GONZALES — A defense team investigator can testify about a dead juror’s 2013 statements about her state of mind in Justin Granier’s high-profile Ascension Parish murder trial 10 years earlier.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc of the 23rd Judicial District Court has found general prohibitions on using hearsay testimony — essentially a second-hand account — don’t bar the defense investigator from testifying what juror Gladys Mobley told him in April 2013 about this case.
LeBlanc found that the “severity of the issues” raised in Granier’s post-conviction appeal requires the taking of testimony. The issue is whether Mobley’s alleged bias denied Granier an unbiased jury.
“The Court must consider the testimony of those who may shed light on her state of mind at the time of the trial, from voir dire through deliberations,” LeBlanc wrote in written reasons.
LeBlanc has set the hearing for 2 p.m. Aug. 17.
Granier’s attorneys say Mobley told their investigator that her son had worked with the murder victim, 18-year-old St. Amant High School student Luke Villar, up until a week before his slaying on Sept. 15, 2001.
That fact and that Mobley’s son was close in age to Villar at the time prompted Mobley to tell the investigator repeatedly in the April 2013 interview that it “could have been my son” who was killed.
“Such statements indicate her emotions and feelings about the crime,” LeBlanc wrote.
Mobley was on the unanimous jury that convicted Granier of second-degree murder in October 2003. Granier has a mandatory life sentence.
Villar was cleaning the parking lot of DeLaune’s Supermarket in St. Amant early on a Saturday morning Sept. 15, 2001, when he was shot in the back twice with a rifle in bungled robbery attempt.
LeBlanc wrote in her May 18 order that she had agreed in January to have Mobley testify in an evidentiary hearing, but it later turned out Mobley died. Mobley, of St. Amant, died late last year of natural causes at age 64.
Granier’s attorneys have been seeking a new trial for Granier, 33.
LeBlanc found Mobley failed to disclose her son’s connection to Villar during jury selection, though attorneys had asked her jury panel if she knew “the defendant or other people related to him.”
Mobley did not respond, LeBlanc found.
The judge found Mobley was asked if she had heard or read anything about the slaying.
Though Mobley told attorneys she had read about the slaying in the newspaper and heard about it on television, she failed to say her son was interviewed by sheriff’s investigators.
Prosecutors contend Mobley was not directly asked about her son’s connection to Villar. Her lack of a response did not amount to an inaccurate statement.
Defense attorney Justin Caine Harrell said he viewed the ruling as primarily a procedural one in that LeBlanc found exceptions to the hearsay prohibitions were sufficient to overcome prosecutors’ objections.
“We still have a lot of work to do on it. We’re certainly pleased with (the) decision,” Harrell said.
Assistant District Attorney Chuck Long said prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling to the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
Court records and old news accounts show Granier gave conflicting statements to investigators about his level of involvement in the attempted robbery and murder, but they all placed him at the scene.
Granier testified at trial he never got out of the car while Lucas Roddy, who prosecutors say shot Villar, and Josh Barrow, now 36, went to the store. Roddy was convicted of second-degree murder in 2002 and has a mandatory life sentence.
But in a statement to deputies, which Granier later claimed was coerced, he said he was with Roddy when Roddy shot Villar.
Barrow pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery and being an accessory after the fact to murder and to attempted murder and received a 15-year sentence in January 2004.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.