CONVENT — Defense attorneys for the man accused in the July slaying of a 12-year-old St. James Parish girl failed in a bid Monday to have law enforcement officials offer pre-trial testimony about their case against John D. Celestine Jr.
But Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District, did say he will order sheriff’s deputies to video-record the alleged murder scene of the girl, Talaija Dorsey.
Sheriff’s investigators have said Celestine, 44, 8308 Pecan Lane, St. James, killed Talaija on July 1 and dumped her body near a cane field off La. 3127.
Celestine was then fiancé to Talaija’s mother and lived with her and Talaija in their home off River Road. Her disappearance and community efforts to find her attracted widespread media attention.
The alleged murder scene, a defense motions says, is the home of Dorsey’s maternal grandfather but it has the same address as the Dorsey and Celestine home, 8308 Pecan Lane.
Talaija and her extended family lived together in a compound of houses and mobile homes at the end of Pecan near agricultural fields on the west bank of St. James.
Defense attorneys Blaine Hebert and Susan Jones had asked Turner in December to view and photograph the scene personally with Celestine.
Turner ruled Jan. 5 the area will be filmed under the defense’s written direction but without the attorneys or Celestine present. Turner told Hebert on Monday he would sign an order to video once Hebert drew it up.
Hebert and Jones wanted to bring St. James and Assumption parish sheriff’s deputies and detectives and FBI agents into court Monday for a hearing on an obstruction of justice count for which Celestine was arrested July 1. At the time, Talaija was believed missing. Deputies had claimed Celestine was being uncooperative with the search.
The St. James Parish grand jury ended up indicting Celestine July 8 on first-degree murder in Talaija’s death, two days after her body was found, but prosecutors have not brought an obstruction charge eight months since his arrest. Celestine has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and is being held without bail.
The hearing, a preliminary exam, determines if prosecutors have probable cause to hold someone on a charge and have bail set. The hearings are often a judicial check on prosecutors when they charge defendants directly with a bill of information.
But Turner ruled the defense attorneys could not have the hearing once he found no probable cause for obstruction. Prosecutors had said Monday they would not present evidence for the charge. He also lifted $100,000 bail for that count.
Before the ruling, Assistant District Attorney Robin O’Bannon argued the issue was moot. She said prosecutors have six years to bring the charge and the defense team can’t make them bring it at a certain time. She claimed Hebert and Jones were trying to glean information about the state’s murder case with the proposed hearing.
Hebert disputed that, saying his client had a right to the hearing anyway. Turner was unmoved.
“What are you using it for? What’s the point?” Turner asked Hebert.
Hebert noted Celestine was originally held in jail on the obstruction count several days before his arrest in Talaija’s slaying. O’Bannon said Hebert could file motions to suppress evidence if needed.
Prosecutors have turned over 55 compact discs of reports, recorded interviews and jail house calls, Facebook posts and photographs, prosecution inventories show. In October, Turner sealed all evidence from public view due to graphic pictures that prosecutors submitted.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.