HOUMA, La. Prosecutors say they will argue for life imprisonment in the case against a Chauvin truck driver accused of gunning down his girlfriend and their toddler in January.
The Terrebonne Parish District Attorney's Office is obliging relatives of shooting victims Maria Elizabeth Chavez, 26, and son, Tyari Smith Jr., 2, who urged prosecutors against seeking the death penalty, said Carlos Lazarus, first assistant district attorney.
The relatives live in California and spoke with prosecutors by phone, he said.
'This office is very much attuned to the wishes of the family, and our decision not to seek the death penalty was based in large part on that,' Lazarus said.
Tyari Smith Sr., 32, shot his longtime girlfriend and their son Jan. 7 at the La. 56 home they shared just north of the Smithridge Bridge, according to the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office. SWAT team officers arrested Smith the afternoon of the slaying on St. Matt Street in Montegut.
Smith was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder this month. He pleaded not guilty to the charges Feb. 12.
Relatives of Smith were relieved to know he won't face death if convicted. They describe Smith as dedicated to Chavez and their children.
'He loved that little boy. He really loved him,' said Smith's mother, Lisha Price. 'I don't know what happened in his mind.'
Smith was scheduled to go to trial on drug-possession and -distribution charges in St. Tammany Parish the week after the shooting, authorities said.
Smith's is the second first-degree murder case this month in which the Terrebonne District Attorney's Office has had to decide which penalty under state law life imprisonment or death to pursue.
Prosecutors announced Feb. 5 they planned to pursue death against William Henderson, 23, of Chauvin, who is accused of killing his girlfriend's baby in October.
Lazarus said each case has its own set of circumstances that factor into the decision.
'It's so fact intensive that it's hard to say that there's one defining thing as to why things are done,' Lazarus said. 'Every case is completely different.'
Capital cases include a trial and, if a conviction is handed down, a penalty phase in which the prosecutors present evidence and argue for death.
'That's a battle that doesn't need to be fought, especially if the family doesn't want to fight it,' Lazarus said.