Two questions into cross-examining his wife on the witness stand during the first full day of their defense case, Errol Victor Sr. argued that he should be allowed to present evidence that would have been used to impeach her testimony.
It was another bizarre moment in a six-year-old legal case that has already had more than its share of twists and turns.
The couple, Errol and Tonya Victor, are representing themselves in the trial. They are each charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tonya Victor’s 8-year-old son, M.L. Lloyd III, who was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital in LaPlace in April 2008.
The “backdoor approach” to impeaching his wife, as one prosecutor described it, came even after Errol Victor argued that the case should be declared a mistrial. He contended that prosecutors from the state Attorney General’s Office, who rested their case Monday, did not present “one iota of evidence” tying his wife to the boy’s death. “Unless they present some evidence that they’re prosecuting Mrs. Victor, then I’m moving for a mistrial,” Errol Victor defiantly yelled from the defense table.
Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, who is presiding over the highly charged trial in Edgard, denied the motion, just as she did Errol Victor’s attempt to turn the tables on his wife.
Meanwhile, Tonya Victor resumed testifying in her defense near the end of the day, acknowledging at one point that she had physically reprimanded Lloyd on April 1, 2008. But when shown photographs of his bruised body, she sharply denied inflicting such harm on her son.
During her testimony, Tonya Victor said her husband was not at home the morning of April 1, when signs of trouble first arose with Lloyd. “When I came home, was it not a crisis?” Errol Victor asked his wife while she was on the witness stand. “Yes, it was,” she replied.
Four of Tonya Victor’s biological sons testified Monday about the circumstances that led to Lloyd’s death, each describing a brutal beating that Lloyd suffered at the hand of his stepfather as punishment for a stolen ice cream snack. They said Errol Victor told several of the boys to hold Lloyd down by the arms the night before he died so that he could be beaten. Errol Victor has denied that account and accused authorities of goading his stepchildren into testifying against him.
On Tuesday, Errol Victor’s biological sons took the stand to testify, generally agreeing that their father had not physically punished Lloyd the day he died, and that he wasn’t home at the time.
During direct examination by his father, Marcus Victor repeatedly testified that his father had a “no whipping” policy and that he would keep peace at home through task-oriented punishment, like making the boys run laps around the house, making them go without dinner or having them copy Bible passages.
It was actually Tonya Victor who punished the boy, Marcus Victor testified. On April 1, he testified, “She was whupping him,” referring to Lloyd. “She was whupping him bad.”
“Ever been abused or mistreated by your dad?” Errol Victor asked his son. Marcus Victor replied, “No sir.”
“Did you have a horrible life like they’re projecting here?” Errol Victor asked. Again, his son replied, “No sir.”
During cross-examination Tuesday, prosecutor Julie Cullen said to Tonya Victor that if neither she nor her husband, nor the children, had left Lloyd badly beaten, then whose fault was it?
Tonya Victor didn’t have an answer for that, though she continued to defend her husband.
She also questioned her stepson but mainly focused on whether all the children were treated equally regardless of their biological parents. “I want to establish everything was equal. It was family,” she said at one point.
Marcus Victor testified that he saw Tonya Victor beating the boy but that he had not seen his father do so.
Fabian Victor, who also took the stand, denied holding Lloyd down and beating him.
The Victor brothers generally testified that they did not fight, but that Tonya’s biological children caused problems in the household and disrupted an otherwise happy family life. “All the others would fight a lot,” Fabian Victor testified.
“Am I a truthful man or dishonest?” Errol Victor asked Fabian Victor. “Truthful,” he replied.
During cross-examination, Fabian said he was “just passing through” when he saw his stepmother beating Lloyd. Still, there were some inconsistencies in his testimony on questions like where family members were in the chaotic aftermath of Lloyd’s being taken to the hospital, which prosecutors drew from notes by St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputies and earlier statements.
Errol Victor called two additional witnesses for the defense, including Velva Boles, of Alexandria. In order to establish expert status to testify as a doctor, Errol Victor read through her résumé, in which she identified herself as a “physician scientist” with a background in pathology. But prosecutors contended that her state medical license had been revoked and that she had been disciplined by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners for unprofessional conduct.
The board recommended that Boles should not serve as a medical expert in litigation for the remainder of her career, Becnel read from an order supplied by prosecutors.
Boles disputed much of the questioning of her credentials, noting that the board “does not confirm expert status,” and blamed the issue on “identity theft.”
Becnel ultimately ruled that Boles could not testify as an expert on forensic pathology.
The defense also called Kerry Brown, a former St. John assistant district attorney who previously had done work as Errol Victor’s lawyer.
Brown, who pleaded guilty last year to stealing more than $58,000 in settlement money from an elderly client, testified that he recalled conversations with Errol Victor from before Lloyd died in which Victor expressed difficulty in having all the children get along. He said Errol Victor “required tiers of discipline” and struggled to get the stepchildren to follow orders.
“Have I ever been known to be physically violent?” Errol Victor asked Brown. “No, not that I know of,” he replied.
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 Reserve 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.
In April 2010, the couple was indicted on second-degree murder charges, the third time they were indicted in relation to Lloyd’s death.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY .