- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated a man’s kidnapping conviction in the disappearance of a woman authorities believe was killed after stealing cocaine from a drug dealer.

Chadwick McGhee was among four people convicted of kidnapping Jessica Guillot (GEE-oh) in September 2013 from Avoyelles Parish. No one reported seeing the woman killed and her body was never found, so prosecutors could not charge anyone with murder. But one witness gave gruesome testimony about hearing her being choked and beaten.

That witness, who cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, testified that she was a passenger in the front of an SUV when ringleader Asa Bentley dragged Guillot into the back and attacked her, according to an appeal court record. The record said the witness reported she “did not see anything because she was texting her sister and did not look in the back.”

“She was afraid to look,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Kelly, who prosecuted the case.

Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle called Thursday’s 5-2 ruling a victory and said he hoped it would bring “some more finality” to Guillot’s family.

“I know they will never rest easy until they know where the body is,” he said.

McGhee’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Louisiana’s 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal had overturned McGhee’s conviction, finding that prosecutors proved only that McGhee was with his friend Bentley

Bentley was sentenced to 70 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping. McGhee received life as a habitual criminal. Two other men were also convicted of kidnapping.

Thursday’s decision cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that if rational people could disagree about how to interpret evidence, appeal courts must accept the view most favorable to the prosecution. The 3rd Circuit failed to do that, the justices found.

Evidence against McGhee “included not only the defendant’s presence at the crime scene but also his participation in stalking the victim,” the justices wrote.

Among other things, they said, McGhee told Guillot’s fiance that Guillot was in trouble for something that had happened the night before, after which Bentley told the fiance that Guillot had stolen from him and someone would get hurt if he wasn’t paid.

He also was in the car in which Guillot was taken to Bentley’s SUV, they said.

Considering that and several other things McGhee was known to have done, the justices wrote, the jury’s decision cannot be considered irrational even though McGhee was not in Bentley’s SUV when Guillot was strangled.

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and Justice Jefferson Hughes dissented.

“Even if the evidence supports a rational finding that defendant knew before the kidnapping that co-defendant Bentley was searching for the victim and that Bentley had threatened to harm her, it was inadequate to show that defendant also knew that Bentley intended to kidnap her, let alone that defendant stood by willing and ready to help him do so,” Johnson wrote.

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