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Jimeelah Crockett

A Baton Rouge woman whose murder conviction in the 2017 killing of her boyfriend was thrown out last year after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed non-unanimous jury verdicts pleaded no contest to manslaughter Thursday.

Jimeelah Crockett, who faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison if her second-degree murder conviction had stood, now faces a prison term in the range of 15 to 30 years under an agreement among prosecutors and her attorneys.

Manslaughter typically carries a sentence of up to 40 years behind bars.

Crockett, 30, claims she shot Joseph Bunch III, 38, in self-defense.

State District Judge Eboni Johnson-Rose will sentence her June 16.

"We are proud of the strength she has shown as we work towards a better future for her and her children. We look forward to presenting her story,” Kathryn Jakuback Burke, one of Crockett's lawyers, said after court.

Manslaughter in Louisiana is defined as a killing "committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection."

Crockett was found guilty by an 11-1 vote in October 2019, three days before the Supreme Court heard arguments in a New Orleans case over the legality of split-jury criminal verdicts in state court.

In a ruling last April in that case, the high court outlawed split-jury verdicts, prompting Crockett's attorneys to file a motion for a new trial. Now-retired state District Judge Bonnie Jackson granted the motion in June.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury had rejected Crockett's claim that she shot Bunch in self-defense in the parking lot of the Ardendale Oaks apartment complex on North Lobdell Boulevard, where they lived.

Prosecutors had said her claim was contradicted by surveillance video that showed Bunch moving backward with his hands up and then turning to walk away as Crockett fired a single fatal shot on Aug. 20, 2017.

Bunch was shot in his back left shoulder. The bullet perforated his windpipe and left lung, according to trial testimony.

Prosecutor Louise Hines said in court Thursday that Crockett "shot him in the back while he was walking away from her."

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III was unavailable for comment after court.

In her videotaped statement played at her trial, Crockett told Baton Rouge police detectives that Bunch had been physical with her inside their apartment that night and that she shot him outside after he came at her with a raised hand as if he meant to hit her.

Crockett had a busted lip and minor scratches on her body when police arrived at the scene. The gun, a 9 mm pistol, was found at the scene.

Crockett and Bunch shared a child.

A no contest plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea in criminal court but cannot be used against the person in a civil proceeding.

Crockett remains free on bond.


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