or members of their family, or whether they’d followed the case in the news.
Of a pool of about a dozen who sat in the courtroom from one group by midafternoon, nearly every person had heard about some aspect of the incident in the past six years. Many also indicated that they knew relatives of the accused at one point or another, hardly a surprise given the size of the family and that many prospective jurors were from LaPlace or Reserve.
It’s unclear whether the Victors will testify in their own defense. Both of their names were read by the judge from a list of potential witnesses, as well as members of their family, doctors and law authorities in St. John the Baptist Parish.
On Wednesday, after one pool of prospective jurors was narrowed down to five, both Errol and Tonya Victor had a chance to question each of them.
Tonya Victor, who often deferred to her husband during earlier legal proceedings, went first. In a soft-spoken tone, she questioned the three men and two women about whether they had children, and pressed each about whether they “could be strong enough” to find her and her husband not guilty if the evidence warranted it.
“I don’t mean to exhaust you, I don’t mean to stress you out,” Tonya Victor said, her questions often rambling on for several minutes at a time.
Her husband, Errol Victor, went through each of the five prospective jurors more methodically, asking each of them the same questions.
At times, he seemed to be laying groundwork for the trial ahead, trying to cast doubt on potential witnesses who might testify against him and his wife. He asked the jurors if they had ever been lied to and then asked if they thought people from different occupations — presumably culled from the witnesses list — would necessarily be honest.
“Do people lie?” he asked. “Are police officers people too? Doctors?”
The case’s legal twists and turns have drawn widespread attention in recent years, particularly as the Victors hired and fired their attorneys nearly a dozen times, according to some estimates, ending up with the couple once again representing themselves.
The couple each had children from past marriages when they married: Errol Victor, a businessman and real estate developer, had six children; Tonya Victor, a stay-at-home mom, had five. Together, they added two more to the family.
In a recorded statement played in court years ago, one of Tonya Victor’s young sons said his stepfather typically withheld food from Tonya’s children, while his children could “eat anything they wanted.”
The same child testified that Errol Victor told several of the boys to hold young Lloyd down by the arms the night before he died, so they could beat him for taking ice cream without permission.
Errol Victor has denied that account and accused authorities of goading his stepchildren into testifying against him.
The next day, on April 1, 2008, Tonya Victor, along with the boy’s stepbrother, Errol Victor Jr., took the child to the hospital but quickly fled the emergency room, according to law enforcement.
Errol Victor Sr. initially was charged with first-degree murder, while Tonya Victor was charged with cruelty to a juvenile and being a principal to first-degree murder.
That indictment was dismissed after Tonya Victor allegedly acknowledged to sheriff’s deputies that she had hit Lloyd with a belt on the day he died.
Prosecutors then convened a second St. John grand jury, which returned an indictment against the couple in 2009, charging both with second-degree murder.
That meant prosecutors needed to prove the couple intended to inflict great bodily harm, but not necessarily to kill the boy. But another judge vacated that indictment because a St. John sheriff’s deputy serving on the second grand jury panel had worn a shirt advertising his employment with the department.
In April 2010, the couple was indicted for the third time.
The Victors were slated for trial in August 2011, but they fled on the eve of the proceedings and remained on the lam for eight months, during which they were featured on the television program “America’s Most Wanted.”
Opening arguments in the trial could begin as soon as Thursday. Becnel said the trial could last up to two weeks.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY .