GONZALES — As he entered the courtroom Wednesday, 16-year-old Jacob Westbrook, in handcuffs and ankle shackles, seemed dazed.
And his mother cried when state District Judge Jason Verdigets ruled the teen will stand trial as an adult on second-degree murder in the stabbing death Saturday of Todd “T.J.” Toups Jr. at a mobile home in Ascension Parish.
Wearing the jeans and a black T-shirt that he was probably wearing when he was arrested at his girlfriend’s home, Westbrook sat quietly between his attorneys at Wednesday’s hearing.
His family sat in the row behind him.
Toups, 18, a senior at St. Amant High School, was fatally stabbed after he dropped by the home of a girl who was in the school choir with him and who had told him she didn’t have a ride to the homecoming dance that evening, Sheriff Jeff Wiley said at a news conference Tuesday.
Witnesses said Toups was stabbed by Westbrook, the boyfriend of the girl’s stepsister, the sheriff said.
Wiley said the stepsister, after learning Toups was going to give her stepsister a ride to the dance, had said to him earlier last week: “I don’t like you. You better not hurt my sister or I’ll stab you.”
Toups, who was planning to meet his own date at homecoming, had not met the stepsister before, Wiley said.
Inside the home on Saturday, Toups at one point jokingly asked the stepsister, ‘“Well, are you going to stab me?”’ Wiley said.
Westbrook, who was visiting his girlfriend at the home, said he would if his girlfriend wouldn’t, got a knife from the kitchen and, after a brief tussle with Toups, stabbed him, the sheriff said.
Toups was transported to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
On Wednesday, Sheriff’s Detective Randy Heflin testified he interviewed three witnesses Saturday who were in the trailer: the girl who Toups knew, her stepsister and a neighbor.
The teens had gathered in a hallway when Toups made the joke about stabbing, Heflin said, then Westbrook and Toups began exchanging words.
“Was there any indication as to why they were exchanging words?” First Assistant District Attorney Larry Buquoi asked the detective. “The only words exchanged centered around the seemingly joking words from Wednesday that were brought up Saturday,” Heflin said.
Two of the witnesses said Westbrook made the first move in the fight; the third said Toups made the first move, before he was stabbed, Heflin said.
The knife was later found on a sofa in the trailer home, he said.
In closing arguments, Buquoi referred to the comment the stepsister had made to Toups, in the days before homecoming, with a threat about stabbing him.
“The defendant (Westbrook) seemed to want to act by the statement,” the prosecutor said. “The bottom line is, who was the aggressor? Clearly, the defendant was the aggressor from the time he got the knife.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Susan Kutcher Jones, Heflin did note that after an adult at the home made a call to 911, the adult handed the phone to Westbrook, who relayed the dispatcher’s instructions for medical care for Toups and helped apply pressure to the wound.
Jones asked for a count of negligent homicide or manslaughter for her client, instead of second-degree murder.
Judge Verdigets disagreed.
“The court is going to find probable cause of second-degree murder,” he said.
Verdigets ordered that Westbrook be transferred from the Assumption Parish Youth Detention Center in Napoleonville to the Ascension Parish Jail in Donaldsonville.
The 23rd Judicial District judge granted a request from one of the defense attorneys, ruling that Westbrook be kept in protective custody at the jail and not with the general inmate population. A bond hearing will be set at a later date.
Westbrook’s grandmother, parents and another family member hugged him before he was led from the courtroom. Then his mother broke down in sobs.