GONZALES — An Ascension Parish grand jury indicted 16-year-old Jacob Westbrook on Tuesday on second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a St. Amant High teenager who was killed during an argument over the victim’s plans to give a school choir mate a ride to the homecoming dance.
But Westbrook’s defense attorney claimed hours after the indictment that Westbrook stabbed Todd “T.J.” Toups Jr., 18, in self-defense and accused Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley of “grossly” mischaracterizing the incident.
“I think the story as told by the sheriff and by the media, at this point, is grossly inaccurate and that will show itself in the coming weeks,” said Jarrett Ambeau, Westbrook’s defense attorney.
Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Westbrook, of Baton Rouge, Oct. 10 in the death of Toups, a senior at St. Amant High.
Ambeau disputed comments Wiley made at a news conference Oct. 13 that said Westbrook hacked or stabbed at Toups a number of times before the fatal stabbing.
Ambeau said he interviewed two teenage girls who witnessed the incident, and both said Toups lunged at Westbrook during the argument, and Westbrook stabbed him once in the upper torso in self-defense.
Ambeau also said that the case was improperly assigned to Judge Jason Verdigets, of the 23rd Judicial District Court.
Ambeau said he filed a motion Tuesday to have the case reassigned. Local rules call for a juvenile case that occurred on the east side of the parish to be heard by one of three judges assigned to east side juvenile cases. Verdigets is assigned to west Ascension juvenile cases, Ambeau said.
Verdigets held a juvenile hearing Oct. 13 at which he ruled Westbrook would be tried as an adult, moving the proceedings to adult court and Westbrook from a juvenile detention center to the parish’s adult jail.
Ambeau said he believes prosecutors brought what he called an “unbelievably fast indictment.”
In response to Ambeau’s claims, Wiley stood by his account of the events “as the absolute truth as per multiple witnesses” and urged Ambeau to focus on his client’s case.
“He would best serve his client without showboating and posturing and getting out a law book and being the best attorney he can be,” Wiley said Tuesday.
Charlotte Guedry, spokeswoman for 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin, said that the office had not yet received Ambeau’s motion and could not comment on it.
The fatal stabbing occurred inside a mobile home at Cobb’s Trailer Park on Roddy Road and was apparently related to talk directed toward Toups by his choir mate’s stepsister three days before the Oct. 10 stabbing.
The stepsister had threatened at school to stab Toups if he hurt the choir mate, a 14-year-old girl.
Westbrook is the stepsister’s boyfriend and a former student of St. Amant High who most recently attended Woodlawn High School in Baton Rouge.
Wiley detailed law enforcement’s version of the stabbing at the Oct. 13 news conference.
He said Toups went to the younger girl’s home to discuss picking her up later that evening to give her a ride to the dance. Toups was talking to the young girl and her stepsister when he joked, “Well, are you going to stab me?” Wiley said at the news conference.
The stepsister answered, “Well, maybe I will,” the sheriff said.
Before she could say anything else, her “boyfriend came around the corner and said, ‘If she won’t, I will,’ ” Wiley said.
The chatter between Toups and the girls ended.
“Our killer walks in full view of three individuals,” Wiley said, “arms himself with a black-handled steak knife and starts jabbing at Todd (Toups).”
Wiley said Toups tried to defend himself.
“Todd parries a jab and pushes” the boyfriend, who stabbed Toups in the rib cage, Wiley said.
A sheriff’s detective’s testimony on the case last week also seems to contradict Ambeau’s version of events. Sheriff’s Detective Randy Heflin, who testified at the hearing on whether Westbrook should be tried as an adult, said he interviewed three witnesses in the mobile home: the 14-year-old girl who Toups knew, her stepsister and a neighbor.
Heflin testified two witnesses said Westbrook made the first move in the fight while a third said Toups made the first move before he was stabbed.
After the stabbing, Toups managed to walk outside of the mobile home and onto the porch steps where he fell to the ground, the sheriff said at the news conference.
According to Heflin, Westbrook relayed medical instructions for Toups from 911 after the stabbing and helped apply pressure on Toups’ wound. Toups later died at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.
Prosecutors with the 23rd Judicial District said in statement Tuesday that they would “use the legal system to its fullest extent” to allow Toups’ family “some semblance of closure.”
“I believe the grand jury made the right decision today, although nothing we can do from here on out can ever alleviate the pain being felt by the Toups family,” Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi said in the news release.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.