ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. — A St. John the Baptist pastor whose 2014 murder conviction was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court last year is now running for Congress from his jail cell in central Louisiana while he waits for a new trial.
Errol Victor Sr., 54, qualified Thursday to run as a Republican in the 5th Congressional District for the seat left vacant when Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died of complications from COVID-19 before he could take office.
Victor is one of 12 candidates as of Friday afternoon who have qualified to run for the seat in a special election March 20. Letlow’s widow, Julia Letlow, is widely considered a frontrunner for the seat.
Victor was charged with murder in 2008 following the death of his 8-year-old stepson, M.L. Lloyd III. That began a six-year case against Victor and his wife Tonya, the mother of the child. The couple had to be re-indicted in 2010 because of a conflict of interest for the judge. The couple later fired their attorneys and Victor, who is not an attorney, represented them. They then allegedly skipped out on their trial.
They were arrested again in Georgia in 2012 after they were profiled on “America’s Most Wanted.” Finally at trial in 2014, Tonya Victor was found guilty of manslaughter by a unanimous jury and Errol Victor was found guilty of second-degree murder, but on a split, 10-2, jury verdict.
After spending almost six years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2019 found nonunanimous juries unconstitutional, leading the high court to vacate Victor’s conviction in May 2020 and send the case back to state court.
Because of a web of connections and recusals in St. John the Baptist Parish, the state attorney general stepped in to handle Victor’s prosecution in 2014 and has picked up the case again in 2020. Assistant Attorney General Grant Willis argued that Victor should continue to be held without bail because he was previously convicted of out-of-state bail jumping for failing to appear for his first trial in 2011.
Victor's appeal for reinstatement of bail was denied by a three-judge panel in May 2020.
But there is confusion about where Victor should be held pending a new trial. St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre told WWL-TV, “He’s still in the custody of the Department of Corrections.” But Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said Victor was released back to St. John’s custody last year after the conviction was vacated.
Tregre said Victor is being held at Catahoula Correctional Center in Harrisonburg because St. John’s jail is a medium-security facility and Tregre said Victor must be held in a high-security facility. Victor’s family and the NAACP chapter in St. John have been calling for Victor to be housed closer to St. John to prepare his defense.
Victor is running for Congress in the northeast Louisiana district where he’s now in jail, the 5th Congressional District, even though his church and home before his arrest were in Reserve, which is in the 2nd Congressional District.
But WWL Political Analyst Clancy DuBos says to qualify to run for Congress, it doesn’t matter where Victor lives as long as it’s in the state of Louisiana. Also, DuBos says the ruling by the Supreme Court means Victor has not been convicted of a felony and is free to run for office.
"From a practical standpoint, being in a jail cell is a serious impediment to him campaigning, but it is not an impediment legally to him qualifying for the race," DuBos said.
Victor's campaign spokesman, JL Lazu, said the pastor's long fight against the courts and legal system make him the right candidate for the 5th District, even though he's never lived there freely.
"He was a very successful businessman prior to his imprisonment, a pastor of a church well known in the community that he lived in," Lazu said. "And because of that and his experience that he's gone through the judicial system, it really speaks volumes to a lot of the people in District Five."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Victor had been acquitted of out-of-state bail jumping. He was actually convicted in 2013 and sentenced to three years in prison for that charge.