It was a case of mistaken identity by frantic victims of a bloody home invasion in 2010 that landed Christopher Lee in front of an Orleans Parish jury Thursday, Lee’s attorneys argued at the start of his murder trial over an attack that left Chad Huth dead.
Public defender Colin Reingold told a Criminal District Court jury that Lee, 25, of Algiers, was sleeping that night at his mother-in-law’s house when his brother, Joshua Lee, fired on Huth after barging with a group of men into Huth’s home on Cameron Boulevard in Gentilly.
Joshua Lee, 24, was convicted last year of murder, attempted murder and aggravated burglary in the fatal assault. He is now serving a life prison term.
Huth, 24, and three friends were smoking marijuana, eating takeout food from Port of Call and watching the premiere episode of the HBO series “Treme” when they heard a knock on the door, according to testimony in the case.
Paul Patin, Huth’s childhood buddy, looked out and saw a group of men on the porch, including Joshua and Christopher Lee, according to his later identifications to police. Patin then ran back to his room to search for a gun, as others in the group scrambled.
The assailants smashed the door jamb and started firing. Authorities say Joshua Lee pumped a bullet into Huth’s back. Firefighters found Huth dead in the bathroom.
Another childhood friend, Christopher Wells, testified Thursday that the men demanded he open the door to Patin’s room.
“I said, ‘Kill me,’ ” Wells testified. “I wasn’t going to help them in any way.”
They pulled him into the living room, where Wells said Joshua Lee held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The pistol jammed, and Christopher Lee started firing, Wells said, hitting him in the arm and side.
“He either ran out of bullets or he thought that the wounds he had inflicted on me were going to kill me ultimately,” Wells said. “They turned and walked out.”
Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue told the jury that ballistics showed the gun used to kill Huth was found during a search of the Algiers home where the Lee brothers lived. She said authorities also tracked Wells’ stolen cellphone to Joshua Lee.
Wells initially couldn’t identify Christopher Lee in a photo lineup, but he later did so, and on Thursday, he again identified Lee as the man who shot him. “Without a doubt,” Wells said, pointing to Lee. “Right there.”
Lee sat in a dark suit and crisp white shirt, with short-cropped hair where he once wore dreadlocks.
Reingold argued that the chaos of the assault made the identifications by Wells and Patin — the only victims who caught a glimpse of the attackers — thoroughly unreliable.
“All the physical evidence in this case ties to Joshua — the gun, the (cellphone) card. It all ties to Josh. What Josh did was terrible. It was horrendous, but having a brother who commits murder does not make Chris a murderer,” Reingold said.
“They were stoned, eating burgers and watching ‘Treme,’ and there was a knock at the door,” he added. “These are exactly the sort of circumstances where our memory is least reliable, most prone to mistakes. And that whole time this is happening on Cameron Boulevard, on the West Bank behind a security gate, Christopher Lee is asleep.”
Lee faces the same charges for which his younger brother was convicted, and he will get the same life sentence if the jury finds him guilty.
Two weeks after the attack, Rodrigue said, the brothers struck again at the home of a man whose wife and twin infants were in the back. A gunman shot away the victim’s bicep, Rodrigue said. The victim’s descriptions of his assailants matched the Lee brothers, Rodrigue told the jury.
“He tries to get inside the house, and Christopher Lee basically blows off his arm with a shotgun,” Rodrigue said.
She said the jury would see sketches from the man’s description of his attackers, to match against those from the attack that killed Huth a few weeks earlier.
Christopher Lee still awaits trial on charges of attempted murder and attempted armed robbery in that later assault.
Huth’s family crowded the front rows of the courtroom gallery Thursday as his mother, Melanie Huth, took the stand. She described her son as “one of the most easygoing, trusting people, which might have been to his disadvantage. He loved everybody.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.