William Garner

A Baker man accused of robbing a Baton Rouge welding business on New Year's Day 2018, shooting the owner and raping one of several people tied up at the shop was acquitted this week.

A unanimous East Baton Rouge Parish jury found William Garner, 55, not guilty of armed robbery, first-degree rape and aggravated second-degree battery.

If Garner had been convicted on the rape charge, he would have been sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison.

Garner's attorney, Carson Marcantel, said Wednesday that witness credibility and insufficient evidence were keys to the jury's verdict.

"They just understood the concept of reasonable doubt and that the state did not prove its case," he said.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office disagrees with the verdict, reached Monday evening before courts closed for Election Day, but respects the jury's decision and effort.

"The jury is the ultimate finder of fact," he said.

Police said two masked and armed men robbed the business in the 3,800 block of Victoria Drive, shot the store owner and raped someone who was tied up inside. Garner was arrested three months later. 

Garner was the only suspect arrested in the case. Marcantel said he expected Garner to be released from prison this week.

Moore said the second perpetrator has not been identified "and the case remains open in that regard."

Investigators matched Garner's DNA to the crime scene, according to a Baton Rouge police arrest warrant. Investigators found a DNA match for Garner while evaluating a rape kit of the victim, who said she doesn't know him.

Marcantel said he argued that prosecutors could not eliminate the possibility that Garner and the rape victim, who has several prostitution convictions and a pending prostitution charge, had consensual sex earlier that day or the night before.

One of the assailants wore a white mask and the other a cartoon mask that appeared to be a Ninja Turtle during the entirety of the Jan. 1, 2018, robbery, a police report stated. The men took several hundred dollars in cash from the business owner's wallet — after demanding $50,000 on pain of death — before tying him up with several other people in the main shop while a female victim was raped in a back room, police said.

The man in the cartoon mask raped and sexually assaulted the female victim before bringing her to the main shop, tying her limbs together and throwing a dirty rug over her, police said.

Once all the victims were tied up in the main shop with their heads covered in towels and tape, the masked men continued to argue with the owner over money, but they eventually shot him several times in the legs and left the scene, police said. The man suffered a broken femur and ankle from the gunshots.

After the assailants left, one victim was able to free himself by using a pocket knife and call 911, police said. The man who was shot and the woman who was raped went to a hospital for treatment.

Garner previously pleaded guilty to domestic abuse battery and resisting arrest in December 2013, online court records show. He was sentenced to one year of supervised probation, but was later re-sentenced to six months in Parish Prison.

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