A Walker man serving a life sentence for a nonunanimous conviction in the 2015 vigilante-style killing of his girlfriend's convicted molester has seen his case sent back to a state appeals court by the nation's highest court.

The U.S. Supreme Court's remand of Jace Crehan's case to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge came a week after the high court outlawed nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases, and could lead to a new trial for Crehan.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury voted 11-1 in 2017 to find Crehan, now 26, guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing and strangling death of Robert Noce Jr. in Zachary.

At the time, split-jury verdicts were legal in the state. In the fall of 2018 Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment doing away with the state's Jim Crow-era nonunanimous jury law.

The new Louisiana law applies only to crimes that occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled April 20 in a New Orleans murder case that juries nationwide must be unanimous to convict a criminal defendant. The ruling applies to all future trials, and to inmates who were convicted by divided juries and haven't exhausted their appeals.

The day Crehan was sentenced by state District Judge Tony Marabella in January 2018, his attorneys filed a motion for a new trial, arguing, among other things, that his nonunanimous verdict was unconstitutional. The judge denied the motion before sentencing Crehan to life behind bars.

The Supreme Court on Monday vacated the denial of Crehan's motion and sent the case to the 1st Circuit for a decision on whether the nonunanimous jury issue was "properly raised" by Crehan in the trial court.

Franz Borghardt, one of Crehan's trial attorneys, said Crehan's legal team believes the issue was raised properly after the trial.

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Borghardt hopes the appellate court will send the case back to the 19th Judicial District Court for a new trial.

The significance of the ruling, he said, "is it breathes life into Jace's case."

Crehan's girlfriend, Brittany Monk, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the July 4, 2015, slaying of Noce and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Crehan tried to plead guilty to the same charge before his trial, but prosecutors turned him down.

Noce, who two weeks before his death had been put on probation after pleading "no contest" to molesting Monk as a child, was stabbed, strangled and stuffed inside a 55-gallon barrel that Monk said Noce used to make wine.

Noce, 47, was a former boyfriend of Monk's mother and raised Monk for about 10 years after her mother abandoned her. He denied abusing Monk.

The 1st Circuit affirmed Crehan's conviction and sentence, as well as Monk's sentence, in fall 2018.

Monk was 17 and seven months pregnant with Crehan's child when she and Crehan broke into Noce's trailer the night of July 4, 2015.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.