Witnesses in a Jefferson Parish courtroom testified Thursday that the last time they saw 26-year-old Crystal St. Pierre alive, she was being punched in the head, pulled down the stairs of an Algiers apartment building by her ponytail and forced into a car that sped off toward Gen. Meyer Avenue.
The aggressor that day in June 2010, however, was not the defendant seated in the courtroom but the woman who had testified against him earlier that morning.
Curtis Kyles, who is on trial for second-degree murder in the execution-style shooting of St. Pierre off an isolated gravel road in Avondale five years ago, was at the apartment complex that day, standing alongside Chicwanda Forbes as the two of them kidnapped St. Pierre, the witnesses said.
Kyles had been pounding on the door of the apartment where St. Pierre was asleep, yelling obscenities and demanding money. But when St. Pierre came to the door, it was Forbes — now serving a 15-year sentence for the kidnapping and no longer charged with second-degree murder in exchange for her testimony — who grabbed and assaulted her, the witnesses said.
The description of Forbes’ role in the abduction didn’t contradict anything in the case laid out by the prosecution, but defense attorneys made it a point to draw attention to the actions of Forbes, whose testimony promises to be a central part of the case with no murder weapon, fingerprints or DNA.
Prosecutors with Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office said in opening statements Wednesday that evidence to be introduced in coming days will bolster Forbes’ testimony that Kyles forced St. Pierre to her knees in an overgrown lot and shot her in the back of head before he and Forbes fled to Mississippi.
The dispute was said to focus on a food stamp card St. Pierre sold to Kyles but that didn’t work when Kyles and Forbes tried to buy groceries.
Kyles’ attorneys spent much of Thursday pointing to discrepancies between Forbes’ latest testimony and accounts she initially gave to investigators after she and Kyles were arrested in Mississippi several days later.
Defense attorneys Paul Fleming Jr. and Cesar Vasquez also made it a point to question witnesses at the Cedar Point Apartments about whether they ever saw Kyles hit St. Pierre, a drug-addicted stripper who often stayed at the complex.
Like Lavelle Davis, the witness who had put St. Pierre up in her apartment for the night, Sheridan Flax said he never saw Kyles lay a hand on St. Pierre. He did, however, say that St. Pierre tried to escape out of the back door of the maroon Mitsubishi Galant that Kyles and Forbes were driving, only to be pulled back into the car by Forbes.
Flax, who testified he spent the altercation hiding in the bathroom after hearing Kyles banging on the door and yelling, said he watched out the window with Davis as the car drove away.
Flax, a bus driver who said he stopped by Davis’ apartment from time to time to have coffee, followed the car out of the parking lot to get the license plate number and called 911.
While he said he hoped the call would help police head off the car and prevent St. Pierre from being beaten, Flax, like Davis, heard a few days later that St. Pierre’s body had been found by a contractor spraying weeds along parish canals.
Testifying for the prosecution, Forbes said Kyles shot St. Pierre and later made a phone call to his daughter while driving the two of them to Mississippi. Along the way, she said, he made her wrap the .38-caliber revolver in a shirt and throw it off a bridge into a grassy area.
While on the run, she said, Kyles beat her when she indicated she might leave, and prosecutors showed jurors photos of her split lip.
Fleming, however, quizzed Forbes on differences between statements she gave to detectives in Mississippi and again in Jefferson Parish. He also noted Forbes was upset at her attorney and wanted her replaced before she cut a deal with prosecutors.
Forbes, however, insisted she wanted to do right by St. Pierre’s family.
Kyles has a previous murder conviction — not admissible in the current case — that was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. 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.
Fleming sought a mistrial Thursday based on the fact that the prior conviction was reported in the news that morning, but Judge Glenn Ansardi of 24th Judicial District Court denied the motion.
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