Guilty verdicts mark end of bizarre, sad saga that began with Reserve boy’s death _lowres

Advocate staff photo -- Errol and Tonya Victors exit the courthouse after the verdict.

Dressed in a crisp white dress shirt and blue tie, Errol Victor appeared carefree and feisty Friday while awaiting the return of a St. John the Baptist Parish jury that was deciding whether he would spend the rest of his life in jail for killing his 8-year-old stepson, M.L. Lloyd III.

He talked incessantly about his faith and the unfairness of his trial to his son Marcus and a friend, neither of whom could get a word in edgewise. He greeted an old acquaintance with a handshake and a smile, then drummed his fingers on a courtroom bench.

“I don’t care if I’m in the darkest, deepest cell,” he whispered. “I’m going to come out of it.”

An hour later, the former real-estate developer walked out of the Edgard courthouse in handcuffs and orange jail scrubs alongside his wife, Tonya Victor, who wore pink jail garb.

The Reserve couple were both headed for lengthy jail terms after a jury agreed with prosecutors’ argument that a brutal beating delivered by Errol Victor was the reason Lloyd was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital on April 1, 2008.

Prosecutors said Tonya Victor did nothing to stop the assault and helped her husband cover up the boy’s death.

The jury of nine women and three men voted 10-2 to convict Errol Victor of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

They unanimously found Tonya Victor guilty of manslaughter, a lesser charge, which carries a term of 10 years to 40 years when the victim is under 10 years old.

The convictions marked the end of a bizarre six-year saga, in which the boy’s tragic death was often upstaged by the erratic behavior of his mother and stepfather — both inside the courtroom and out of it.

Errol Victor presided over a flock of 13 boys at his Reserve home, 11 of them from previous marriages — and all of them home-schooled by the deeply religious couple.

Victor’s stepsons characterized him as a violent, controlling stepfather who often withheld food as punishment. Neighbors have said the Victor children worked from morning until night and were forced to run laps around the house as punishment.

In court, meanwhile, the couple’s volatile personalities and unorthodox legal maneuvering made for something of a circus. According to a statement from St. John the Baptist District Attorney Tom Daley, the Victors “attempted to make a mockery of the criminal justice system” by cycling through a dozen attorneys over six years.

Previous media reports quoted Errol Victor as saying he spent over $600,000 on 22 different lawyers.

The couple fled the area on the eve of one previous trial and were on the lam for eight months, at one point being featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”

Eventually, the Victors decided to represent themselves at trial, despite having no experience with criminal law. The result was chaos in the courtroom; the couple often violated rules of procedure by hurling allegations at prosecutors, witnesses and even Judge Mary Hotard Becnel.

“It was completely disruptive behavior,” said Julie Cullen, a lawyer for the Attorney General’s Office, who was the lead prosecutor in the case.

The death of Lloyd

A clear narrative of what happened on the day Lloyd died never emerged during the two-week trial. The prosecution argued it was Errol Victor who beat the child that morning, and their contention was buttressed by the testimony of four of Tonya Victor’s sons.

All the boys had similar stories: They said Errol Victor brutally flogged Lloyd with a belt after he stole an ice cream snack.

According to Toi Williams, 21, Errol Victor enlisted the help of his stepsons to hold Lloyd down. Williams said Errol Victor whipped the boy with a belt as he lay over a sofa. He said Lloyd was “crying” and “crying” and Errol Victor was “throwing him around, punching him,” possibly for as long as an hour.

Williams said that at one point, Errol Victor stopped the beating to pour alcohol in Lloyd’s wounds before hitting him again.

According to Williams, Tonya Victor was aware of what was happening but did not try to rescue her son.

The graphic testimony, paired with photographs of Lloyd’s heavily bruised body, drew gasps from court onlookers. One juror left the courtroom in tears.

The stepsons’ version of events contrasted sharply with the testimony given by five of Errol Victor’s biological sons, all of whom characterized their father as a nonviolent man. They said it was their stepmother who beat Lloyd that day. They also said their father wasn’t home at the time.

Tonya Victor backed up that claim under cross-examination from her own husband, when she said she was the one who beat the boy. She denied causing the injuries seen in the photos, however.

Also in dispute was the cause of the boy’s death.

Medical authorities testified he was likely dead when he arrived at the hospital and listed the official cause of death as “asphyxia due to neck compression.” An autopsy also showed extensive bruising.

The Victors claimed Lloyd died from a sudden asthma attack, and Errol Victor noted the death certificate stated the cause of death was “undetermined.”

Defending themselves

It was the Victors’ decision to represent themselves that caused what would have already been a high-stakes trial to escalate in tension.

The couple demanded to be tried together, mounting a strange and at times incoherent defense in which they sometimes seemed to be pointing the finger at each other.

The attorney general handled the case after the St. John District Attorney’s Office recused itself because former investigator Kerry Brown had once been Errol Victor’s lawyer.

Brown, who pleaded guilty last year to stealing more than $58,000 in settlement money from an elderly client, also testified for the defense at the trial.

Cullen, the prosecutor, said after the verdict that she had her hands full with the Victors.

“Where do I start?” she exclaimed. “They would object to everything, and half the time, I couldn’t even understand what they were saying.”

Cullen said Errol Victor often attempted to testify to matters that had nothing to do with the case.

On Wednesday, he continued to make statements in a booming voice even after Cullen’s objections had been sustained.

“He’s manipulative, a legend in his own mind,” she said.

According to Cullen, Judge Becnel had made preparations to have the Victors watch the proceedings from a different courtroom if their behavior grew too disruptive.

During deliberations, Errol Victor snapped at a reporter sitting silently in the courtroom gallery, calling him “a moron” and telling him to “Get some God.”

“We need to get our own newspaper,” he said to his wife, who warned him not to violate the trial’s gag order.

Mixed reaction

M.L. Lloyd II, the father of the murdered boy, said outside the courtroom Friday that he was relieved by the verdict.

“I’m glad it’s finally over with,” he said.

He has filed a wrongful-death suit against both the Victors and the state, alleging that officials with the Department of Children and Family Services should have done more to protect his son.

The sentiment was echoed by the boy’s uncle, Jamall Lloyd, who said his family hadn’t seen the younger M.L. Lloyd in years.

“For a mother to let the stepdad do something like that is awful,” he said.

“I’m glad he’s going to Angola,” he added.

However, members of Errol Victor’s brood expressed frustration with the verdict.

Marcus Victor, who testified during the case, called the conviction of his father “unfair.”

“M.L. had an asthma attack after Mama whupped him,” he said.

Belinda Parker-Brown, president of Louisiana United International, a Slidell-based civil rights group, said she felt Errol Victor’s due process rights were violated because he didn’t have an attorney.

She said her organization had brought a lawyer, Tim Yazbeck, to the courthouse on Monday to defend the Victors but that Becnel denied his request to be given a week to prepare for the trial.

Cullen confirmed that, saying Becnel refused to grant the extension due to the number of past attorney changes the couple had made.

Becnel did not set a date for sentencing Friday.

While climbing into a jail van, Victor called the jury “ignorant,” reiterated his faith in God and said he plans to appeal.