A state Supreme Court justice warned Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Larry Jefferson could be ordered to recuse from a Monroe murder case because Jefferson ignored higher court rulings by brushing aside a jury’s guilty verdict.
State Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton wrote on May 28 that Jefferson’s decision to grant a new trial to Eric Dominic Nabors, of Monroe, was an “arguably contemptuous ruling.”
That would be the case because Nabors was originally convicted by a unanimous jury for the brutal slaying of a two-year-old child, for which he was arrested in November 2013. In late 2017, Jefferson set aside the jury’s verdict of second-degree murder and ruled that Nabors was guilty of negligent homicide. Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew’s office opposed the verdict swap in an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport. The Second Circuit overturned Jefferson and remanded the case for sentencing.
“I agree with the decision to deny this writ, and write separately to note that the court of appeal’s action to reinstate the jury verdict was, in my view, eminently correct,” Crichton wrote. “As the court of appeal aptly noted in its first reversal of the trial court’s grant of a (judgment not withstanding verdict, or to overrule jury verdict) in this case, the trial court ruling was an ‘absolute abuse of discretion.’”
Under state law, the penalty for second-degree murder is life imprisonment without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. Negligent homicide carries a maximum sentence of five years.
Instead of setting a sentencing hearing, Jefferson ruled in January that Tew’s office had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Nabors had a “specific intent to kill” Jemarion T. Jackson, age 2. For that reason, Jefferson granted a new trial to Nabors.
Crichton’s written reasons suggested Jefferson should recuse himself from the case because of his “arguably contemptuous ruling” to grant Nabors a new trial.
“Given the trial court’s arguably contemptuous ruling, in my view, this trial judge may be required under the relevant code articles and canons to issue an order of self-recusal from this case with respect to resentencing of the defendant, any further direct action, and collateral review,” Crichton wrote.
When asked earlier this week about Crichton’s written reasons, Tew said, “I think it’s completely accurate and 100 percent supported by the law and the evidence.”
Tew’s office appealed Jefferson’s ruling to grant Nabors a new trial to the Second Circuit, which ruled on March 8 that Jefferson had erred.
“Thus the trial court erred in granting the motion for new trial as it was repetitive of an issue that was raised, determined, and made final,” stated the Second Circuit’s March 8 order.
Second Circuit judges Milton Moore of Monroe, Shonda Stone and Jay McCallum signed the March 8 order.
Nabors appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the high court to review the Second Circuit’s decision to reverse the new trial ruling. The Supreme Court denied Nabors’ appeal.
Crichton said the jury’s unanimous verdict withstood scrutiny by the appeal court, making Jefferson’s ruling to grant a new trial in “direct contravention” the appeal court’s ruling.
“Defendant was simply not entitled to another modification of the initial jury verdict on sufficiency of the evidence,” Crichton wrote.