Apr 11, 2011 7:16 PM by Melissa Hawkes
After serving more than 16 years in Angola Prison, a St. Martinville man wants the murder he was found guilty of re-tried.
The murder happened in 1995. Jeff Haggins was 17 when he stabbed Karl Chastant outside a St. Martinville bar. Haggins was sentenced to life in prison in December 1996.
Officials say five years ago, Haggins was told there may have been juror misconduct.
Criminal defense attorney, Richard Spears, said it's not a question of his guilt, but whether the punishment he was given fits the crime. Spears said his client had no intention of killing, instead he acted out of a heat of passion.
"He got into a discussion about his racial background with a 38 year-old man who called him some racial words, which led to my client losing his temper," Spears explained.
Haggins stabbed his victim and killed him. He has been living in a Louisiana State Penitentiary since 1996.. A few years ago, Haggins discovered he may have been cheated out of a fair trial.
"The parents ran into this juror," he said. "She recognized them and said there's something I've been hiding in my chest for 16 years that I'd like to tell you about."
According to a court document, after all twelve jurors couldn't reach a decision, they approached the judge asking for a mistrial. The judge advised they discuss it further, which led to two jurors changing their verdicts from not guilty of murder to guilty.
Spears said, "if their vote was based on their personal need to get out of there, if they switched their vote, it'd be improper."
The jury could have decided to find Haggins guilty of the lesser sentence of manslaughter.
"The judge would have been able to sentence anywhere between 10 to 40 years in prison," he explained. "with murder it's automatic life in prison, lets say the judge had sentenced him to 20 years-- he might almost be done."
The case will be heard before a St. Martin Parish judge within 90 days to decide whether or not a re-trial will be granted.