After about an hour of deliberation, a jury found Eugene Butler Jr. guilty of manslaughter in the 2016 boat crash death of 19-year-old Vanessa Mauffray.
Judge Larry Bourgeois will sentence Butler on Oct. 14 in Hancock County District Court in Bay St. Louis.
About 20 of Mauffray’s family members, all wearing purple, were present in the courtroom when the verdict was read aloud. Vanessa’s father, Stacy Mauffray, embraced the woman next to him and wiped away his tears with a purple bandana.
Butler was taken into custody after the verdict was announced and led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Prosecutors and the defense attorney gave heated closing arguments Friday after four days of testimony.
Butler’s actions on a sunny June 25, 2016, directly resulted in Vanessa’s death, District Attorney Crosby Parker and Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniels argued over the last five days.
“This defendant ran over and killed (Vanessa) as he sped down Bayou Caddy with utter indifference to the value of human life,” Daniels said in his closing argument Friday. “19-year-olds are not supposed to die on Bayou Caddy on a beautiful day, on any day.”
Daniels and Parker lined out witness testimony for the jury before they exited Judge Larry Bourgeois’s courtroom to deliberate.
Butler was speeding as he was traveling 25 to 30 mph around a bend on the wrong side of the bayou when he hit the boat Vanessa was in, captained by boyfriend Ryan Necaise, Daniels said. A blood test, given to Butler hours after the crash, came back positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Necaise testified earlier this week that Butler repeatedly apologized to him after the collision, saying he hadn’t been paying attention.
Necaise told jurors Butler’s back was facing them as he approached their vessel and did not turn around until seconds before the crash.
Vanessa’s father, Stacy Mauffray, testified this week that Vanessa told him Butler’s back was turned before the crash. She died minutes later at the hospital, Daniels said.
“Her liver was destroyed,” Daniels said.
Defense attorney: ‘This case is hogwash’
In his closing argument, defense attorney Mike Hester said Vanessa’s death was an accident.
Butler was initially charged with BUI causing death in December 2016. A grand jury later handed down an indictment for manslaughter in 2017.
“This case is hogwash,” Hester began in his closing argument.
Hester said Necaise’s statements to authorities after the accident aren’t consistent with what he said on the witness stand.
“Ryan is a liar, and it’s been evidently obvious throughout this entire trial,” Hester said. “And it’s irritating.”
Hester said Ryan at first said he fell backward at the time of the collision, but told jurors he jumped toward the helm when the boat approached. He also said Necaise testified Vanessa was seated in several different spots in the boat.
Hester also questioned how many crab traps Necaise put out that day, and what type of fish he was trying to catch with his baited pole.
“He’s changed his story so many times,” Hester said. “How can you believe him? What kind of credibility does he have? Zero. None.”
Prosecutor: ‘Ryan is not a liar’
Parker told jurors Ryan has consistently repeated the facts of the case that led the crash: Butler was not paying attention, he was speeding and not in his lane, and he repeatedly apologized for his actions as they got Vanessa to a marina and called 911.
“Ryan is not a liar,” Parker said. “He was always consistent about where this defendant was.”
Butler said his shift linkage in his motor wasn’t working, which is why he had turned around briefly before the crash.
“The truth is he was messing with his motor. He wasn’t paying attention. He didn’t slow down,” Parker said.
Daniels urged jurors to pay attention to what the prosecution said, not the details brought up by the defense.
“This isn’t about crab traps. It ain’t about Ryan. It’s about what his actions were that day,” he said.
Vanessa won’t come home
In the weeks immediately following the crash, Vanessa’s family regularly called investigators, pleading for updates in the case. Darlene Deschamp, Vanessa’s mother, told the Sun Herald then that she wanted answers.
In the courtroom Friday, Deschamp closed her eyes as the verdict was announced.
Earlier Friday, Deschamp said she had mixed feelings about the case coming to a close, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to bring Vanessa home at the end.
Vanessa’s sister, Victoria McKinley, said she likely won’t be able to find peace with her sister’s death.
“I think closure is just a figment of people’s imagination ... it’ll never be enough to replace her.”