NEW ORLEANS — Jury selection began Monday in the high-stakes retrial of the Rev. Errol Victor Sr.
The prominent pastor from Reserve was convicted by a non-unanimous jury for the beating death of his 8-year-old stepson but had the conviction overturned six years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Victor was convicted in 2014 of beating and strangling 8-year-old ML Lloyd Jr. in 2008. Ten of 12 jurors voted to convict Victor, which was enough at the time to find him guilty of second-degree murder. That changed after the Ramos v. Louisiana decision ruled such split verdicts unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2020.
Victor’s wife, Tonya, the boy’s mother, was convicted of manslaughter by a unanimous jury and remains in prison.
The first trial took on a circus atmosphere as Victor fired his defense attorneys and tried to represent himself and his wife at trial. The couple was also convicted of skipping bond after failing to appear at trial in 2012. They were arrested after appearing on “America’s Most Wanted.”
Tonya Victor’s sons testified at the first trial that Errol Victor beat the boy over the course of two days, while Errol Victor’s children said their father didn’t believe in corporal punishment and it was the mother who handed out regular “whoopings.” Errol Victor argued the boy had an asthma attack when he was in a fight with his step-brothers.
The case still stirs great passion in the community. Civil rights attorneys and advocates came to the St. John the Baptist Parish Courthouse in Edgard, claiming Victor has never gotten a fair trial and won’t be able to get one now.
“A fair trial anticipates that he has competent, zealous representation and he does not have that,” said Zena Crenshaw-Logal from Louisiana United International, a nonprofit civil rights organization.
The group has been filing objections seeking to quash the charges and move the trial out of St. John, and they were joined in their efforts by New Orleans defense attorney Robert Jenkins.
Victor and his defenders also say he was improperly held in state prison for more than a year, even after his conviction was thrown out and he was ordered to be transferred to the custody of St. John the Baptist Sheriff Mike Tregre.
Tregre declined to comment on a pending case.
“The fix is in,” said Belinda Parker-Brown, CEO of Louisiana United International. “And the world needs to know, when these type of things happen to us, there is no adequate redress.”
But the victim’s biological father, ML Lloyd Sr., is supporting the prosecution. He declined to do an interview because he knows Victor is trying to get the trial moved out of St. John and he didn’t want to compromise the jury selection process, which is expected to last into Tuesday.
The two sides managed to get 18 prospective jurors in a preliminary review process Monday, but prosecutors and defense attorneys still have a chance to strike ones they don’t want on the panel. Of the 18 potential jurors, 12 were Black.
Victor’s supporters say local rivalries led to an unfair trial in 2014, but the local judges and district attorneys have all been recused from this trial. Judge Dennis Waldron from Orleans Parish is presiding as an ad-hoc judge, and the state Attorney General’s office is handling the prosecution.
The trial is expected to stretch well into next week.