Mississippi investigators searching the Kenner home of Margaret Sanchez and Terry Speaks found a charred circuit board from a cellphone and what they believed to be a strap from a shoe worn by slain Bourbon Street dancer Jaren Lockhart in a burn pile in back of the house.
Under the burn pile they found a pair of women’s underwear and a hand towel, although Hancock County Sheriff’s Office investigator Steve Saucier, who testified in Terry Speaks’ second-degree murder trial Wednesday, said lab analysis found no definitive link to Lockhart, who prosecutors say was stabbed once in the heart in the early morning hours of June 6, 2012, and then dismembered.
The revelations came late in the day and included a mention by prosecutors of the Venus Transit, which Saucier said was considered as a possible motive for the killing, though no firm motive was ever established by investigators, he said.
The Venus Transit, which occurred on June 5 and 6 in 2012, occurs when Venus can be seen passing in front of the sun and is sometimes associated with sacrifices for love.
Defense attorney John Benz objected twice to the phrasing of Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese’s question about the phenomenon and its association with sacrifice, and Judge Steven Grefer twice had Freese ask the question again, resulting in Saucier saying the phenomenon was considered as a possible motive.
Freese named Sanchez, who will be tried later in the case, when he asked about the Venus Transit.
Earlier in the day, former acquaintances and co-workers of Lockhart described a sweet, friendly woman who they said needed money to support her family and drug habit badly enough to make a fateful decision to leave Temptations Gentlemen’s Club three years ago with Speaks and Sanchez.
Many of them said they were similarly propositioned but refused to go with the couple.
Prosecutors say Speaks, being tried this week in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, and Sanchez canvassed Temptations and Stiletto’s Cabaret next door in the early morning hours that June 6, looking for a dancer for what witnesses say they alternately described as a bachelor party or a three-way.
Lacy Dillman, who danced at Stiletto’s, said Speaks — known then as Allen Rice — pestered her for the better part of an hour to perform at a bachelor party at a Metairie motel with Sanchez. He told her she’d get $500 and he’d keep $200, but Dillman testified she told him she didn’t leave with customers.
Dillman said Sanchez came over at one point and, with Speaks standing next to her, asked her if she’d leave with them so they could have a three-way for Speaks’ birthday.
Freese asked if she noted the inconsistency between the two requests.
“It put a light bulb in my head, so to speak,” she said.
Sanchez approached Stiletto’s dancer Jamie Sparks, who was working the door, and asked if there were any girls who would go home for a three-way, Sparks said.
“This isn’t a whorehouse,” Sparks recalled replying. “Go next door.”
At Temptations, Nicole Barbay Lowe said, she spurned an offer from Sanchez to work a private party for $500. Sanchez asked if she knew a girl who would leave. She said she did, testifying Wednesday that she knew Lockhart as someone with a drug problem who would work a private party for money.
“You could ask the girl onstage,” she said she told Sanchez.
That woman, Lockhart, spoke with Speaks and Sanchez shortly after finishing her two-song set and, according to witness testimony and surveillance footage, rushed into the club’s locker room, changed into her street clothes and put the boots and tasseled bikini bottom she was dancing in into her bag and left.
Fellow Temptations employee Jennifer Swygert testified Lockhart had told her she needed money to pay for the motel room she shared with her boyfriend near Tulane Avenue and to buy drugs.
Just before she left, Lockhart told Darlene Laroque, a waitress at Temptations for 18 years who said she took it upon herself to “take care of the girls,” that she had to leave early because she had made only $75 that night and needed “to do this party.”
Dabbing away tears as she testified Wednesday, Laroque recalled: “She said, ‘I love you.’ I said, ‘I love you, be careful,’ and that was the last I saw her.”
The defense asked the judge twice Wednesday to declare a mistrial and was twice denied.
The first request came as Benz and co-counsel Brad Scott began their first day back at the helm representing Speaks, who was granted the right Monday to represent himself but decided late Tuesday to let the lawyers represent him instead.
Benz said Speaks made “all kinds of mistakes that, if made by an attorney, it would be obvious was ineffective representation.”
Grefer, however, said Speaks knew what he was taking on when he was granted that right and that, from Grefer’s vantage, he hadn’t done too badly for himself.
The second request came after the defense complained about Hancock County investigators giving television interviews on the steps of the courthouse, which Benz said could have been overheard by sequestered witnesses.
After brief testimony from the only remaining Hancock County witness and a gentle admonition to the chief investigator who had given the interview, the request was denied.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.