May 9, 2003
By VINCENT LUPO
The mother of a 6-year-old Iowa boy murdered 11 years ago will be allowed to ask jurors for mercy for the man who allegedly molested and killed her child, Judge Al Gray ruled Thursday.
Citing a 1998 state constitutional amendment approved by voters, Gray said Lorilei Guillory will be allowed "to testify and ask for mercy if she wishes" during any penalty phase of Ricky Langley's first-degree murder re-trial, if a penalty phase is needed.
Prosecutors objected and appealed. Gray refused to delay the trial for that appeal. Thus testimony in the trial will resume at 9 a.m. today, May 9.
Gray's ruling came after jurors heard from several prosecution witnesses and viewed two video tapes - one which included police recovering the body of Jeremy Guillory from Langley's closet and another in which Langley matter-of-factly confesses to the slaying.
Earlier in the week prosecutors asked Gray to prohibit the victim's mother from asking jurors to spare Langley's life if the panel in fact convicts him of first-degree murder.
Assistant District Attorneys Wayne Frey, Cynthia Killingsworth and Sharon Darville Wilson filed a document Tuesday objecting to the testimony of Lorilei Guillory as a defense witness. They claim her testimony would violate a higher court ruling that bars victims' family members from expressing mercy for a defendant.
Gray was obviously taken aback by the law cited by the state. "I never thought of it (victim's mercy testimony) being prohibited," the judge, who openly opposes capital punishment, said. "It is inconceivable to me that it would not be allowed."
Gray said there are so many victim's rights laws on the books in which victims or their family members can seek their own form of justice and explain the effects of the loss of the victim. He seemed puzzled that the law wouldn't allow the victim to seek mercy if that is what is desired.
"If I can get it (the mother's testimony) in, I will," he told the lawyers.
During Thursday's morning session, the judge told prosecutors that the law they had cited was superseded by a 1998 victim's rights amendment overwhelmingly passed by Louisiana voters.
That amendment allows victims or their families to testify about what sentence they feel is appropriate for a defendant.
He asked both the state and defense attorneys to further research the matter and also asked Walt Sanchez, Ms. Guillory's attorney, to file documents formally presenting her side of the case.
The papers filed later by Sanchez said Ms. Guillory wants to take advantage of her right to speak out, but is willing to "acquiesce" if testifying would jeopardize the trial in any way.
"(Her) most fervent wish ... is that this matter be finally and swiftly resolved. She intends nothing said or done by her during the course of these proceedings to be the precipitating factor in a mistrial," Sanchez said.
Though she is willing to limit her testimony, Sanchez said, she does not agree with the state that her testimony must be restricted. There are no restrictions, Sanchez said, on the defendant's calling a member of the victim's family in mitigation.
Although it is "unduly prejudicial" for a family member of the victim to give inflammatory testimony before jurors, there is nothing to limit the victim's family from requesting mercy for a defendant, Sanchez argued.
Ms. Guillory asks to be heard, Sanchez said, but will do so within the confines of the law.
Gray noted that Ms. Guillory had complained earlier during the trial that prosecutors were not treating her fairly. Although the state had paid to return her to Louisiana from South Carolina and is paying her hotel expenses, the district attorney's office had not given her a daily expense allowance. Sanchez intervened and got Gray to order defense counsel to pay her $1,000 for living expenses since defense attorneys, as well as the state, had subpoenaed her for the trial.
She is also to be paid $25 per day per diem and reasonable expenses of any after-school day care for her younger son.
The expenses are to be re-imbursed to the defense attorneys as court costs in the case. Since Langley is indigent and his attorneys were appointed by the court, those costs will likely never be paid.
When Gray asked Frey about the 1998 amendment to which he had referred earlier in the day, the prosecutor said the amendment applies to victims in non-capital cases in which judges, not juries impose the sentence. He said the amendment allows the victim's family to recommend a specific sentence, something they had not been allowed to do before.
But, Frey said, victim's family members cannot request a penalty in a capital case because the jury, not a judge, is deciding the sentence.
Gray disagreed. He said the state was placing "this woman in a bind" by requesting that she not testify and making her feel it is her fault if the case is thrown out because she does.
She is in an "uncompromising position," the judge said. "All she wants to do is express her beliefs, and those are her beliefs and she is entitled to them," Gray said.
"She just happens to have a different view than the state," he told Frey. "You can bet if she said she wanted the death penalty, the state would be all over it" and Frey would allow her to testify.
In June of 2002 Ms. Guillory made a tearful plea to Gray, asking him to allow Langley to plead guilty to first-degree murder with a life sentence. She told him she did not believe in the death penalty which she called "legalized murder."
But Gray told her the law did not allow him to accept such a plea unless prosecutors agreed to back off on seeking a death sentence. District Attorney Rick Bryant later filed a strongly worded refusal.