Shawn “Buck” Cheneau, who is dead, can’t catch a break.
Due in court within weeks to stand trial on a marijuana charge, he was murdered in a Burger King parking lot last fall in Gentilly.
Two men pulled up in a vehicle with tinted windows, fired away and sped off at about 3:30 p.m., according to a police report. Emergency workers rushed Cheneau to Interim LSU Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The date, Nov. 15, appears below his name on a plaque adorning Crypt 12 along the Corridor of Peace at Mount Olivet Cemetery, above a clutch of dried-out flowers and cards from his wife and young daughter.
Still, nearly half a year later, Cheneau is due back in court next week, his criminal case unresolved, despite confirmation of his death by the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office days after the killing and his lawyers’ requests for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office to drop the prosecution, court records show.
Prosecutors have insisted on seeing a death certificate before they scrap the charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Over several court dates, no certificate has appeared.
Cheneau, who was 28, can no longer assist in his own defense.
A warrant was issued in January from the same courthouse for the arrest of Leroy Price, one of three initial suspects in Cheneau’s murder,
Price, 28, was captured Monday by deputy marshals in Lafayette.
Acting on a tip, they staked out a home there and saw two men leaving in a silver SUV. After a few turns, the deputies stopped the vehicle. Price at first provided a false name before giving his true one after his arrest, said Earl Picard, the city marshal.
Price’s criminal record includes arrests on drug violations, gun possession and, in 2011, a murder, Picard said. Orleans Parish court records show that Cannizzaro’s office refused the murder case in early 2012.
Price was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty in April 2012 to firearms and drug charges.
He remained jailed Thursday in Lafayette pending his retrieval by Orleans Parish deputies, a Lafayette jail official said. He was the only suspect in Cheneau’s murder for whom police secured an arrest warrant, on Jan. 13.
Cheneau’s mother, Sheila Cheneau, said Thursday that she can’t understand why the criminal charge stands against her son, the youngest of her five children.
“Shawn was my baby boy. He was my angel,” she said. “My heart is just torn apart. I’m just now able to get up. I’m so torn, and I know it’s real.”
“I didn’t know it was still pending,” she said. “I thought once one was deceased, everything was null and void.”
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office said the office has a policy of securing death certificates before dropping charges against dead people. Defense attorneys have made false claims of their clients’ demise, “only for the DA’s Office to later learn that the defendant was, in fact, still alive,” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman in a statement.
“In this case, the DA’s Office has requested the death certificate multiple times from the Coroner’s Office, but to date we have not received a response.”
John Gagliano, the coroner’s chief investigator, said the office wasn’t aware of the requests. Anyway, Gagliano said, the state, not the Coroner’s Office, issues death certificates.
Bowman countered that in cases where a defendant is murdered, the DA requests the coroner to confirm the death.
John Fuller, one of Cheneau’s attorneys, called the delay “preposterous,” given intensive news coverage not only of Cheneau’s murder but of his family’s struggles to cope with his death and the search for suspects.
“The greatest outrage is that we know he’s deceased, because the NOPD has issued an arrest warrant for the suspect,” Fuller said. “And the state of Louisiana continues to prosecute him under this notion that there’s not enough evidence to dismiss it.”
Fuller said prosecutors initially wanted him to deliver a copy of the death certificate from the family, but he refused.
”You know he’s dead. Why do you need to go open a scabbed-over wound with his wife?” Fuller said. “The whole world knows he’s dead.”
Cheneau’s mother said she has a copy of her son’s death certificate that she’s more than happy to provide to the court.
Cheneau had been married three months when police nabbed him on Oct. 22, 2012, in the parking lot of the Red Carpet Inn & Suites on Chef Menteur Highway.
Officers spotted him about 8:40 p.m. in the hotel parking lot, according to police. He got out when the cops rolled up and tossed the keys in a trash can, police said. They detained him and caught a strong whiff of marijuana as they opened the car door. Inside they found a bag of marijuana in the back seat, the report says.
Evidence in the case included more than two dozen bags of “vegetable matter,” much of it found in containers of Gunk automotive products, court records show.
After a trial date was scrapped last July, Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier set a new trial date for Dec. 3.
By then, Cheneau was dead.
One of his attorneys appeared in court on the day of trial, saying he was trying to get proof of his client’s death. The case has returned to court every month since for pre-trial conferences. The last court date fell on April Fool’s Day.