Times-Picayune: Trial starts in Gretna killing

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Trial starts in Gretna killing

Suspect accused of ambush from attic

The Times-Picayune/2004-07-15

By Paul Purpura

Testimony began Wednesday in the trial of a Madisonville man accused of shooting a longtime acquaintance in the victim's Gretna home last year.

Charles Allen, 25, faces spending the rest of his life in prison if a Jefferson Parish jury convicts him of second-degree murder in the death of Jario Pinzon, 48, a native of Columbia who was shot seven times in his home at 913 11th St. on Sept. 24. Judge Stephen Windhorst of the 24th Judicial District is presiding.

The motive for the killing is in question. Prosecutor Donnie Rowan said Allen broke into Pinzon's home, hid in his attic and opened fire with two pistols through an opening in the ceiling as Pinzon passed underneath.

Pinzon was hit seven times, and although he was able to call 911 and speak to the Gretna police officers at his home, he died several hours later at Charity Hospital never knowing who shot him, Rowan said. "This was, in fact, an incident that was planned," Rowan said in opening statements.

Defense attorney Davidson Ehle told the jury that manslaughter is the more appropriate charge, suggesting that his client was driven to kill because Pinzon was manipulating events in his life. For one thing, Ehle said, Allen suspected that Pinzon had something to do with his wife leaving him. Pinzon taught Allen carpentry, and the two men partnered by installing cabinets and doors for Home Depot, until their partnership fell apart because Allen became better at the trade, Ehle said.

"It builds to a point where Charles believes he was being threatened by Jario and a number of other people," Ehle said, not naming the others.

Allen's and Pinzon's families had known each other for years, a relationship stemming from their membership in a religious cult known as The Family, Ehle said. Allen's father asked Pinzon to teach his son carpentry, which Pinzon did, the defense attorney said.

Allen was considered a suspect when he voluntarily gave an officer his .45-caliber and 9 mm pistols, Gretna police Detective Dana Parker testified. Ballistics tests confirmed that those guns were used to kill Pinzon, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office firearms expert Louise Walzer testified. Gretna police arrested Allen on Oct. 3, at Pinzon's funeral in St. Charles Parish.

Testimony, which continues today, bogged down as attorneys argued about whether the jury would hear Allen's tape-recorded confession to Gretna police Detectives Eric Becnel and Richard Russ.

With the jury out of the courtroom, Allen testified that Becnel disregarded his request for a lawyer. Allen also testified that the detectives said he would be charged with manslaughter if he gave a statement.

Becnel denied making the offer, saying he thought first-degree murder was the appropriate charge. Becnel also testified that he offered to contact a lawyer for Allen.

Windhorst then denied Ehle's request to keep the taped confession from the jury, saying he was "favorably impressed" with Becnel's testimony while Allen understood but voluntarily waived his right to remain silent.

"He's clearly not an ignorant individual," Windhorst said of Allen. "But he did proceed to give a statement."