ST. MARTINVILLE – A few days shy of 10 years ago, 31-year-old Scott Latiolais was gunned down in a vacant lot in Henderson. Investigators said it was a drug deal gone bad.
Several days later, Timothy J. Roberts, then 20, was arrested. The case was fixed for trial on Nov. 12, 2002. Since then, Roberts’ trial has been continued, postponed, no less than 25 times, most recently on Monday of last week.
Meanwhile, Roberts remains free on bond, much to the chagrin of the victim’s father, Tom Latiolais.
A drug deal gone bad can be a nightmare to prosecute, said Assistant District Attorney Chester Cedars. But this case takes the cake.
“Just about everything that could go wrong did,” Cedars said.
The record reveals that the delay is due mostly to some artful foot-dragging by the defense. However, the prosecution requested a few continuances itself, and even had to dismiss the charges, temporarily, due to its own recalcitrant witnesses.
From his perch outside the bar, Tom Latiolais calls a pox on all their houses. He says the judges are disinterested at best, lazy at worst, and the initial investigation was “crap.”
“The (judicial) system is messed up,” Latiolais said. “Come on, somebody, do your job.”
Arguably defense attorney Alfred Boustany II was doing his job by calling for a number of delays and then trying to have the case thrown out on the basis that his client had been denied his right to a speedy trial.
“... defendant’s argument that his statutory right to a ‘speedy trial’ has been deprived is disingenuous and somewhat dishonest in that it ignores, as reflected by the record of these proceedings, the basis for the delay of his trial,” Cedars wrote in opposition to the motion to quash.
Boustany succeeded in getting the state to pay for an investigator, and then, when the investigator was unable to find several defense witnesses, cited that as damage caused by the delays. Cedars was able to thwart that move when, with the help of St. Martin Sheriff’s Office Detective John Bruce, he found and served the defense witnesses himself.
Cedars had trouble enough with his own witnesses – not an uncommon occurrence in the prosecution of a drug deal gone bad, he said.
When an eyewitness failed to show, not for the first time, Cedars dismissed the case before the judge could have it thrown out. He had the material witness arrested, and then had Roberts indicted for the second time.
“‘CSI’ is one of our worst enemies,” said Detective Bruce, who did not investigate this particular crime. “People think we can solve these things with physical evidence alone, and they don’t have to get involved.”
The one party who always showed up for trial was the defendant, Roberts, which was one reason Cedars didn’t have his bond increased or revoked. Another is that some judge might have been more inclined to throw the case out had Roberts been sitting in jail all this time.
The trial was continued yet again last Monday, March 5, because the lead detective, now retired, was scheduled to have back surgery.
The trial is now set for June 18.