Parish murder trial begins today

Published 12:37 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

VIDALIA — Following a day of questioning prospective jurors on their views of interracial, homosexual sex, opening statements in the trial of a Natchez man accused of killing a Monterey man are expected to begin today.

Judge Kathy Johnson swore the eight-woman, four-man jury Monday after a day of frank questioning from both the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

Concordia Parish District Attorney Brad Burget and Alexandria-based defense attorney Darrell Hickman spent the day seeking to discern whether prospective jurors were capable of looking past the circumstances that allegedly brought the defendant and the victim together.

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A parish grand jury indicted George E. Byrd, a 26-year-old black man, 422 Dumas Drive, Apt. B, on a charge of second degree murder in August.

Byrd is accused of killing John Perritt, a 63-year-old white man, who was found dead under a blanket outside of his residence. Someone working in the area had smelled an odor and found the blanket with a human foot protruding from it.

During the jury selection process, questions from Burget and Hickman focused on an alleged sexual relationship between the defendant and victim.

Burget asked if anyone selected would have trouble listening to testimony about interracial homosexual sex.

“Mr. Perritt would pay young black men to have sex with him,” he said. “What I lose sleep over at night is that someone will think, ‘He lived a dangerous lifestyle, so oh well, it does not matter.’

“Just because he was engaged in a certain lifestyle does not mean his life is worth less.”

Burget said homosexuality is not what’s on trial, it is whether or not Byrd killed him.

“Mr. Perritt and Mr. Byrd had sex, but that’s not what this is all about,” he said. “That’s how these two souls came together.”

Hickman asked juror candidates similar questions.

“Would you have a problem with someone being on the down low?” Hickman asked. “That’s someone who acts straight but practices homosexual activity.”

Hickman also asked the candidates about someone in a heterosexual relationship sneaking out to engage in homosexual acts. Many juror candidates said that it wasn’t any different from a man cheating on a woman with another woman.

Hickman, an admitted fan of the television show Star Trek, instructed the potential jurors that Byrd had a force shield of innocence like the starship Enterprise had against weapons.

“Mr. Burget is an invading Klingon, and he’s going to shoot phasers and torpedoes in the form of evidence and testimony. At the end of the day, if my client’s shield is still standing, will you have any trouble finding him not guilty?” Hickman said about the district attorney’s burden of beyond a reasonable doubt.

When many potential jurors said they’d like to see the defendant tell his side of the story, Hickman said Byrd may or not testify, as he has the right to remain silent.

Burget said he took responsibility of his burden of reasonable doubt seriously.

“I have to prove he killed Perritt with specific intent,” he said. “I want you to hold me to that. I want you to make me do my job.”

Byrd had originally been arrested in June after a nine-month investigation by the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office on an original charge of first-degree murder.

A first-degree murder charge typically involves a killing done with the specific intent to kill with an aggravating circumstance, usually the commission of certain other crimes. Second-degree murder is defined simply as the killing of a person done with the intent to kill.

Byrd was indicted with two other men in August.

James H. Anderson Jr., 23, 342 Old Washington Road, was indicted on a charge of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder, and Desmond D. Washington, 28, 422 Watts Ave., was indicted on a charge of intimidating a witness.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today. Burget projected the trial would last until Thursday.