A Lafayette Parish judge on Monday extended the deadline for the man accused of killing a Lafayette Police officer to declare whether he will pursue an insanity defense.
Ian Howard’s legal team last week requested the extension two days before the previous deadline of Oct. 31, arguing that an extension would not impact the start of the first of two trials concerning Howard’s alleged actions on Oct. 1, 2017.
Howard is accused of fatally shooting Officer Michael Middlebrook at a Moss Street convenience store and wounding three others. District Attorney Keith Stutes is pursuing the death penalty on a first-degree murder charge in the Middlebrook shooting, which is being prosecuted separately from the others. Howard is scheduled for trial on three attempted-murder charges on Jan. 21.
Judge Jules Edwards initially showed impatience with repeated delays on the part of Howard’s lawyers, noting that their recent motion for an extension is “substantially similar” to a previous one that Edwards granted in August. After a private discussion with defense lawyers, however, Edwards said their request for another more extension was “reasonable and relevant.”
Edwards set the new deadline for Jan. 2, and said he is unlikely to grant any further extensions.
“There’s always more that could be done,” Edwards said. “What they don’t get done by then, it’s shame on them.”
Though Howard is not yet being prosecuted for a capital crime, his lawyers argued in their motion for extension that any decision to pursue an insanity defense in the first case will “directly impact” his ability to do so in the first-degree murder case. Because of Howard’s exposure to the death penalty, his lawyers must locate “a significant number of witnesses” and interview them several times to comply with American Bar Association guidelines, according to the motion.
One of Howard’s lawyers, Stephen Singer of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, said his team was dealing with questions involving a mental illness with “severe psychotic nature,” though he would not provide any further explanation in open court.
“Not guilty by reason of insanity” pleas are rare and have a relatively low success rate, said Lauren Kois, a psychology professor and director of the Collaborative Law and Social Sciences Laboratory at the University of Alabama. The plea is used in only about one percent of cases that go to trial, and they are successful only about one quarter of the time, Kois said in an interview.
Standards for finding defendants not guilty by reason of insanity vary state to state, Kois said, and in Louisiana defendants must show their mental condition inhibited their ability to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the offense.
“It’s not enough to say this defendant has schizophrenia, or this person has dementia, or even this person with schizophrenia was symptomatic at the time of the offense,” Kois said.
Also Monday, Edwards rescheduled a hearing on whether a portion of the state’s criminal code is unconstitutional because a lawyer with Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office failed to show up.
Howard’s lawyers say existing state law permits racial discrimination in jury selection, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. Assistant Attorney General Taylor Gray argued in an Oct. 11 filing that Howard has no standing to challenge state law.
The matter was scheduled for hearing Monday, but Gray was absent. Edwards proposed two alternative dates while prosecutors with the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office communicated with Gray via text. They conveyed to Edwards that Gray couldn’t make either of the proposed dates, or even any Tuesday after 4 p.m., when Edwards finishes up with drug court.
Visibly frustrated, Edwards finally set the hearing for Nov. 12, a Tuesday.
“Come free or come in cuffs,” Edwards said.
The assistant district attorneys later said Gray would make it. An Attorney General’s Office spokesman confirmed Gray would be at the Nov. 12 hearing. He didn’t come Monday because he thought the matter had been resolved, the spokesman said.