ST. MARTINVILLE — It was the fake pot’s fault.
A St. Martinville man’s key defense in the shooting death of his pregnant fiance and unborn child is that synethetic marijuana caused him to go temporarily insane.
Joshua Tyler McKeel, 21, entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity for the first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of his fiancé, Hannah Parker, 19, of St. Martinville and the death of their unborn child. He entered the plea June 12.
McKeel is accused of killing Parker on Jan. 18 with a shotgun blast to the face at close range at Parker’s mother’s mobile home off Our Lady of the Lake Road in St. Martinville.
Gary Le Gros of Franklin, McKeel’s court-appointed lawyer, said McKeel was smoking synthetic marijuana before the shooting occurred, which caused involuntary intoxication. Le Gros said McKeel was not aware of the effects the substance would have on his body, so it is a case of involuntary intoxication, which is a legitimate defense.
“In this case he was smoking that fake weed thinking that he was going to get a marijuana high, and he got a lot more than he bargained for. And he went totally psychotic. And that’s my defense,” Le Gros said.
The defense lawyer said under the statute, McKeel could be found guilty of manslaughter because smoking synthetic marijuana is a misdemeanor. He said this means there was an unintentional killing while committing a misdemeanor, which is the definition of manslaughter.
“I did not enter that plea in order to try to get a not guilty” Le Gros said, later adding, “I ain’t saying he’s crazy. ... I’m not trying to say the kid’s evil twin from the planet Zorkon did it. That’s just not the case.”
Le Gros said he has not received McKeel’s toxicology reports, which could bolster or undercut his defense.
Assistant District Attorney Chester Cedars said his office would file the appropriate motions to get copies of any medical and psychological reports that are connected to the plea. Cedars said these will show if it’s appropriate to hire experts to examine the documents.
“It’s a defense, so we react to his defense,” Cedars said.
The prosecutor said the jury would ultimately decide about McKeel’s mental state at the time of the killing. Cedars said he was not aware of Le Gros’ justification for the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea. He would not speak to whether the police reports and other evidence gave any reason to believe McKeel was temporarily insane at the time of the killing.
“We will continue to prosecute the case as diligently as we can,” Cedars said, noting it does not change how he will work the case.
He said the district attorney fights psychological defenses “quite frequently.” Cedars said the defense is more often heard in major cases — homicides and rapes.
Meanwhile, Le Gros said he didn’t think the district attorney would allow McKeel to plea to a manslaughter charge. Instead, he said he must convince the jury that the killing was a case of manslaughter.
The jury could find McKeel guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter, Le Gros said, noting manslaughter carries between 2 and 40 years in prison.
Le Gros said he was “fairly confident” in this defense.