A Jefferson Parish judge on Friday (April 8) sentenced Vincent Medearis to five years in prison for his conviction of killing his inebriated coworker with a lethal chokehold in a Kenner hotel room two years ago.
The Friday morning sentencing hearing came about 18 hours after a jury found Medearis guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Isaias Fino, 39, of Goodyear, Ariz. Five years is the maximum sentence for negligent homicide under Louisiana law.
Medearis, 58, of Phoenix, Ariz., was charged with manslaughter. The jury deliberated about 2 ½ hours before returning with the negligent homicide verdict Thursday night. In doing so, jurors rejected Medearis’ self-defense claims.
In a victim-impact letter read aloud in court, Fino’s sisters asked for the maximum sentence. Although Fino was vilified in testimony during the trial, his sisters described him as the “kindhearted” father of a 5-year-old daughter whose death left “a void in (his mother’s) heart.”
Medearis expressed regret for his actions and asked Fino’s family to forgive him.
The men were employed by an Arizona-based roofing company and were in the New Orleans area for work, according to evidence presented at trial. They were staying in a hotel in the 2600 block of Williams Boulevard.
According to testimony, Fino, a foreman known among his subordinates for his obnoxious and abrasive personality, was drunk when about 9 p.m., on March 5, 2020, he went to a hotel room that Medearis shared with a roommate.
Hostile horseplay led to a physical altercation between Fino and the roommate, and then between Medearis and Fino, according to testimony. Medearis held Fino in a chokehold. The roommate told him to stop as Fino coughed and wheezed, according to testimony. Medearis told his roommate to report Fino’s behavior to their boss.
The roommate left the room to summon their boss, and when he returned, Fino was dead. Medearis remained on scene and called 911, according to testimony.
When Kenner Police Department Detective Nick Engler arrived at the hotel room, he found Medearis standing at the foot of the bed, smoking a cigarette and looking down on the body, the officer testified. In his statement to Detective Engler, Medearis said he held Fino in a chokehold until he stopped coughing and his body went limp.
Medearis’ chokehold caused a fracture in Fino’s thyroid cartilage. Fino died of asphyxia due to manual strangulation. Fino’s blood-alcohol content was .29 percent, more than three times over the legal limit to drive in Louisiana, according to evidence presented at trial.
Medearis, who had no violent criminal history, testified Thursday that he held Fino in a chokehold to restrain him. His attorneys argued that he was defending himself and asserted that the high alcohol content in Fino’s body could have hastened his death.
Prosecutors conceded that Medearis acted in the heat of blood, an element of manslaughter. But in holding Fino in a chokehold, Medearis had specific intent to inflict great bodily harm that led to Fino’s death, another element of manslaughter.
The prosecutors also argued that Medearis was guilty under the misdemeanor-manslaughter doctrine: Medearis was committing a simple battery when he caused Fino’s death.
Negligent homicide is defined as the killing of a human being by criminal negligence. Criminal negligence exists “there is such disregard of the interest of others that the offender’s conduct amounts to a gross deviation below the standard of care expected to be maintained by a reasonably careful man under like circumstances.”
“You held him long enough that you choked the life out of him,” Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court told Medearis in announcing the sentence.
Assistant District Attorneys Christina Fisher and Joshua Vanderhooft prosecuted the case.