An Ascension Parish man has been given a mandatory life sentence after a jury, for a second time, convicted him in the slaying of his childhood friend more than five years ago.

Donovan Darville, 32, of Prairieville, was granted a second trial more than two years ago because he had been previously convicted of the same slaying through a now unconstitutional split jury verdict.

At the new trial in July, a second Ascension jury again found that Darville had fatally shot Clarence Harvey on April 18, 2017, but this time unanimously convicted him of second-degree murder.

Judge Jason Verdigets handed down the mandatory life sentence Monday in Gonzales.

Darville was already serving a 20-year sentence for his conviction at the first trial of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The jury was unanimous on that count. 

Prosecutors in Ascension have said Darville showed up at Harvey's home in Prairieville and fired several shots in the 27-year-old's direction, hitting him twice in the head and elsewhere in his body. 

Darville and Harvey had previously had an argument before the shooting at the mobile home in the Country Ridge subdivision north of Gonzales, prosecutors added.

Darville fled the scene of the shooting but detectives interviewed several witnesses, soon learned his identity and tracked him down, prosecutors said.

The earlier second-degree murder conviction came in September 2019, but that Ascension jury split, 11-1. 

The divided verdict came about 10 months after Louisiana residents had voted nearly 2-to-1 at the ballot to adopt a constitutional amendment ending non-unanimous jury verdicts for felonies but only for ones that occurred on Jan. 1, 2019, or later.

However, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court found in April 2020 that non-unanimous verdicts for serious crimes were unconstitutional, allowing defendants who hadn't run out their appeals in Louisiana to get new trials.

The next month, Verdigets granted Darville a new trial.

Verdigets, who presided over both of Darville's trials in Ascension, had found that Darville's original life sentence for Harvey's murder had not become final before the Supreme Court ruled in the Ramos case.

At the new trial in Gonzales in July, Darville represented himself with a court-appointed public defender, Dennis Wiggins Jr., at his side for advice, but the outcome was the same.

During jury selection in July, Darville explained his reason for representing himself at his second trial in a note to an Advocate reporter: “I didn’t receive a fair trial 9-9 (through) 9-11, 2019. Misrepresented.”

In motions after the first trial, Verdigets rejected Darville's complaints that he had ineffective assistance from his defense attorney. 

One of Darville's defenses has been that he was intoxicated on drugs at the time of the shooting and didn't have a specific intent to kill, a requirement for second-degree murder.

As in the first trial, he did not take the stand in July. All defendants have a 5th Amendment right not to have to testify.

In motions after the first trial, one of Darville's complaints was that witnesses who tied him to the slaying had drug addiction problems or criminal histories and were unreliable, but Verdigets rejected that argument on appeal, deciding not to undo the witness credibility assessments that are the jury's job. 

Some of the same witnesses testified in the second trial. Prosecutors also put on surveillance video.


David J. Mitchell can be reached at dmitchell@theadvocate.com or followed on Twitter at @newsiedave.