Submitted by Ruston Leader
Sometimes closure begins in the jury box.
Consider the case of 59-year-old Vincent D. Roberson. He’s the man now convicted of killing a Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s K-9 officer in August of 2018.
From the start, the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s office indicated it was going to throw the proverbial book at Roberson. So, rather than charging him with killing of a police animal, Roberson was charged with aggravated cruelty to an animal.
The reason: It carries a potentially higher penalty.
Not surprisingly, Roberson pled not guilty. Eight months and five days after Sgt. Boco died, jury selection began.
Boco was a Belgian Malinois that had been with the LPSO for three years. Twice, he saved his handler’s life, once outright during a traffic stop, and again during a manhunt for Roberson. That night, Boco saved other deputies, too.
Roberson began his spree on the afternoon of Aug. 17, when he allegedly shot his girlfriend in the head, jumped in his truck and drove to the Chandler Road area of Lincoln Parish.
There he ditched the truck and ran, prompting a manhunt that went until after dark.
That’s where Boco came in. Officers had Roberson hemmed up, yelled at him to come or they would release a K-9. Roberson didn’t. The officers did and five or six gunshots followed. Then nothing. Until they found Boco’s body at 3:45 the next morning.
Though Roberson had surrendered around midnight, deputies refused to leave without their fellow officer, never mind that officer was an animal.
On Aug. 30, 2018, there was a community memorial service for Boco, attended by more 150 law enforcement officers and first responders, along with several hundred local residents.
In February of this year, Boco was named the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association’s Pet of the Year for his service.
Yet when 3rd District Judge Jeff Robinson asked the first 15 prospective jurors for Roberson’s April 22 trial if they heard or read anything about Roberson’s case, they said no. Boco’s name wasn’t mentioned.
Later, under questioning from Lewis Jones, chief felony prosecutor for the 3rd Judicial District, the panel agreed killing a K-9 officer was, to them, tantamount to killing a human officer — even if the shooter believed himself to innocent.
Then Jones projected a list of potential witnesses on a big-screen TV. It was same list Robinson had read from his notes earlier, when he asked potential jurors whether they knew any of the people personally. To which all said no.
But Jones’ list had one more name. Boco. It was at the top of the PowerPoint slide, squarely in front of the would-be jurors. That was the first time Boco’s name had appeared that day.
Within minutes, three of the potential jurors said they knew about the case after all.
One said he’s made up his mind; another said she had probably made up her mind, too. Jones asked them not to say what they had concluded.
Right before court adjourned for lunch, Roberson decided, or was persuaded by his lawyer, to plead guilty. Around 1:30 p.m. he did.
All that’s left now is sentencing. That’s scheduled for June 11.
In the end, no jury was empaneled and there was no trial. You could say it was Jones’ skillfully crafted questions about whether killing a human or an animal or a police K-9 was ever justified that helped thwart a full-blown trial. Likely, you wouldn’t be wrong.
But really, one printed word may have done it: Boco. Boco died doing what he was trained to do, taking a command from a handler he trusted, surrounded by human coworkers he loved.
Love never fails nor does it pass away.
Nancy Bergeron is reporter for the Daily Leader. She covers the City of Ruston. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.