Charges against Lewis were eventually dropped after Batistes trial, because he had produced Batistes shotgun for the deputies. In Lewiss first interview with the sheriffs deputies, Mike Tregre, the young detective who interviewed him, asked, Have any threats or promises been made to you or has pressure of any kind been applied to induce you to answer questions or give up any of your rights?
No, Lewis told Detective Tregre in his interview, but he told me if I come up with the guns everyIm free, Captain whoever told me that, said Lewis, referring to a Captain Robert Hay.
Lewis said he was afraid to speak out publicly, and when The Daily Beast called him, he originally pretended he wasnt the person answering the phone. They [the sheriffs deputies] were putting a lot of pressure on me, he said, and pointed out that Tregre, one of the officers who questioned him, is now the sheriff, when talking about his fear of retaliation against him.
My life got really hard after this, he said referencing the Batiste case.
Last fall, Batistes appeals lawyer, Gwyn Brown, made a public records request of the the St. John the Baptist Parish district attorney for the files on his case. Brown, who provided a copy of those records to The Daily Beast, found a document that hadnt come up in Batistes original trial.
On Dec. 29, 1995, shortly before the trial, Deputy Schaeffer faxed a file to St. John Assistant District Attorney GeorgeAnn Graugnard that said a silver handgun recovered in the Batiste investigation was being held by the sheriffs office for safekeeping. It was a .25 caliber Handgun, Raven Arms brand Chrome finish with wooden handgrips. (Emphasis added).
Just like the gun that witnesses described Alexander holding.
Please call if you need me for anything further, Schaffer wrote at the bottom of the fax.
According to its chain of custody form, this gun was not sent to the Louisiana State Polices crime lab to be processed as evidence. The sheriffs office did send the shotgun and other evidence to be processed.
But, this gun doesnt fit perfectly into the narrative. Theres a problem with this being Alexanders gun: the timeline is wrong.
This file says that Captain Robert Hay retrieved this second gun at 5:55 a.m. on the morning of the murder, before turning it over to Schaeffer, according to the chain of custody form for the gun.
If Hay truly located the gun at 5:55 a.m., then it cant be Alexanders, because Hay didnt go with Lewis to the canal until four hours later.
The pistol (.25 caliber Raven Arms) was seized approximately four (4) hours before the St. John the Baptist Sheriffs Office Detectives obtained any information or had knowledge of the fact that Jerry Lewis transported both guns to Kenner, Louisiana, where he disposed of the revolver in a canal in Kenner, Louisiana, says a June 8 memorandum by St. John the Baptist Assistant District Attorney Orenthal Jasmin, arguing against Batistes pleading for post-conviction relief based upon this document.
St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut was unwilling to comment on pending cases, but during recent hearings, assistant DA Jasmin maintained that the weapon was found at Batistes residence as part of a separate investigation into Batistes trailers burglary, and was not the victims weapon.
There is no documentation in the investigative report of Hay finding a weapon at 5:55 a.m. Theres nothing at all recorded at 5:55 a.m. In fact, besides the chain of custody form, theres no supporting documentation on this gun at all that describes when and where it was found.
When Batistes new lawyer, Brown, uncovered the fax about the handgun, she confirmed with the sheriffs office was still in possession of the actual gun. As soon as Alexander appealed for a new trial, the sheriffs department became less forthcoming, Brown said.
The DA says theres nothing else there, she says she was told after asking for any other new evidence.
After repeated delays and interference by the DAs office, sheriffs case files were eventually provided to The Daily Beast but a large number of files were missing, including the fax about the handgun and another key interview with Jerry Lewis.
The sheriffs department blamed Hurricane Katrina.
The sheriffs file for this case was maintained in a trailer which I am told was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Carl Butler, the sheriff offices lawyer, said.
Katrina was a category 5 hurricane that hit Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005 and killed more than 1,000 people in New Orleans and displaced another 400,000. Parts of the city were submerged under 10 feet of water during the storm.
But St. John the Baptist Parish didnt flood. Instead, it served as a staging area for recovery efforts into the flooded city.
In our parish there was no loss of life, no flooding, and no looting, said the St. John the Baptist Sheriffs Offices annual report from 2005 (
PDF). Power outages inconvenienced us all but thankfully damage was mostly limited to roofs. Downed limbs and trees did destroy a few residents storage buildings.
The report didnt mention any damage to any of the sheriffs facilities.
Our department came through Katrina with very few problems, the report said.
