LAFAYETTE, La. — The verdict in any trial for the man accused of killing a Lafayette Police Department officer and wounding three others must be unanimous, a judge has ruled.
Ian Paul Howard's trial is set for January. He was in court Monday before 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards as his defense attorneys moved to have his trial require a unanimous verdict from a jury to declare him guilty.
Last fall, Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment that requires a unanimous verdict from juries in non-capital cases. However, the law only applies to the court cases of crimes that took place on or after Jan. 1, 2019.
According to Howard’s attorney, Stephen Singer, a legal precedent had already been established in 2018 that declared the non-unanimous verdict provision in state law unconstitutional.
In September 2018, a judge in Sabine Parish ruled in State of Louisiana vs. Melvin Cartez Maxie that Article 1, §17 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 and Article 782 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure - which allowed non-unanimous verdicts in jury trials - were unconstitutional due to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Assistant Attorney General Taylor Gray was present in Monday's hearing to represent the Attorney General’s Office and told the judge that the Maxie decision didn't set precedent for other cases, and was moot anyway because the defendant pleaded guilty.
State prosecutors were also present but said they held the same position as the attorney general.
However, the judge ultimately disagreed and recognized that the Maxie ruling did establish a legal precedent.
“I don’t have the authority to instruct a jury to make a non-unanimous verdict in this case,” said Edwards. “It’s already been declared unconstitutional. It is what it is.”
Howard, 29, has two pending cases: a first-degree murder case in the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting death of Lafayette Cpl. Michael Middlebrook - for which prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty - and in a separate case, three charges of attempted first-degree murder that involve the other alleged victims.
A trial date for those charges has been set for Jan. 21, 2020. No date has been set for his first degree murder charge trial. The state has said they plan to seek the death penalty in that trial.
Howard will be back in court on Oct. 31 when his defense counsel will determine if they wish to present an insanity defense.