A key witness in Tyler Benoit’s murder trial testified on Wednesday morning that he named his friend as the shooter only after a detective said he could be arrested and his kids could be raised by someone else if he withheld information. Later in the day, Benoit's attorney suggested his client was misled by police into confessing to a crime he doesn't remember committing.
Bryan Eddington initially told Sgt. Todd Borel of the Lafayette Police Department that he did not see who fired the single shot that killed Christon Chaisson in the parking lot of the Rosa Parks Transportation Center in the early morning hours of Aug. 12, 2017.
The jury heard Borel testify, watched the police interview and heard Eddington’s testimony Wednesday morning.
Benoit’s attorney, Thomas Alonzo, objected to the jury watching the entire police interview, saying Eddington only named his client as the shooter after being “threatened” by the officer.
“And the jury’s going to hear that,” said 15th Judicial District Judge Marilyn Castle after overruling his objection. “The jury’s going to hear it all.”
Eddington eventually named Benoit, his lifelong friend, on four different occasions during the police interview as the person who shot Chaisson. He did not name any of the other people who were in the parking lot at the time of the shooting.
Details about what unfolded before a fatal 2017 shooting in downtown Lafayette came into focus Tuesday in Judge Marilyn Castle’s 15th Judicial…
It was only after Eddington, 24, and his girlfriend got into a physical fight in the same parking lot minutes earlier that Chaisson appeared on the scene.
Eddington said his girlfriend pulled his shirt from behind, and he turned around and pushed her away. The woman fell to the ground hard and hit her head, Eddington said.
Chaisson intervened as Eddington and another person attempted to help the woman to her feet. State prosecutors Alisa Gothreaux and Roya Boustany say that’s when Benoit and another friend, Gavin White, got involved.
Eddington told the officer hours after the shooting that Chaisson physically tried to keep Eddington away from his girlfriend, and Chaisson asked her if she had another way to get home. A fight broke out as Eddington's friends attempted to keep him and Chaisson apart.
Eddington said he was pushed against a vehicle and dropped his phone. As he was looking for his phone, Eddington said he heard a single gunshot.
“At first I didn’t think anyone got shot,” Eddington said during the police interview. “I thought it was a shot in the air that stopped the fight.”
When questioned by Alonzo about his interviewing techniques, Borel said he never threatened Eddington and was “letting him know the consequences” of withholding information. The told Eddington multiple times that it was clear Eddington was not telling the whole truth and he could face jail time and not see his kids if he did not name the shooter.
Eddington was not forthcoming when questioned by Gothreaux on the stand. Eventually, during the state's examination, Eddington told the jury he named Benoit as the shooter because he knew Benoit had a gun and had seen it about a month before the shooting.
When questioned by Alonzo, Eddington was more cooperative on the stand. Eddington told the jury during the cross examination that he owned guns at the time of the shooting, including one similar to the murder weapon, but sold them afterward.
Eddington said he didn’t shoot Chaisson when questioned again by Gothreaux afterward.
On Wednesday afternoon, the jury watched another police interview from the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2017, after Benoit turned himself into authorities upon learning there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Benoit told Sgt. Benjamin Suire with the Lafayette Police Department in the recorded interview that he barely remembered what happened because he was drunk. Benoit, who was 20 at the time, said he drank a six-pack before arriving at Grant Street Dance Hall and had four or five more beers at the bar before leaving. He also told the officer he smoked marijuana earlier that night.
Benoit said his uncle drove him to the nightclub and picked him up. Benoit said his uncle did not know the details of what unfolded downtown or what happened after he arrived at his uncle's home near Palmetto Island State Park. After Suire told Benoit that his friends named him as the shooter, Benoit said he never saw himself doing something like this. When asked where the gun was, Benoit said he "just got freaked out" and threw it in the river somewhere by his uncle's house.
Benoit said his mom called him two times after police showed up at her home to question her about her son. It was during the second call that his mom convinced Benoit to turn himself in because of the arrest warrant. Benoit said he told his mom he didn't remember what happened.
As Suire finished the interview, Benoit asked what he was being charged with. Upon learning it was second-degree murder, Benoit could be seen cradling his head in his hands and wiping away tears with his shirt.
Chaisson, 31, was shot once just above his right hip at about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 12, 2017. He died soon afterward at a Lafayette hospital, leaving behind a wife and young son.
The murder weapon was never recovered.
Immediately after the shooting, the woman who was allegedly pushed to the ground by Eddington told a responding officer through sobs that Chaisson helped her. Chaisson was nicknamed the Good Samaritan in the days after the shooting for intervening to protect a woman from physical abuse.
Benoit, now 24, was arrested on one count of second-degree murder and one count of obstruction of justice for tampering with evidence in connection to Chaisson's death.
Benoit, who was later indicted by a grand jury, pleaded not guilty to both charges. He was released from jail on a reduced bond of $125,000 under conditions that prohibit him from leaving his house at night, consuming drugs or alcohol or keeping weapons in his home.
Because second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, the jury must return a unanimous verdict. The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Benoit's attorney suggested during jury selection Monday and again during his opening statement Tuesday that his client may have acted in self-defense.
In Louisiana, people have a right to defend themselves against a threat “if it’s reasonable, only if it’s reasonable,” Alonzo told potential jurors Monday afternoon. Someone being trapped or threatened by a large individual where somebody believes they’re going to be harmed would be an example of a reasonable threat, Alonzo said.
Alonzo said on Tuesday that Benoit was 20 years old; 5 feet, 5 inches tall; and weighed about 140 pounds in August 2017. Chaisson was 31 years old; 6 feet, 2 inches tall; and weighed about 220 pounds at the time of his death, according to Alonzo. A forensic pathologist would later testify that Chaisson weighed 199 pounds at the time of his autopsy.
Alonzo also suggested during his opening argument someone else may have been the shooter who killed Chaisson.
The trial is expected to continue Thursday.