It took almost three days to seat a jury, but opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Curtis Kyles, the former death row inmate who is now accused of shooting a woman in the back of the head at the end of an isolated gravel road in Avondale in 2010.
Kyles, 56, is charged with kidnapping and second-degree murder, accused along with an accomplice of forcing Crystal St. Pierre out of an Algiers apartment and into his maroon Mitsubishi Galant, driving her to Avondale and shooting her.
Kyles was said by witnesses to be angry over a food stamp card he got from St. Pierre but was not able to use at the grocery store, Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Clif Milner told the jury in 24th Judicial District Judge Glenn Ansardi’s courtroom in Gretna.
Milner said witnesses will testify that Kyles and Chicwanda Forbes kidnapped St. Pierre by insinuating Kyles had a gun, and that cellphone records and testimony from a forensic entomologist and an expert on tire tracks will link Kyles to the crime.
The prosecution’s case, however, will rely heavily on the testimony of Forbes, who agreed to testify Kyles committed the murder in exchange for being given a 15-year sentence on the kidnapping charge and having the murder charge against her dropped.
Cesar Vasquez, co-counsel with Paul Fleming Jr. for the Public Defender’s Office, said the defense will show Forbes is saying what authorities want her to say only in order to get a deal.
Vasquez told jurors that the job of the police is to let the evidence lead them to the perpetrator, not choose a perpetrator and cherry-pick the evidence that fits.
He said there is no murder weapon, no fingerprints and no forensic evidence tying Kyles to the crime and that a fresh cigarette butt and footprint found near St. Pierre’s body cannot be linked to Kyles, Forbes, crime scene investigators or the parish contractor who stumbled upon St. Pierre’s body on June 11, 2010.
Vasquez warned jurors to be wary of the testimony of Forbes, who he said was willing to tell authorities the story they wanted to hear “as long as the price is right.”
Milner told jurors they don’t have to like Forbes or base their decision entirely on her testimony, simply to use it in conjunction with corroborative testimony.
He said Forbes was found scared and with a split lip when authorities arrested her and Kyles several days after the murder. They were holed up in an abandoned trailer with no power in rural Mississippi.
Jury selection for the case took longer than usual because Kyles’ previous murder conviction is not admissible. He was convicted in 1984 of shooting an elderly woman in the parking lot of a New Orleans supermarket and put on death row. In 1995, however, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction after finding the prosecution had withheld evidence that would have helped his case.
The trial is expected to go into next week.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.