The New Orleans man who is accused of snatching a gun from a security guard at a Bourbon Street fried-chicken restaurant and fatally shooting a bystander early Sunday morning never pulled the gun's trigger, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Public defender Leon Roche stopped short of saying that the guard fired the bullets that killed Ochsner Health System nurse Julie Couvillon, 36, and wounded the suspect, the guard and a fourth man.

But Roche said his client, Louis Barnes, denies firing the handgun that police say he and the guard fought over. The claim implies that either the guard fired the gun or it discharged accidentally during the struggle. It appears there may be no surveillance video to resolve the issue. 

Roche's assertions came during a bail hearing for Barnes on an unrelated criminal charge. Barnes had been free on bond in the second case — involving his failure to register as a sex offender — when the fatal Bourbon Street shooting occurred about 3:10 a.m. Sunday. 

Julie Couvillon Mug

Julie Couvillon

The owner of the security guard’s company, Elite Protection Solutions, declined to comment specifically on Roche’s claims, citing an open police investigation into the case. But the owner, Willie Harris, said, “If I was Mr. Barnes, being in the trouble that he has brought upon (himself), I would probably argue the same thing.”

According to police, the guard, who is 23, asked Barnes to leave Willie’s Chicken Shack, located in the 400 block of Bourbon. While police haven’t said why Barnes was being ejected, the management has claimed that he was trying to sell drugs. In any event, Barnes allegedly refused to leave and began punching the guard during a struggle that unfolded both inside and outside the business.

Multiple witnesses said they saw Barnes, 37, grab the guard's .40-caliber Glock, at which time two shots were fired, police have said.


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The guard and Couvillon were both struck in the neck, and Barnes was hit in his right shoulder. All were taken to University Medical Center after nearby police officers heard the gunfire and arrested Barnes.

Couvillon was pronounced dead. Barnes was released and jailed on counts of murder and attempted murder. The guard was treated for a critical wound but is expected to survive.

A fourth victim, a 43-year-old man, was grazed in the arm and later went to Tulane University Medical Center to be examined.

In addition to witness statements, court documents outlining the probable cause for Barnes’ arrest say that city crime cameras recorded him striking the guard as well as chasing the guard into and out of Willie’s Chicken Shack, suggesting he was the aggressor.

But the documents don’t say whether that footage shows Barnes firing the gun — only that Couvillon and the guard both fell to the ground when the gunshots rang out. 

The surveillance cameras inside Willie’s Chicken Shack won’t provide any clarity on this point. The business was experiencing Internet service issues at the time of the shooting, and its cameras didn’t record footage of the incident, Victoria Coulon, a spokeswoman for the business, said Tuesday.

Roche on Tuesday accused the guard of shooting his client. He stopped short of saying that the guard also shot himself, Couvillon and the other bystander, but he denied that Barnes shot anyone and called on authorities to release their surveillance camera footage of Sunday morning’s melee.

Coulon agreed with Roche that the release of camera footage would be beneficial. “Everyone needs to know the truth,” she said. But she disagreed it would be beneficial to Barnes, saying that multiple witnesses support the accusation that he had snatched the guard’s pistol away at the time the gunshots were fired.

She also said it was “a disservice to the victims” of the incident to assign blame to the guard while he’s on the mend.

“The security guard was trying to protect our patrons and was also trying to contact the police while being physically attacked,” Coulon said.

Barnes would face mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of second-degree murder, the count on which he's been booked.

In Louisiana, second-degree murder convictions require prosecutors to prove that defendants either intended to kill or did so unintentionally while committing one of a handful of other crimes, among them rape, arson and robbery. Authorities at this point have not accused him of committing any of those other crimes. 

Barnes was out on $5,000 bond at the time, accused of failing to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to having sex with an underage girl in Jefferson Parish and serving a two-year sentence.

Orleans Parish prosecutors on Tuesday asked for Barnes’ bail in that case to be increased or his bond revoked following his arrest in the killing of Couvillon. Roche responded that his client didn’t murder or even shoot anybody, but pro tem Criminal District Court Judge Dennis Waldron increased Barnes’ bail in that case to $200,000.

Barnes’ bail in Sunday’s deadly fracas was set at $1.5 million. He remained in jail Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Couvillon's parents, sister and daughter spoke Tuesday with WDSU-TV about how devastating it was to learn of her death. Her mother, Janice Couvillon, herself a nurse, said she's seen many disturbing things in her career, but nothing prepared her for seeing Julie's lifeless body. 

“Your heart is broken in a million pieces, and it’ll never get back together," Janice Couvillon told the station. "There’s a void — we’ll never see her again. We’ll never hear her voice.” 


Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.