If the sheriffs office somehow did lose a trailer full of evidence files, they might have requested reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the storm, at least for cleanup. Officials from the Louisiana Governors Office for Homeland Security and Emergency Preparations said there were no reimbursement requests filed by the sheriffs office for an evidence trailer.
Or the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriffs Office might have filed an insurance claim for their lost trailer. They were unable to produce an insurance claim.
But for a trailer of filled with evidence, there ought to be some documentation of its destruction.
As soon as the Katrina excuse was debunked, the sheriffs office changed its story.
The case files you seek were relocated to a mobile trailer following Hurricane Katrina damage to the CID [Criminal Investigations Department] building where they had been stored, he said, appearing to take back the earlier claim about these files being destroyed. However, those files cannot be currently located.
Investigative reports can be wrong, Butler also said in the meeting where he claimed Katrina destroyed the files, claiming that the missing documents may never have existed, because Schaeffer, while he was alive, was known to be shady.
Schaeffer was accused of
sexual assault and abuse by five different women and pled guilty to lesser charges in 2008. As part of his plea, he was required to stop using fake names.
When he was working nights, he would sneak into my house and I would awaken with his hands around my throat, Tracy Mutz, an ex-girlfriend of Schaeffer, told The Daily Beast.
Batiste has filed for post conviction relief, arguing that he had ineffective legal counsel during his 1995-96 trial. More than the gun itself, Batistes fate may rest upon how much information his first lawyers had about the chrome handgun:
Did they know about it, and if so, why didnt they use it during trial?
The district attorneys office claims that this second gun was not concealed from Batistes lawyers and was provided to one them, Sterling Snowdy, on the morning of the trial. Snowdy is now a judge in St. John the Baptist parish.
According to testimony, on the morning of the trial, Assistant District Attorney, GeorgeAnn Graugnard, phoned defense attorney, J. Sterling Snowdy, and notified him about the gun, wrote Judge Madeline Jasmine at a hearing for post-conviction relief, denying Batistes earlier claim that prosecutors suppressed evidence.
There is no excuse for the State withholding this information until the morning of the trial, wrote Jasmine. A continuance [delay] of the trial would have been warranted, but the record does not suggest that a continuance was requested.
If Batistes lawyers did know about the gun, they never used it in court.
Mr. Snowdy [now the Honorable Judge Snowdy] developed no testimony regarding this gun and did not introduce the gun at trial, read Batistes post conviction relief application.
Meanwhile, Batistes other lawyer, Richard Millet, said he had no idea there was a second gun.
I did not know about the existence of a gun, other than the shotgun, he said at a hearing on May 19.
Millet explained that he would have shown witnesses pictures of the gun to have them identify it, had it tested for ballistics, and used it as evidence. He said it would have affected his decision to put Batiste on the witness stand.
I shared it with both people, Snowdy said.
I did not know about it, Millet replied.
During the original trial, Snowdy and Millet fought with the district attorney because they had been denied access to evidence.
How could Snowdy not tell Millet about the gun or use it at trial that they both hammered the state to produce evidence?
Upon information and belief, defendant contends that the state is in possession of [the victims] handgun, Snowdy wrote an in August 1995 motion, demanding that the state produce Alexanders handgun. Upon information and belief, said gun is now said in possession of now in the possession of the state, under this case number or under another case number and in connection with a crime committed by another individual.
Assuming for the sake of argument that Snowdy alone was told about the gun, why didnt he use it to make the self-defense claim on behalf of his client?
The only two answers to this conundrum seem to be that either the state suppressed evidence or Batistes counsel was too stupid to use it. Either way, it would appear he deserves a new trial.
On May 19, Terika Anderson had brought brought her two sons to court to watch the trial, and they were fidgeting in the front row. (And occasionally turning around to stick out their tongues at me.) She regularly brings her sons up to Angola prison to hang out with Batiste. They call him daddy.
I hate that hes there, because he cant help me in there, she said. But, Im sticking by his side.
Anderson says Batiste regretted what happened, but not his actions, because he believes they saved his life. I wouldnt change the situation of how I dealt with it, but I wish it could have been in another form, she said he told her.
After the hearing ended, Batiste, who was in prison orange, with his hands shackled, was allowed a few minutes with his mother, and the rest of his family and friends in a conference room off to the side of the courtroom. Once there he kissed one of the boys on the forehead. Tell him youre gonna see him Sunday, said Anderson.
She didnt feel like Batiste had gotten a fair shake, and hed eventually be released from prison. I feel like when God says its enough, Anderson said. Arizonas coming home.