A Jefferson Parish jury decided Thursday that a Kenner man knew right from wrong last year when he kidnapped a 7-year-old girl from the courtyard of a Fat City apartment complex in broad daylight and forced her to perform oral sex in his car.
The jury of eight women and four men took just over two hours to return the verdict, convicting Steven Carter, 30, of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape.
In doing so, they rejected his insanity defense based on the claim that a cocktail of cocaine and another drug he had injected shortly before the attack reacted adversely with a previously undiagnosed brain defect.
Carter was expressionless as he was led out of the Gretna courtroom past members of his family, who were sobbing and consoling one another.
He was ordered held without bond and will be sentenced July 31. The conviction likely means he will be imprisoned for life without the chance of parole or probation.
The crime shocked the community on June 5, 2013, when Carter snatched the girl while she was playing with friends by the pool at Yorkshire Edenborn Apartments and drove off with her.
She was found just under an hour later on another street 2 miles away and helped home by a stranger. It was then her panicked family learned that Carter had forced her to perform oral sex on him, telling her she would get home safely if she did what she was told.
Carter was recorded on security cameras abducting the girl and was linked to her by DNA evidence, and his attorneys did not contest that he committed the act. Their defense relied heavily on testimony from a psychiatrist and neuropsychologist who said neurological tests indicated Carter had some kind of damage or deficiency in his frontal lobe and limbic system, which controls anger and sexual impulses.
Family members testified he had a history of seizures, and neuropsychologist Robert Shaffer testified that he suspected Carter had suffered concussions while playing linebacker on his high school football team.
Carter’s attorneys tried to use some elements of the assault to argue he was not in his right mind at the time, pointing out he had no prior history of sexual assault and that pedophiles typically abuse victims within their families. They noted that Carter didn’t kill his victim, hide his car or attempt to flee after he claimed to have regained awareness.
Defense attorney George Vedros told jurors during closing arguments Thursday that they needed to focus not on the heinous acts Carter had committed but on the neuroscience that could explain why he did them.
The verdict, he said, “can’t come from the gut, or from the heart. It has to come from the head.”
Vedros told the jury that people using certain drugs for the first time have been known to leap to their deaths from windows, and he noted that the man who injected Carter with the drugs that day did so because Carter had never “shot up” before and didn’t know how.
Prosecutors, however, highlighted inconsistencies between Carter’s testimony and his statement to the police, directly attacking his contention that he was fed elements of his story by the investigators who questioned him.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese pointed to Carter’s apparent lack of remorse in his testimony. Noting how details about past events Carter had described to the defense’s psychologist differed from his testimony, he called the defendant “a habitual liar who has trouble keeping his story straight.”
Freese replayed the video of the abduction Thursday, saying it offered a picture not of a man out of his mind but one who “knows exactly what he is doing next.”
The jury once again watched Carter walk into the courtyard and look around the area where the children were playing before going back out and moving his car closer to the entrance.
Freese told the jury to note Carter had the presence of mind to wait for a car to pass before he pulled out to park closer to the entrance and that he left the door open for his return.
“A picture speaks a thousand words,” he said. “That video speaks a million.”
While Carter’s defense team had characterized his intravenous drug use and neurological condition as “gas on a fire,” Freese told the jury that his drug use was simply a means to knowingly act on an impulse.
“He raped that child, and he did it most certainly knowing the difference between right and wrong,” he said.