A Baton Rouge man accused of fatally shooting an unarmed panhandler outside Trader Joe's last summer was indicted Wednesday on a second-degree murder charge.
Jace Boyd, 24, of the 100 block of McDonald Avenue, has been free on $300,000 bond since a week after his Aug. 27 second-degree murder arrest in the Aug. 22 killing of Danny Buckley — an arrest that followed significant public outcry. Police initially didn't detain him after he approached officers and said he had killed the man.
The night of the shooting, Buckley approached Boyd's vehicle in the Trader Joe's parking lot to request money from him, leading the two to argue through the car window, Boyd's arrest warrant states. At some point, Buckley walked away and approached a young woman instead.
Boyd then got out of his car and yelled at Buckley, 61, to "leave people alone because he was scaring them," according to the warrant. As Buckley turned back to Boyd and began to approach him, Boyd armed himself with a gun, pointed it at Buckley and tried to shoot him — but the weapon misfired.
Although Buckley remained "out of reach," and was unarmed, Boyd lowered the gun and reloaded it, firing one shot into Buckley's abdomen, police say.
While handing up the indictment Wednesday, the grand jurors also charged Boyd with one count of illegal use of a weapon.
The indictment alleges that Boyd "intentionally or in a criminally negligent way" discharged a firearm "where it was foreseeable that it may result in death or great bodily harm to a human being."
Boyd contacted Baton Rouge police on the scene and identified himself, then admitted to killing Buckley during an interview with detectives later that night. He was released without charges after he said he was defending himself and others from Buckley, who was "aggressively harassing customers" in the parking lot, according to a police report.
"We are firmly convinced that he is not guilty ... and that it was a self-defense situation," attorney J. Arthur Smith III, who represents Boyd, said after learning of the indictment.
At least one witness has stated publicly that she did not feel threatened when Buckley approached her asking for money.
Boyd's arrest came after Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome issued a statement calling for a thorough review of the case. Buckley, a father, was a Black man. Boyd is White.
Ryan Thompson, an attorney for the Buckley family, said Wednesday that history provides evidence "of why Black folks don't trust the system."
"However, today's indictment is a step towards building the foundation for a dream that was never fulfilled," he said. "That dream is that Black folks are truly recognized as full citizens and are afforded the same protections as every other American."
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury had the option of indicting Boyd on a lesser charge, manslaughter or negligent homicide. Manslaughter is punishable by up to 40 years behind bars. Negligent homicide carries up to five years in prison. The grand jury also could have chosen not to indict him at all.
The case has been assigned to state District Judge Kelly Balfour.
Attorneys for the Buckley family have claimed the shooting constituted a hate crime. The lawyers have questioned whether police would have handled the case differently if a young Black man shot an older White man in the same upscale Perkins Road shopping center.
American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms Hebert has also said there's "not a shadow of a doubt" that if Boyd were Black, he would not have been respectfully questioned and then released by investigators the night of the shooting.
Buckley was a somewhat familiar figure in the area. Neighbors and store employees reported having seen him before in that same parking lot, where he would sometimes ask people for money.