ANGLETON — A Brazoria County jury spent two hours deliberating a verdict Monday in the aggravated assault trial of a former prison guard before breaking for the day without a decision.
Deliberations started about 3 p.m. in the trial of Lou Joffrion III, who is accused of using excessive force in the handling of a disruptive prisoner on Aug. 16, 2017, and causing injuries that led to the inmate’s death. Jurors were sent home at 5:15 p.m. and are scheduled to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today.
During closing arguments, the prosecution asked the jury to find Joffrion guilty of the first-degree felony charge, arguing he caused a severe liver laceration that resulted in the death of 41-year-old inmate David Witt.
“I told you in the beginning you were here to judge an act,” special prosecutor Jack Choate told the jurors Monday. “From behind those (prison) walls were surveillance cameras, and you saw everything you needed to see.”
The state argued Joffrion, a former Texas Department of Criminal Justice Darrington Unit sergeant, lost his temper when Witt wouldn’t comply with an order. As the handcuffed man continued to show defiance, Joffrion lifted Witt from behind and placed him face-first into the ground, which caused him to bleed internally and later die, the prosecution told jurors.
“Let him bear everything,” prosecutor Cindy Bridges said during her closing argument Monday afternoon. “Want to know why? One person decided to take the law into his own hands, so let him bear everything with no doubt. … My skin crawls every time someone says ‘placed him on the ground.’ This is not a game. This is a human life.”
Houston defense attorney Connie Williams said a jury cannot reasonably convict Joffrion of the charge under the law.
“Every prison guard told you, this is dangerous work,” Williams said. “An officer can use force when the officer reasonably believes there is a need for it. He had done it before with no injury and no reason to believe he knew it would cause injury. As viewed from a defendant’s standpoint, his guilt must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.”
Williams asked jurors not to put the weight of the mistakes made by multiple prison officials that day solely on the shoulders of Joffrion, who thought he was following protocol.
Several medical officials and prison guards from the Darrington Unit did not say or would not say what happened to Witt when Angleton EMS arrived on the scene three hours after the incident, Williams argued.
“Why would no guards say what was going on there? Why wasn’t that investigated?” Williams said. “It’s something you all need to consider.”
An earlier incident involving use of force on Witt by Joffrion did not result in the inmate being seriously injured, Bridges said.
“Whether he was mad at Witt … it doesn’t matter,” Bridges told jurors. “Witt is the one who got the punishment for it. … Joffrion chose that job. I know it’s dangerous, but it was his choice to accept the agreement to be trusted. It was his choice to put hands on inmate and cause Witt’s death. David Witt told him, ‘You’re not going to slam me like you did last time.’”
Deliberations will continue in the 239th District Court at the Brazoria County Courthouse, 111. E. Locust St.