Before the testimony began on Wednesday, Judge Thomas F. Fuselier told family members of the defendant, who were sitting in the front row, just behind Lafleur, not to talk to the defendant. The judge said court rules prohibit such contact, and that “you will be arrested or escorted out of here,” if the contact persisted.
The first witness on that day was Jeannie Malee Fontenot, the girlfriend of the defendant, who was living with him at the defendant’s house on Peach Street in Ville Platte on Friday, May 6, 2011, when the crime occurred. They had lived together for about a year and a half, she said.
She said she went to TAT Nails about 11 a.m. on that day, just before Mothers’ Day weekend, and spent four hours there because there were a lot of customers already waiting when she got there.
She testified that because of the volume of customers, she was aware that the business was “making a lot of money,” and that it was “dumb they weren’t locking up” the money.
Answering a question from the prosecuting attorney, Tim Fontenot, after a long pause, she said she communicated with the defendant, Lafleur, about robbing TAT Nails. The witness also testified, in response to the prosecuting attorney’s question, that Lafleur had complained in the past about money problems.
She said she didn’t talk with Lafleur any more about robbing the nail salon, and that she and Lafleur drove past TAT Nails, on Main Street, on the way to Walmart. On the way back from Walmart, they turned off LaSalle and Lafleur found a location where he could park the car and then go to the nail salon.
They then went to the Peach Street house. He left while she cooked dinner. She said he arrived back at the house at about 8:30 p.m. and constantly walked through the house. “I asked, ‘What happened, what happened,’” she said. “He yelled at me,” she said, adding that he told her he didn’t want to talk about it.
Answering the prosecutor’s questions, she said Lafleur was wearing a grey T-shirt and had no shoes on. Later during her testimony, she was shown a photograph of the crime scene, showing a single shoe. She said that was one of a pair of work shoes she had bought Lafleur.
Finally, Lafleur “said he just shot someone,” she said. “He said he shot the man in the nail place,” she said as she lost her composure.
She then was asked if the man she was with was in the courtroom, and she pointed to Lafleur.
She testified that Lafleur put money on the bed and told her to count it. She said it amounted to more than $800. “I asked why he shot the man in the nail place and he said, “the shooting victim” -- the owner of TAT Nails -- “grabbed him and wouldn’t let go.”
The witness said Lafleur took some of the money, and went to a different part of the house, where another suspect in the case, Denzel Frank was, and gave him some of the money.
Lafleur’s former girlfriend, who was released from jail on a $10,000 bond, faces trial next month.
Fontenot, the witness, said Lafleur then left with Frank, and she didn’t see Lafleur until the next morning -- Saturday, May 7 -- at about 5 a.m., as she was preparing to go to work.
She said they didn’t talk about the crime that took place the night before. She said about 10:30 a.m. that day, she called Lafleur after hearing people at work talking about the crime. “He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Asked if Lafleur contacted her after the arrests were made, she said Lafleur’s mother got the three of them on several three-way phone calls.
She testified that she was told, during the first call, if she loved Lafleur she wouldn’t send him to jail, and, “I said I couldn’t lie.” After that, “He just got mad... yelling at me,” she said. “You do what you have to do,” she said she told him, “and I’ll do what I have to do.”
She said there were several similar calls, and attempted calls, until she changed her phone number.
The defense attorney asked if police intimidated her by telling her she might not see her 16-year-old son for a very long time if she goes to jail, and whether her testimony could affect her trial next month. She said of her testimony: “It’s the truth is all I have to say, even if I have to go to jail.”
The next witness on Wednesday was Thao Thi Thanh Le, the widow of the TAT Nails owner, Tuc Do, who was shot and died during the armed robbery. An interpreter seated in front of the witness chair, facing the jury was sworn in just before Le was sworn in, with the interpreter’s help.
She testified she and her husband were in the nail salon with three customers about 8:10 or 8:15 p.m. on May 6, 2011, when a customer yelled. She said she saw a man at the front glass door. Earlier testimony from the customers indicated Do locked the front door as it was getting dark. Le and the three customers, who testified during the first day of the trial, on Tuesday, June 19, ran through doorways to other rooms in the nail salon. She said she turned around to see the man shooting through the locked door to gain entrance to the salon, then demanding money.
She said she heard two more shots, then came out of the room where she was hiding and saw her husband standing and facing the robber, who was holding a gun in one hand and holding the cash drawer in his other hand. She said she saw her husband, while also holding on to the cash drawer, shot in the chest. She also testified that her husband tried to hold the robber by the leg and the robber, “turned around and shot him,” the interpreter said.
Le quietly wept when she was shown a photograph of her late husband after he was shot. Judge Fuselier said she could “take all the time she needs,” before being asked any more questions.
The prosecutor’s last questions mostly involved the robber’s appearance, before the defense attorney began his line of questioning.
The defense attorney, Alex Chapman, asked Le about a statement she made last November regarding the shirt the robber was wearing when her husband was shot. The interpreter said her reply was that the shooting “happened so sudden” she could not be sure what the robber was wearing. Following another question about the November 18 statement, there was a long pause, and then the defense attorney withdrew the question.
The next witness was Frank, who is charged with driving Lafleur from TAT Nails after it was robbed. Frank, who has a December trial date, came into court in handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit. Frank said Lefleur picked him up from his residence about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., on May 6, and drove past TAT Nails, then parked behind the salon. Frank said Lafleur told him he was going to the “nail shop” and told Frank to get in the driver’s seat.
Frank said he heard gunshots and then Lafleur came back to the car and said, “I hit him.” Asked by prosecutor Fontenot what was his interpretation of “hit,” Frank said he assumed that meant shot because he heard the gunshots. Then Lafleur said, “Go,” Frank testified.
He said he drove north on Reed Street and that Lafleur threw out of the car, first a cash drawer, then a bandana he had been wearing to cover his mouth and nose, and then a shoe. “I only saw one shoe,” Frank said
Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue testified on the first day of the trial, on June 19, that a cash drawer and a bandana were found on Reed Street the morning after the robbery and shooting.
Frank said he drove to Lafleur’s house on Peach Street, where Lafleur’s girlfriend was. While Frank ate what she had cooked, he said Lafleur gave him more than $200 and said “‘Don’t say nothing,’” Frank testified. He said they left the house together and then “he brought me home,” Frank said.
Coverage of this trial will continue as it progresses. Watch for more information in Sunday’s Gazette.