Louisiana Supreme Court affirms Charles Mayeux murder conviction
The Louisiana Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentence of former Evergreen Police Chief Charles Mayeux for the March 21, 2015, murder of his wife, Shelly Mayeux.
The court ruled 6-1 on Jan. 29 that the state “presented sufficient evidence for the jury to rationally conclude that defendant (Mayeux) killed his wife when he had the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm.”
Retired Judge James Boddie Jr., appointed to replace Justice Marcus Clark on the appeals review, wrote the main opinion affirming the conviction and sentence.
Justice C.J. Johnson concurred, with separate reasons noted in an accompanying opinion.
“The main thing in the court’s decision is that the justices respected the jury’s verdict,” District Attorney Charles Riddle said. “Justice has been served.”
Although the prosecution faced “a very complex case, we did exclude every other reasonable hypothesis of innocence,” Riddle said. “That is what the 3rd Circuit Court ruled and what the Supreme Court concluded in this decision.”
Justice James Genovese dissented, stating there is no “direct evidence that the victim was murdered, or that the defendant killed her, or that the defendant started the fire at issue.”
He said the state had to prove Mayeux “had the specific intent to kill,” which Genovese said he does not see in the court record.
“I see damaging inferences in the record, but I do not see any proof by the state that the defendant had the specific intent to kill,” Genovese wrote. “Therefore, there can be no murder conviction.”
In his decision on the appeal, Boddie wrote that the state alleged Mayeux killed his wife and then set their home on fire to conceal evidence of the crime.
Boddie said it is undisputed that Shelly Mayeux was dead before the fire started. However, the cause of death could not be determined.
A fire investigator said it was his opinion the fire had been intentionally set.
Boddie noted that the state 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal had found the state provided sufficient evidence to prove its case.
“After reviewing the record, the argument of the parties and the law, we agree with the court below (3rd Circuit) that the evidence sufficed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence and that the jury’s verdict is not irrational,” Boddie wrote.
Boddie conceded the state’s case against Mayeux “is entirely circumstantial, and the most significant piece of the puzzle -- the victim’s cause of death -- remains unknown, but the circumstantial evidence as a whole is quite incriminating.
That evidence included the fact that Mayeux was a trained firefighter with firefighting equipment under the carport and at the nearby fire station, but made no effort to extinguish the fire. He “simply called 911 and waited,” Boddie wrote.
The justice also noted evidence that Mayeux and his wife “had a volatile relationship marked by domestic abuse and his threats to kill her.”
Mayeux also made several false statements to investigators, which can legally be raise “the inference of a ‘guilty mind,’” Boddie noted, citing a legal precedent.
JOHNSON OBJECTS TO NON-UNANIMOUS VERDICT
Johnson concurred, writing that the court has “rightly held that rational jurors were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mayeux “murdered his wife and made clumsy efforts to conceal it.”
Johnson said he opted to file a separate opinion because this was a non-unanimous verdict. He noted he has made such opinions in past appeals.
Mayeux was convicted on a 10-2 verdict -- which was sufficient when the case was tried, convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in September 2017.
Voters amended the state constitution in November 2018 to require unanimous verdicts in felony cases for all crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2019.
“One of many problems with Louisiana’s 120-year history of permitting non-unanimous jury verdicts is that ‘jury deliberations tend to be less robust and shorter when non-unanimous verdict rules are in place. That is, once the minimum number of votes are achieved, deliberations end, regardless of the desire of the minority to continue deliberating,’” Johnson wrote, citing a previous court decision from 2018.
“In some cases, the requirement of unanimity would have forced longer jury deliberations, which may have prevented an unjust conviction,” he continued. “In others, the requirement of unanimity may have simply extended the deliberations long enough that every juror’s voice was heard and each agreed with the result.
“But in so many cases, for too long, neither happened,” Johnson added. “I believe this law, rooted in racism, has undermined confidence in our criminal legal system.”
Despite his reservations on the 10-2 nature of the conviction, Johnson noted, “in this case, the record reflects that Mr. Mayeux’s counsel neither objected to his split jury verdict nor assigned it as error on appeal. Because the issue is not before the court, I concur with the result reached today.”