LAKE CHARLES — Kayla Giles was tried in the court of public opinion before her trial even began, and her trial attorney was negligent in not asking for a change of venue, according to Giles’ current attorney.
Jane Hogan on Tuesday argued Giles’ appeal of her Jan. 29, 2022, conviction in the murder of her estranged husband, Thomas Coutee Jr. before a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Giles shot Coutee once in his chest during a child exchange in the Walmart parking lot on Coliseum Boulevard in Alexandria. She claimed she shot him in self defense because she was scared of him.
He died at the scene.
A jury rejected that claim and found her guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. She is serving a life sentence plus 30 year.
The case was prosecuted by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office after the Rapides District Attorney’s Office recused itself not long after the shooting because DA Phillip Terrell once had represented Coutee’s father in another legal matter.
Hogan called coverage by The Town Talk and KALB “extensive” and said it hindered the ability for Giles to get a fair trial in Rapides Parish. Her trial attorney, George Higgins III, should have requested that the trial be moved.
Coverage wasn’t just about the shooting, but was about Giles herself, said Hogan. She referenced stories about the Pineville house where the couple used to live being destroyed by fire and Giles’ October 2020 arrest on identity theft and other charges.
But Judge Shannon Gremillion asked Hogan if Higgins’ strategy had been to hold the trial in Alexandria, that he had stated he wanted the trial held locally.
Hogan agreed, but still said he should have asked for a change in venue because the entire pool of potential jurors was tainted. She said many had stated they knew about the case from the local news and some had said they already decided she was guilty.
She said only four people who ended up as jurors said they had no knowledge of the case.
She mentioned three people in particular, but J. Taylor Gray, representing the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, said all of those people were rehabilitated through questioning or said they could be fair and follow the law.
Hogan also said Giles’ trial defense team should have consulted an expert on intimate partner violence because of the couple’s history.
Thomas Coutee Jr. slaying: Wife served court order before deadly Louisiana Walmart shooting
Giles and Coutee were in the middle of a divorce and, just a day before the slaying, Giles was served with court papers because Coutee wanted a new trial concerning custody of their daughter, who turned 2 on the day he was killed.
Hogan said Giles told the detective interviewing her after the shooting no fewer than 20 times that she was scared of Coutee.
Gremillion again questioned Hogan, asking her if it was true there were no police reports filed by Giles regarding alleged abuse.
Hogan said there were two reports filed by Coutee. He wasn’t alleging abuse, she said, but he wanted a record during a “contentious” child custody case.
She also said Giles moved into a condo because Coutee was stalking her and that Coutee was known to carry a weapon. She said the best evidence at trial was the surveillance video that showed the shooting from a distance.
But Gray said there was no evidence to prove Giles was abused, only her own “self-serving statements” after her arrest. He contended the best evidence at trial wasn’t the surveillance video, but instead were the records pulled from her cellphone and laptop that showed her intention.
“She had been planning this for weeks,” said Gray.
He told the panel there was nothing to show the jury pool was tainted by media coverage and no record of abuse.
Gremillion asked him if there was evidence that Giles was the aggressor.
Gray responded that testimony and forensics evidence showed Giles was outside of her vehicle when Coutee was shot, so Gremillion asked him what he thought the video showed.
Gray said, while difficult to see, it showed Coutee casually walking toward Giles’ vehicle. There was no “lunge” or anything that would show Coutee was charging Giles, he said.
Gremillion then asked Gray what he thought about Hogan’s post-verdict motion for a new trial being denied by 9th Judicial District Court Judge Greg Beard before Giles’ sentencing.
Hogan filed that motion and another one for a post-verdict acquittal. Both were denied.
Gray said he viewed Hogan’s motion for a new trial as the “defense attempting to get a second bite at the apple,” bringing up claims that Giles was abused after her “stand your ground” defense failed.
The trial court did not make a mistake in denying that motion, he said.
Hogan, in her rebuttal, said there at least should have been a hearing so that the intimate partner violence expert could have testified.
As far as her motion for a new trial, Hogan said it could be sent back to the district court for a hearing regarding the pretrial media coverage.
In addition to Gremillion, judges Van H. Kyzar and Sharon D. Wilson heard arguments. A decision was not immediately issued.
This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Kayla Giles’ attorney appeals conviction in Thomas Coutee Jr. murder