A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday night (Oct. 21) found Lanard Lavigne guilty as charged of the second-degree murder of Kerwin Conner in their Kenner neighborhood.
Lavigne, 25, also was convicted as charged of aggravated criminal damage to property, for the damage his 9mm bullets caused to occupied apartments as he chased Conner during the March 14, 2018 crime.
Although armed with a revolver, Conner, 36, fled for his life, running 175 yards in the 300 block of Clemson Drive as Lavigne pursued him, according to evidence presented to jurors. In all, Lavigne fired 14 bullets at the fleeing Conner.
Conner ran to the safety of his apartment, where his wife and 9-year-old daughter were inside. As Conner stood at the front door, Lavigne fired four bullets. Projectiles struck Connor’s thighs, severing his left and right femoral arteries and causing him to bleed to death, according to trial evidence.
“In fact, he thought so little about taking that life that he complained about it messing up his plans to get a GED” during his interrogation by Kenner Police Detective Nicholas Engler, Assistant District Attorney Douglas Rushton told jurors in closing argument. “It’s disgusting.”
The killing originated with a dispute that occurred minutes earlier. Conner and another man were outside on Clemson Drive when one of them apparently cat-called Lavigne’s girlfriend as she walked by, according to evidence presented at trial.
Lavigne, who was armed with his pistol, later confronted the men, leading Conner to run to his nearby apartment to retrieve a pistol. He returned to the scene of the confrontation, but there was no evidence that he threatened Lavigne.
Much of the entire incident was recorded by residential security cameras. Following the murder, Lavigne fled to Houma, where he was arrested by a U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in October 2018.
Lavigne’s attorney argued that it was a justifiable homicide, in that his client was defending himself. As such, he urged jurors to acquit Lavigne of second-degree murder or, in the alternative, to find his client guilty of manslaughter.
Although he armed himself with a pistol, Conner was not the aggressor, and there was no evidence showing that he fired at Lavigne or even pointed it at him, prosecutors argued. Further, he fled for his life and sought the safety of his home. “That threat is over,” Rushton argued. “There’s no imminent danger.”
Connor’s pistol was never recovered, meaning an unknown person committed a felony obstruction of justice for the act, prosecutors told jurors.
Just before jury selection began on Monday, Lavigne pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He admitted to removing his pistol from the scene.
Jurors deliberated about 4 ½ hours before returning their verdicts at 7:15 p.m. Judge June Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Lavigne on Dec. 6. Second-degree murder carries a sentence of mandatory life in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Tucker Wimberly prosecuted the case with ADA Rushton.
With the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting governmental actions this year, Lavigne’s was the 20th jury trial in Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District Court so far in 2021.
It also was the second homicide case that was resolved during the week. On Tuesday (Oct. 19), Alex Travers Sanders, 42, of Kenner, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 40 years in prison by Judge Scott Schlegel. Averting his trial for second-degree murder that was scheduled to begin last week, he admitted to fatally beating his girlfriend, Amy Cancienne, 37, on Nov. 12, 2017.
Assistant District Attorney Kellie Rish prosecuted Sanders.