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Reserve pastor guilty in killing of stepson in 2008

It's the second time Errol Victor has been convicted of the killing of his stepson ML Lloyd Jr. But this time, it was unanimous.

EDGARD, La. — It took a jury about two hours to convict a prominent pastor of second-degree murder for a second time in the 2008 beating death of his 8-year-old stepson.

And this time, the verdict was unanimous.

The Rev. Errol Victor Sr. sat silently in a gray suit and maroon tie, as he listened to Judge Dennis Waldron read the verdict: Guilty as charged for murdering 8-year-old ML Lloyd in 2008

Lloyd’s biological father, ML Lloyd Sr., said his son finally got justice as the second verdict confirmed the first from 2014.

“You can’t beat a child and ride off into the sunset like you didn’t do anything wrong,” Lloyd said. “It may take time, but justice will always prevail.

Victor’s defense attorney Claiborne Brown said he would appeal the verdict when Victor is sentenced next week.

“Very disappointed,” Brown said. “Still processing it and we’re gonna look over our options.”

Victor had to be retried because the jury that convicted him in 2014 was split, 10-2. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous verdicts in serious criminal cases – which existed only in Louisiana and Oregon -- were unconstitutional.

Victor’s son, Emmanuel, argued his father shouldn’t have had to go back to trial once his first conviction was thrown out.

“Thousands of people are in jail right now behind these 10-2 (verdicts). That’s bogus. In any other state those people would be free,” he said.

But in other states, a split verdict would not have meant acquittal, only a hung jury and the option for the state to retry the case anyway. Victor petitioned the Supreme Court for a new trial in 2020 and it was granted. His subsequent attempts to argue that a new trial amounted to double jeopardy have been unsuccessful.

Moments before the verdict Wednesday, Victor and the leaders of Louisiana United International, a civil and human rights group, filed a petition in Baton Rouge seeking to block the trial by arguing that by retrying Victor, the state of Louisiana was engaged in "vindictive criminal prosecution... fueled by racial animus."

The jury that convicted Victor unanimously on Wednesday was comprised of six Black and six White jurors. Eight were men and four were women.

During closing arguments Wednesday morning, John Russell from the Attorney General’s Office told the jury that Victor administered the boy a savage beating over two days because he had stolen an ice cream.

“He whipped ML until the little boy died,” Russell said in a 100-minute closing argument.

The boy’s mother, Tonya Victor, was tried alongside her husband in 2014 and was found guilty of manslaughter. She was convicted unanimously and is still in prison. She testified Tuesday that she was the one who whipped her son, and that Errol Victor wasn’t even there at the time.

The couple had a blended family of 13 boys. Eight were Errol Victor’s biological sons. They testified their father had a “no whipping policy.”

“My mom did it, she said she did it,” Emmanuel Victor said after the verdict. “They’re not listening to her. They don’t care about law down here.”

But four of Tonya Victor’s sons testified that Errol Victor did the “vast majority” of the whipping of ML Lloyd the night of March 31, 2008, and more on the morning of April 1, 2008. They also said he called his biological sons to help administer the beating with a belt.

Russell, the lead prosecutor, reminded jurors that an emergency room nurse and doctor both testified that the boy arrived at the hospital with no pulse and a low body temperature. Russell cited testimony that Errol Victor had sent his sons to get six bags of ice and put ML Lloyd’s limp body in a bathtub with some of the ice before bringing him to the hospital.

Jurors also heard testimony from the detective on the original murder investigation, Christe Chauvin, about how the Victors bonded out of jail and failed to show up at their trial in 2011. Chauvin appeared on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" in 2012, which led immediately to a tip that the couple was living in Georgia.

When the Victors were arrested and went before the judge in Tipton, Ga., to be extradited back to Louisiana, Errol Victor testified he was not actually Errol Victor, but the judge didn't believe him, Russell said in his closing.

"The nurse didn't fall for it, the doctor didn't fall for it, the judge in Georgia didn't fall for it," Russell said to the jury. "Don't you fall for it."

A fight broke out in the courthouse hallway Tuesday between Errol’s sons and Tonya’s sons, so Sheriff’s Deputies in tactical gear followed them at all times during Wednesday’s tense closing session, making sure they stayed separated in the courtroom and during breaks.

In his closing arguments, Brown said the state hadn’t proved that a beating actually killed ML Lloyd. He reminded jurors of photographs in evidence showing what appeared to be a bite on the boy from what could have been a snake. He also put forward a theory that the boy could have died from a blood clot.

He argued the initial coroner’s report from three weeks after Lloyd’s death should have been sufficient to prove there had been no severe beating, because it specified the boy had a large bruise “without other associated signs of impact injury.” But the pathologist later issued two separate death certificates in May 2008 that Brown said “got progressively more inculpatory toward Mr. Victor.”

Waldron, a retired judge from New Orleans, presided in the case because the local judges had conflicts. The St. John Parish district attorney also recused from the case, which was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office.

Waldron is scheduled to sentence Victor next week, and he faces life in prison without parole.

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