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Customers wait in line outside of Trader Joe's, Saturday, April 4, 2020, as the business limits the number of customers that can be inside at once due to social distancing.

A panhandler shot and killed outside Trader Joe's last August was "heavily intoxicated" at the time of his death and displayed "aggressive and threatening" behavior toward the Baton Rouge man accused of murdering him, defense lawyers claim in a court filing.

The new depiction of Danny Buckley came Wednesday, a day after the dead man's son filed a lawsuit against Jace Boyd. That complaint says Boyd, who is charged with second-degree murder, was the aggressor who gunned down an unarmed and "hapless" Buckley at an upscale Perkins Road shopping center.

Donell Buckley, Danny Buckley

Donell Buckley (left) is the son of Danny Buckley (right). Danny Buckley was fatally shot in the parking lot of Trader Joe's in Baton Rouge. (left photo by Hilary Scheinuk)

Boyd's attorneys also revealed for the first time that a toxicology report showed Buckley's blood-alcohol level was 0.271% — more than three times the legal driving limit — at the time of his death.

Boyd's lawyers, J. Arthur Smith III and Seth Dornier, recently filed a motion seeking Buckley's medical records to assess whether Buckley, 61, had a history of alcoholism and aggressive or violent behavior while intoxicated.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office has objected, contending the defense is seeking "irrelevant and improper character evidence" of the deceased victim.

"It is commonly known that alcohol consumption causes increased aggression in certain individuals," Smith and Dornier wrote last month in their motion requesting Buckley's medical records.

"Danny Ray Buckley's behavior, particularly whether his behavior was aggressive and/or violent, is a material fact in this case," they added.

In their latest court filing Wednesday, Boyd's attorneys say Boyd, 25, and his fiancée were seated in his truck in the Trader Joe's parking lot on Aug. 22 when Buckley knocked loudly on one of the truck's windows. They told him they had no money for him.

Jace Boyd booked

Jace Boyd

After Buckley approached two young women nearby, Boyd "firmly but respectively" told him to leave the women alone. Buckley then began progressing toward Boyd. His fiancée perceived Buckley's body language and speed as "aggressive and threatening," the new filing states.

Boyd's fiancée recalled hearing Boyd tell Buckley to stop multiple times, before Boyd armed himself with a sky blue pistol. Boyd pointed the gun at Buckley but it misfired, and Buckley continued approaching Boyd "quickly and aggressively." Buckley's behavior was erratic and he appeared intoxicated, the filing says. 

Boyd fired again, striking Buckley in the abdomen. He and his lawyers claim the shooting was in self-defense.

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"The toxicology report, which demonstrates that Mr. Buckley had alcohol in an amount over three times the legal driving limit at the time of his death, corroborates Defendant's self-defense argument — that he felt threatened by Mr. Buckley, in part because he (Buckley) was intoxicated and behaving erratically," Boyd's lawyers wrote Wednesday.

The court filing claims Buckley — not Boyd — was the "aggressor" and the he was "violent and intoxicated."

State District Judge Kelly Balfour on Thursday rescheduled a motion hearing in the case for Aug. 19 after both sides appeared in his courtroom, met behind closed doors and decided to try to resolve some of the issues raised in the motions filed in the case.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Buckley's son says Boyd, who is White, and Buckley, who is Black, initially had a "brief verbal exchange" in the Trader Joe's parking lot on Aug. 22 and then Buckley walked away and proceeded to converse with two White women in their early 20s.

"Shortly thereafter, Jace Boyd became incensed, exited his vehicle, re-approached Mr. Buckley, and began an aggressive confrontation with him," the lawsuit alleges.

Boyd armed himself with a gun, aimed it at Buckley and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired, the lawsuit says.

"Subsequently, Jace Boyd lowered his weapon, reloaded the gun with another bullet, repositioned himself into a shooting stance, and took aim at the hapless Danny Buckley, before pulling the trigger again — this time carrying out his intentions of fatally shooting Mr. Buckley," the lawsuit claims.

Attorneys for the Buckley family have claimed the shooting constituted a hate crime.

Boyd, who is charged with illegal use of a weapon in addition to the murder count, told detectives during an interview that he was defending himself and others from Buckley, who was "aggressively harassing customers" in the parking lot, a police report states.

At least one witness has stated publicly that she did not feel threatened when Buckley approached her asking for money.

Boyd remains free on $300,000 bond. A second-degree murder conviction would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison.


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