Five years after Chad Huth was shot dead in an early morning home invasion in Gentilly, a jury Friday convicted 23-year-old Joshua Lee as the triggerman, drawing sobs from Huth’s family and friends in an Orleans Parish courtroom.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for two hours at the end of a weeklong trial in which three friends who were with Huth that night — including one who also was shot — provided key eyewitness testimony.
The jury convicted Lee of murder, attempted murder and aggravated burglary. He faces an automatic life prison term. Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter set a June 12 sentencing date.
Huth, 24, and his fellow Holy Cross School graduates had smoked some marijuana and were watching the first episode of the HBO series “Treme” in the early morning of April 22, 2010, when a knock on the door marked the beginning of an attack by a group of teens and young men.
The assailants left marijuana and guns in the house. What they wanted was money, said Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue, who called it “a very senseless, cold-blooded killing.”
The other shooting victim, Chris “Corky” Wells, and the friend who opened the door, Paul Patin, both would later identify Lee as the one who shot Huth.
Patin tried to shut the door at the Cameron Boulevard house, then crawled into his room looking for his gun before jumping out the window, he testified.
The burglars broke the hinges off the door, and two men dragged Wells into a bedroom. Wells said Lee raised a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but the weapon jammed.
After that, another man started firing at him with a .40-caliber handgun, shooting him through the arm and elsewhere. Wells identified that shooter as Lee’s brother Christopher Lee, who still awaits trial.
Joshua Lee showed little reaction to the verdict, which drew wails from his loved ones, who were outnumbered by the dozens of supporters who attended the trial on Huth’s behalf. The victim’s mother, Melanie Huth, declined to comment after the verdict, saying, “There’s too many emotions going on.”
Police homed in on Lee’s house through records indicating that Wells’ phone was there. Prosecutors said Joshua Lee was making calls on the phone, using a new SIM card registered to him.
When police showed up with a search warrant at his house on Hendee Street in Algiers, a younger brother, Lionel Lee, identified a gun that police later linked to Huth’s murder as belonging to Joshua Lee.
Lionel Lee is awaiting trial in a different murder case.
Wells and Patin then identified Joshua Lee in photo lineups. Wells also identified Christopher Lee, now 24, as the one who shot him.
The witnesses said somewhere between five and seven people, including several juveniles, were standing on the porch when Patin opened the door. Huth’s friends, though, identified only the two Lee brothers.
“Their biggest mistake was that some people lived, and believe me, that’s their biggest regret, too,” Rodrigue told the jury during her closing argument.
She was responding to Joshua Lee’s defense attorney, Kevin Christensen, who argued that the attack’s survivors could not have clearly identified the shooters because they were in a state of fear and because they were high from the marijuana.
Christensen also offered somewhat of an alibi for Joshua Lee. The morning of the murder — though not at precisely the same time — he had taken the witness stand for the defense in a murder trial, just downstairs from the courtroom where he sat all week, on trial in a white dress shirt.
Christensen tried in vain to persuade the jury to doubt Lee’s role in Huth’s murder, pointing among other things to the role of a New Orleans police officer, Joshua Hunt, who was involved in the search of Lee’s house. Hunt later was fired for claiming he was on a drug bust when he was actually sitting in a dentist’s chair at the time.
Christensen suggested Lionel Lee had reason to lie about who owned the murder weapon, a Russian-made pistol.
Christensen called it a lazy police investigation and suggested that Huth’s friends identified Joshua Lee out of survivors’ guilt.
“When your friend is dead, how do you deal with the guilt? How do you deal with how you really behaved? What do you really see in those nanoseconds, when someone’s busting in and shooting?” he said. “You don’t see anything. You run.”
He added his speculation on their thinking: “ ‘I can’t help my friend, who’s dead. I can’t help him. I’ve got to help him. How do I help him? Find someone to blame.’ ”
Huth, an aspiring electrician, made it to the bathroom and locked the door, but he died there on the floor, shot through the back.
Rodrigue and prosecutor Elizabeth Kilian both noted that the jury didn’t need to find that Joshua Lee fired a gun to convict him of murder. Nor did the state need to prove a motive.
“This was a very senseless murder,” Rodrigue argued. “There wasn’t a motive at all.”
After the verdict, Christensen insisted the jury, which had a single black juror, got it wrong.
“I’m convinced he’s innocent. The two people who thought they could identify him really believed it. They couldn’t have seen him, in my opinion,” Christensen said. “The problem is they were good people. The decedent didn’t deserve what happened to him, but Josh didn’t kill him.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.