Jefferson Parish prosecutors plan to put convicted killer Terry Speaks on the stand during the trial of Margaret Sanchez, his accused co-conspirator in the killing and dismemberment of Bourbon Street dancer Jaren Lockhart.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese noted the prosecution’s intention during a hearing Monday at which 24th Judicial District Judge Stephen Grefer denied defense motions to throw out the charges against Sanchez and move the trial out of Jefferson Parish.
Grefer set a new date of July 11 for the trial, which was originally scheduled to begin this week.
Prosecutors say Sanchez and Speaks lured Lockhart from Temptations Gentlemen’s Club on Bourbon Street to their home in Kenner on June 6, 2012, with the promise of easy money, only to stab her in the chest, dismember her body and scatter the pieces in the bayous of Mississippi, where they washed up on shore days later.
Sanchez’s trial won’t be the first time a jury has heard testimony from Speaks, who was convicted in June and sentenced to life in prison. Speaks took the stand for more than two hours in his own trial; he also spent two days defending himself before allowing his public defenders to take over the case.
Jailhouse emails and phone calls from Speaks to Sanchez suggested the couple’s fraying relationship was frustrating Speaks, and at one point he threatened to disclose information about his “spring cleaning,” which prosecutors said was code for the dismemberment of Lockhart’s body.
On Monday, Sanchez’s attorney, Anna Friedberg, argued that the media attention the case has garnered since Lockhart’s killing will make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Jefferson.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, anyone we talk to knows about this case,” she said, noting there’s no way to know if prospective jurors are telling the truth when they answer questions about what they know and whether they can be impartial.
“But that’s not unique to this case. You deal with that issue in every case, right?” Grefer replied.
Freese argued that by the time of the trial, four years will have passed since the killing and that metro New Orleans has had hundreds of homicides since then. He said the court has the experience of Speaks’ June trial to support the contention that the case can be tried fairly despite the publicity.
Grefer ruled that whatever the level of interest or knowledge in the case, there is not enough evidence to suggest the standard jury selection process won’t be able to seat a fair jury. He noted Friedberg is free to raise any objections as the process goes forward this summer.
On the issue of quashing the indictment of Sanchez, the argument largely mirrored one Speaks’ lawyers made unsuccessfully before his trial — that the lack of forensic and physical evidence found in Speaks’ and Sanchez’s house and car means there is no reason to believe Lockhart was killed in Jefferson Parish and the case therefore should be tried in Hancock County, Mississippi, where her body was found.
Grefer ruled that the timeline established by surveillance cameras that caught the three leaving Temptations together the night Lockhart disappeared and the license-plate cameras that later caught the car going into and then out of Mississippi in just over an hour are enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that at least some of the crime took place in Jefferson Parish.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.