Justin Hendricks was a bipolar drug addict who was separated from his wife and children, struggling to find accounting work and adrift within a social circle of drug users and criminals in Old Jefferson, according to Jefferson Parish prosecutors.
But prosecutors said that on April 25, 2011, Hendricks did the right thing, calling 911 and telling police that his friend, Cynthia Cruz, had been brutally beaten by her husband, Jacoby Maize, inside Hendricks’ home the day before.
What he got in return for his good deed was a bullet through the pelvis, which severed an artery and left him bleeding to death on the floor of a home that would be set ablaze early the next morning.
That was the picture prosecutors painted Wednesday for jurors during opening statements in the trial of Maize, accused of second-degree murder, aggravated arson and battery and weapons charges.
Maize’s attorneys, however, told jurors they would hear testimony from “liars, drug dealers and convicts” who shouldn’t be trusted enough to put a man in jail for the rest of his life.
Chief among them will be Cruz herself, who defense attorney Cynthia Cimino said lied on multiple occasions, stopping only “when she told the story the state wanted to hear.”
Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese, however, described Cruz as having been “trapped in an absolute nightmare existence” at the hands of Maize, “a low and cowardly abuser of women” who Freese said shot at, stabbed and pistol-whipped his wife, on one occasion for simply saying “hello” to a male friend.
Freese said cellphone records will show Maize and Hendricks spoke on the phone after Hendricks called 911, and that Hendricks told a friend he was afraid that Maize would come after him.
Cruz, Freese said, will testify she sat in the car in the early morning hours the day after Hendricks was killed as Maize entered the home with two cans of gasoline and came out without them.
Freese said witnesses will include friends of Maize, one of whom saved a shell casing from a bullet Maize fired at Cruz in the friend’s home .
Cimino, who is defending Maize along with Cesar Vazquez for the Public Defenders Office, told jurors to keep in mind that Cruz initially told police she and Maize had nothing to do with Hendricks’ death — and the fact that she isn’t sitting alongside Maize as a defendant.
Freese, who is prosecuting with Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Truhe for District Attorney Paul Connick’s office, said Cruz, like any battered wife, was simply too afraid to tell the truth.
It is, he said, “a view that’s reinforced when you’re beaten again and again and no one steps up and helps you.”
Freese told jurors they would hear a recording of an interview Maize requested after finding out that Cruz had begun seeing someone else after the two were arrested. In that interview, Freese said, jurors will hear Maize concoct a story — riddled with inconsistencies — that it was Cruz, now in prison on unrelated charges, who killed Hendricks while Maize was home asleep.
Freese said that while the story “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” it nonetheless contains admissions by Maize to four of the seven charges against him, including battery, being a felon with a weapon and arson.
The trial is being held before Judge Henry Sullivan of 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.