Gary Francois

The attorney for accused Oakwood Mall shooter Gary Francois told a jury Monday that his client was legally insane and didn’t know right from wrong when prosecutors say he walked into the Terrytown Foot Locker store on Christmas Eve of 2014 and gunned down an enemy in front of the store's staff and customers.

Prosecutors say Francois, now 28, stepped into the store on the afternoon of Dec. 24, pulled out a .40-caliber pistol, shot James Vaughn, 24, of Harvey in the back and the hand and then, after Vaughn fell to the ground, shot him twice in the face as panicked shoppers screamed and fled the mall.

However, Francois’ attorney, Michael Kennedy, said during opening statements in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna that members of Francois’ family will testify that they had noticed signs “of him losing his grip on reality.”

Kennedy said Francois, who has entered a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, was not on any medication before the shooting but had to be put on anti-psychotic drugs just to be able to participate in his own defense.

Francois was found unfit to stand trial by court-appointed doctors in 2015 and sent to the state mental hospital in East Feliciana Parish. He was eventually cleared to face trial. 

Kennedy told jurors they will ultimately find it more likely than not that Francois “was not in control of his actions; he did not know right from wrong.”

He added: “He does not need a lifetime in prison, he needs help, and you are going to give him the help that he needs.”

However, Assistant District Attorney Rachel Africk told the jurors there is no reliable evidence to support an insanity defense or suggest that Francois “was anything other than cold and calculated when he killed James Vaughn.”

She said the evidence will show that Francois had an unknown grievance against Vaughn.

She said video surveillance footage didn’t capture the moment of the shooting but shows Francois walking into the store and running out after Vaughn was killed.

Africk said Francois ran through a Forever 21 store and out of the mall as police officers descended on the scene, but she also said he was followed by an off-duty New Orleans police officer who was at the mall doing some last-minute shopping.

That officer, one of about 50 people who called 911 after the shooting, and a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy went into some empty apartments to look for Francois, but two other officers saw him running nearby and caught him 11 minutes after the first 911 call.

She said they saw Francois try to throw a small dark object onto a roof and later found it was his cellphone.

Africk said a police dog later found a .40-caliber pistol in the bushes along Francois’ flight path that matched the shell casings recovered at the scene, and that DNA tests found forensic material on the trigger of the gun that was 172 billion times more likely to have come from Francois than from any other African-American male.

Before the trial recessed for the day, the jury also heard testimony from some Foot Locker employees who talked about the moments leading up to the shooting and the chaos that ensued.

The trial will continue Tuesday. Francois faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.