Trial of Curtis Kyles set to begin this week for a 2010 killing of a woman after a dispute over a food stamp card _lowres

Curtis Kyles

A state judge Tuesday sentenced Curtis Kyles to life in prison for killing 26-year-old Crystal St. Pierre five years ago in Avondale after an altercation over food stamps.

Kyles, a 56-year-old former death row inmate who was freed in 1995 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for a previous killing, showed no emotion at his sentencing, while the victim’s adoptive sister, Donna LeBlanc, described a family left “broken and grieving” in the wake of the murder.

LeBlanc said St. Pierre was a kind, loving mother and daughter despite an early life spent bouncing among nearly two dozen foster homes. She joined LeBlanc’s family when she was 8.

“We fell in love with her at the first moment we laid eyes on her and knew at that very moment she was meant to be a part of our family,” LeBlanc said, her voice breaking.

St. Pierre’s body was found in an overgrown lot by a parish contractor inspecting levees in June 2010. She had been shot once in the head at close range.

Residents of the Cedar Point Apartments in Algiers told police they had seen Kyles and an alleged accomplice, Chicwanda Forbes, force St. Pierre into a car in the building’s parking lot and speed away.

Witnesses said Kyles was angrily demanding money, and investigators later found surveillance footage of Kyles and Forbes trying unsuccessfully to use St. Pierre’s food stamp card at a Winn-Dixie. Investigators suspected St. Pierre gave Kyles and Forbes the card in exchange for money.

The two were arrested in Mississippi several days after the murder. Forbes, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnapping, told investigators that Kyles fired the fatal shot. No murder weapon was ever found, though investigators searching Kyles’ apartment discovered .38-caliber bullets, the same kind used to kill St. Pierre.

Kyles, who was convicted by a jury in September, will not be eligible for parole, probation or a suspended sentence.

Defense attorney Paul Fleming, of the Jefferson Parish Public Defenders Office, told 24th Judicial District Court Judge Glenn Ansardi on Tuesday that he plans to appeal.

Kyles’ previous murder conviction was not admissible in the St. Pierre case.

He was convicted in 1984 of shooting an elderly woman in the parking lot of a New Orleans supermarket and put on death row. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction after finding the prosecution had withheld evidence that would have helped his case.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.