GONZALES — An Ascension Parish jury has acquitted a man accused in a December 2012 home invasion robbery in Donaldsonville after another robber already convicted in the incident and an apartment manager who viewed surveillance video of the robbery testified investigators had the wrong man.
Chaz Collins, 23, of Morgan City, who spent nearly three years in jail waiting for his trial, was cleared of single counts of armed robbery with a firearm, home invasion and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, court minutes say.
Collins, who rejected a plea offer last week before jury selection started, had faced 15 to 99 years on just the armed robbery charge.
Prosecutors claimed that Collins was one of two men wearing hoodie-type sweatshirts who broke into a home on Dec. 17, 2012, and took $200, a pistol, a rifle and synthetic marijuana known as “Mojo,” Collins’ defense attorney said.
The verdict was handed down Thursday following a three-day trial and less than three hours of jury deliberation at the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
Jurors voted 10-2 to acquit. Judge Jessie LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District, ordered Collins freed late Thursday night after he spent nearly three years in Parish Prison near Donaldsonville.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case after 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin was recused in February 2013. Collins, who was arrested in January 2013, is the son of one of Babin’s employees, Babin’s recusal motion said at the time.
Laura Gerdes Colligan, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, declined comment Monday on the verdict.
Defense attorney Anthony Marshall said Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies relied on a tainted identification of his client made by the victim. Marshall said investigators relied on hearsay that tied Collins to the robbery based on Collins’ longtime friendship with the other admitted robber, Cordie Lewis, 23, 35512 Preston Lane, Donaldsonville.
“My defendant was guilty by association,” Marshall said.
Colligan said prosecutors had identification but no physical evidence tying Collins to the robbery.
Marshall said Collins testified at trial that he no longer lived in Donaldsonville but lived in Morgan City and was not involved in the crime.
Collins also spoke about his frustration at being arrested and remaining in jail with little chance to give his side.
“Basically, he felt like he was violated. No one ever tried to question him about this at all,” Marshall said.
But Lewis, who pleaded guilty to reduced charges of aggravated assault with a firearm and burglary in January, backed Collins’ story at trial and identified another man as the second robber, Marshall said.
Lewis had faced counts of armed robbery and home invasion before his plea.
Marshall said deputies did not pursue that man because he did not match the victim’s description of the second robber.
The victim knew Lewis but did not know the second robber.
Marshall added that an apartment manager also testified on Collins’ behalf, saying she viewed apartment surveillance video and said the second robber did not look like Collins.
Marshall said investigators had told him previously they were not able to get that video because they were told the camera was not working.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Sept. 29, 2015, to show that it was Cordie Lewis, not Chaz Collins, who had faced counts of armed robbery and home invasion before he entered a plea deal.