BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Nearly six years after two LSU graduate students were killed, a jury has cleared the two men accused of their deaths. The jury deliberated six hours before finding Casey Gathers and Michael Lewis not guilty.
Happy family members of the two left the courthouse late Monday night following the announcement of the verdict. Gathers was reportedly released from prison, while Lewis remains locked up on other charges. Jurors said the prosecution did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"He drives a blue car and all our witnesses said he drove a white car, especially if a police officer trailing a car for 60 seconds," said defense attorney Andre Belanger. "That, coupled with Devin Parker's lies, was enough to send my client home tonight."
"I don't believe they thought that these people were innocent," said District Attorney Hillar Moore. "They just found that beyond a reasonable doubt was difficult and couldn't reach beyond a reasonable doubt, but their words were that innocence was not in the room, but they took their burden."
Both men were put in prison in 2011 when they were indicted. The third man, Devin Parker, will be sentenced next month for armed robbery in the same case.
Gathers and Lewis were on trial in the 2007 shooting deaths of Chandrasekhar Komma and Kiran Allam. The victims were both international students from India. Allam and Komma's bodies were found after what police called a home invasion of Allam's apartment on the edge of the Baton Rouge campus. Komma was a 31-year-old biology student from Kurnool and Allam was a 33-year-old chemistry student from Hyderabad.
Investigators reported they were shot in the head execution-style inside the apartment. The LSU Police Department said it received a call of about a medical emergency. Police arrived on the scene and found the two men shot, one bound with a cable.
In 2008, Gathers and Lewis were arrested in Vermilion Parish. Parker was arrested by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office on an unrelated simple robbery charge. He made a plea deal and agreed to testify during the trial.
In the arrest warrant, police said, "Devin Parker admitted that he was present with the co-defendants at the apartment complex on the LSU campus where the two murders occurred." According to the warrant, "Parker described what occurred inside...including the fact that Casey Gathers shot both of the victims."
Parker was the prosecution's key witness. He took the stand Thursday and testified he pleaded guilty to armed robbery in exchange for his testimony. He testified about drinking and doing drugs on the day of the murder. Parker said he met up with Lewis and Gathers that day and they rode around Baton Rouge before stopping at "some apartment complex."
He added they saw two men smoking on the second floor balcony and they walked upstairs to "confront" them. Parker told the jury Gathers and Lewis both had handguns and they forced the two men into Kiran Allam's apartment. He said he took Allam's wallet and cell phone just before Allam bolted for the front door.
"That's when Casey shot him in the head," Parker testified.
Prosecutor Steve Danielson questioned Parker's motives for taking the plea deal and he said his conscience had bothered him. On cross examination, defense attorney Beau Brock suggested Parker was trying to save himself.
"You lied so many times you can't remember the truth," Brock said.
Parker testified he left after the first shooting and never saw anyone tied up. Candrasekhar was found tied up by internet wires and shot execution style.