The trial of Jace Crehan in the 2015 stabbing and strangling of his girlfriend's convicted molester began Monday with a prosecutor telling jurors the second-degree murder case is about "choices and consequences," while the defense portrayed the case as a Shakespearean tragedy and insisted "this is not murder."
One of the state's first witnesses, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office Cpl. Jason Fitzpatrick, said he made the discovery of Robert Noce Jr.'s cold and lifeless body stuffed inside a 55-gallon barrel in Noce's trailer on South Vernon Road in north Zachary on July 4, 2015.
Fitzpatrick said he removed the lid of the container after he noticed blood on the outside of the barrel and found Noce's body under a number of bloody towels.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William "Beau" Clark testified that Noce, 47, died of multiple sharp force injuries to the front and back of his neck, and strangulation.
"Both things contributed to the death," he said as the jury viewed graphic autopsy photographs on a television monitor inside state District Judge Tony Marabella's courtroom.
Crehan, 23, of Walker, faces a mandatory sentence of life behind bars if found guilty of second-degree murder.
His girlfriend, 19-year-old Brittany Monk, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case and is awaiting sentencing next month. She faces up to 40 years in prison.
Just 13 days before he died, Noce pleaded "no contest" in Baton Rouge state court to sexually abusing Monk and was put on probation for five years.
Enoch Sims, a Zachary police detective who was involved in the Noce slaying investigation, testified he spoke with Noce the day he was arrested in the summer of 2012 in the rape of Monk, and Noce denied the allegation.
During a peculiar in-court exchange Monday between prosecutor Darwin Miller and Sims, the prosecutor asked the detective if there was any documentation — medical or otherwise — to back up Monk's rape claim against Noce. When Sims said there was none, Miller replied by saying the arrest was based solely on "the words of a kid."
"Just words," the prosecutor repeated.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III was asked after court about that exchange and he said, "We're trying a second-degree murder case. We're not re-visiting any other allegations that were made."
Franz Borghardt, one of Crehan's attorneys, said the exchange between Miller and Sims was curious to say the least. The state prosecuted Noce for the rape of Monk, he said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, but now it sounds as if Monk might say something different if she testifies.
Prosecutors have said Monk and Crehan were on board with Noce's plea, something Carson Marcantel, who also represents Crehan, questioned Monday.
"If everybody was on board, how do we end up with the killing of Robert Noce?" he asked the jury rhetorically in his opening statement.
Crehan has confessed to law enforcement and in letters and phone calls to The Advocate that he killed Noce to prevent him from ever harming Monk again.
Borghardt said after court the defense does not dispute Crehan's participation in the slaying but does contest the murder charge.
"This is not a second-degree murder. It's something else," he said.
Prior to Fitzpatrick making his discovery of Noce's body, Sims said he was dispatched to the trailer in response to a missing person report and found water pouring out of the mobile home. The sink in the master bathroom had been purposely stopped up, he said.
Sims said he still found a large amount of blood on the flooded carpet at the foot of Noce's bed, as well as blood streaks on the footboard.
Prosecutor Eli Abad told the jury in his opening statement that Crehan and Monk made the choice to break into Noce's trailer in the pre-dawn hours and take his life, and their decision comes with consequences.
"Two words: choices and consequences. That is what this case is about," Abad said.
"They chose to seek out Robert Noce's residence, to find Robert Noce," he added. "They had a specific purpose in entering into that trailer."
Marcantel told the jury that the story of Crehan and Monk is a "modern day version" of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Marcantel said Noce sexually abused Monk from the age of 4 to 12, and that Crehan became her protector after he met her and fell in love. Monk was seven months pregnant with Crehan's child when Noce was killed. They were engaged to be married.
Marcantel said Crehan "took a bullet" for Monk.
Authorities have remained tight-lipped about a motive ever since Jace Crehan and his girlfriend, Brittany Monk, were arrested a month ago in t…