For possibly the first time in the six years since they were charged with the murder of her 8-year-old son, Errol and Tonya Victor on Monday set eyes on four of their 13 children, taking turns questioning each one on the witness stand in an Edgard courtroom and often bickering about the chaos surrounding the final hours of the young boy’s life.
The couple, who are representing themselves in the trial, are charged with second-degree murder in the death of M.L. Lloyd III, who was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace in April 2008.
The four children — all Tonya Victor’s biological sons — testified to a similar set of circumstances that led to Lloyd’s death, each describing a brutal beating that Lloyd took at the hand of his stepfather as punishment over a stolen ice cream snack. Their testimony mirrored a recorded statement played in court years ago, in which one of Tonya Victor’s young sons said his stepfather typically withheld food from Tonya’s children, while his own brood could “eat anything they wanted.”
The children testified Monday that Errol Victor told several of the boys to hold young Lloyd down by the arms the night before he died, so that he could beat him for taking the ice cream without permission.
Errol Victor has denied that account and accused authorities of goading his stepchildren into testifying against him. He continued that defense throughout cross-examination Monday, repeatedly trying to grab on to inconsistencies between initial statements the children provided to authorities and what they said in the days after the incident. Some of the children testified that their mother had ordered them not to reveal details to investigators and that later they were more forthright.
Toi Williams, 21, Tonya Victor’s biological son, testified at 40th Judicial District Court that at least one of Errol Victor’s sons held young Lloyd down at their father’s order.
Williams, whose testimony preceded that of his brothers Brandon Williams, 20, and Cordell Williams, 18, said Errol Victor whipped Lloyd with a belt as he lay over a sofa, at times with his bare buttocks exposed. Toi Williams said Lloyd was “crying and crying” and that Errol Victor was “throwing him around, punching him,” possibly for as long as an hour.
He also noted that Tonya Victor was aware of the beating but did not tell them to stop or try to rescue young Lloyd.
Toi Williams testified that after a while, Lloyd was bleeding badly, and Errol Victor applied rubbing alcohol to the wounds. “He was just hollering. He wasn’t crying; he was just hollering like he was in pain,” he said from the witness stand.
After learning the next day that his brother was dead, Toi Williams said, “I didn’t believe it at first. ... I thought it was a dream.”
Monday’s testimony was often graphic in describing the hours of beatings that Lloyd allegedly took the night before he was taken to the hospital, with each son repeating that the boy was restrained and hit with a belt. The proceedings at times drew audible gasps from some family members in the courtroom and left at least one juror briefly in tears.
During cross-examination, Tonya Victor spent several minutes bickering back and forth with Toi Williams.
“Who am I?” she asked at first.
“My mama,” Toi Williams responded.
“So you love me, right?” she asked.
Tonya Victor then asked her son a line of questions that frequently seemed to be incoherent and not related directly to the allegations described moments earlier, drawing several objections from prosecutors. Tonya Victor responded that prosecutors had painted “not even a picture of what my family was” and that she wanted to counter that account.
She then turned to a line of questioning that tried to portray Toi Williams as a young man who once had disciplinary trouble in school. Errol Victor told the court the goal was to poke holes in Williams’ credibility.
The questions directed at each of the children often seemed to veer off track, like asking them to name all their brothers, why they would refer to Errol Victor by his first name and not as “dad,” or what was wrong with their home schooling.
At several points, Tonya Victor grew combative, yelling loudly at each of her sons, openly contending that they were lying and banging repeatedly on the dais to make her point.
“So you don’t remember any good?” she asked Toi Williams. He replied, “Mostly bad than good.”
Errol Victor, who also had an opportunity for cross-examination, was more restrained and typically kept his questions short, focusing on whether he personally had instructed his stepsons to withhold information from investigators. At one point, he pointed out to Toi Williams the number of times Toi said “I think” during his testimony, in an attempt to convince jurors that his memory was off.
Toi’s brother, Brandon Williams, broke down at one point on the stand in describing the beating. During the incident, he testified that Lloyd “had his head down, like he was trying to take it.”
Cordell Williams also testified that Errol Victor at one point told Lloyd, “I’ll keep whupping you until I see tears coming out of your eyes.”
“He kept going and he kept going,” Cordell Williams added.
During cross-examination, Errol Victor asked him, “Would you consent to the fact that parents and children may see things from different viewpoints?”
Prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office rested their case by early evening, and the Victors are expected to begin their defense Tuesday, possibly with Tonya Victor taking the witness stand.
For years, the Victors have maintained their innocence, saying young Lloyd suffered a severe asthma attack provoked by fighting with his brothers.
Medical 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.
The case’s twists and turns have drawn widespread attention, 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.
The Reserve couple has been indicted three times in a half-dozen years for the killing and were at one time featured on the television program “America’s Most Wanted” while trying to avoid facing trial.
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 Parish 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 “America’s Most Wanted.”
Judge Mary Hotard Becnel has said the trial, which started last week, could last up to two weeks.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.