Meet four-year-old Keyonta Wyatt. On September 2, by the time first responders arrived at mother’s Mansfield, Louisiana home, it was fully engulfed in flames. At first it was believed that all four residents had made it outside, but then the family noticed that little Keyonta was not there. Someone said he had gone back inside to get his toys. People said it was too late to go in after him, but Keyonta’s uncle Michael Anthony Brown could not accept that. He ran into the flaming house and emerged injured, but with his little nephew alive.
Cornered in his Lake Charles residence by a drunken and belligerent man a hundred pounds heavier, who blocked his every attempt to leave, Brown was forced to arm himself with a kitchen knife. This and several verbal warnings did not dissuade the attacker, who repeatedly rushed him, was eventually stuck, and ultimately bled to death. Brown was booked into jail for Second Degree Murder. Judge G. Michael Canaday set bond at $1.5 million.
After a preliminary examination before Judge Ronald F. Ware, Asst. DA Bobby Holmes took the case to a Calcasieu Parish grand jury who returned an indictment for Manslaughter. Finding that Brown has no felony record and posed no flight risk, Judge Ware set his Manslaughter bail at $15,000. Brown posted bond and moved to Mansfield to live with his sister, Keyonta’s mother.
If Brown’s bond had remained at $1.5 million, little Keyonta would have perished in that fire on September 2.Judge Ware recused himself from the case, and it was re-allotted to Division A, where Special Asst. DA Rick Bryant, formerly the elected DA, made no move to upgrade Brown’s charge. However, felony prosecutions in Div. A were recently taken over by Asst. DA Lori Nunn. She soon informed Brown’s attorney that unless he promptly pleads guilty to Manslaughter which carries up to forty years, then without any new evidence she will seek a Second Degree Murder indictment against Brown from a second grand jury. She gave a half-day’s notice that she was going to do this on Thursday, October 16, but Brown, who wished to testify before the grand jury, could not arrange his transportation from Mansfield on overnight notice.
In Louisiana, the mandatory penalty for Second Degree Murder is life at hard labor without any possibility of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Uniquely in Louisiana, conviction for either Second Degree Murder or Manslaughter, indeed any non-capital hard labor felony, requires only ten out of twelve jurors to agree.**
His attorney pointed out Brown’s highly-publicized heroism and that the elected district attorney John DeRosier faces a re-election challenge on November 4. Ms. Nunn agreed to re-set the grand jury, and advised that “all the grand juries are booked up until November 6.” Whether the resulting charge is Second Degree Murder or Manslaughter, Brown expects to go to trial and seek acquittal on grounds of self-defense. If he is charged with Second Degree Murder, he will not be able to afford his bail, and will remain incarcerated through trial.______________
*The author is Michael Anthony Brown’s court-appointed attorney.
**See, Alexander, “Rapper Corey Miller Case Spotlights Jury Law’s Openly Racist Origins,” https://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/rapper-corey-miller-case-spotlights-jury-laws-openly-racist-origins/