State says Kayla Giles is 'cold, calculating,' but defense says she was protecting herself

·8 min read

On the first day of testimony in the Kayla Giles' trial, jurors heard the 911 call she placed after shooting her estranged husband and watched a video from the scene as the first police officer arrived.

Testimony started Monday morning. Giles faces charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in the Sept. 8, 2018, shooting of Thomas Coutee Jr. in the Walmart parking lot on Coliseum Boulevard.

During the afternoon, jurors watched a video from the dashcam of former Alexandria Police Department officer Cpl. Ronnie Stevens Jr.

"Got somebody down," he's heard saying on the video as he drove through the parking lot.

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Coutee could be seen lying on the ground.

His mother, who was sitting in the gallery after testifying in the morning, covered her mouth with her hand and cried.

First responding officer gives testimony

Stevens, who now works for the Tullos Police Department, described the scene as chaotic. His first thoughts were to help Coutee, he said, but bystanders already were administering first aid.

George Higgins III (left) and Kayla Giles arrive at the Rapides Parish Courthouse for a previous hearing. Testimony in her trial on charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice began Monday.
George Higgins III (left) and Kayla Giles arrive at the Rapides Parish Courthouse for a previous hearing. Testimony in her trial on charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice began Monday.

When he went to Coutee's truck, where Giles sat with her three daughters, he asked who shot Coutee. Stevens testified that Giles "raised her hand and said I did."

Under questioning from Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Brooke Harris, Stevens said he took Giles into custody and placed her in the back seat of his patrol car.

In the video, he asks her what happened, and Giles replied that she was scared. She later can be heard sniffling as the video shows people working on Coutee and more investigators arriving.

Giles answered questions several times — where the gun was, what happened, who the victim was — as officers came back to the car. She asked multiple times about her kids.

Under cross-examination by Defense attorney George Higgins III, Stevens said Giles remained at the scene and didn't flee.

Higgins also asked whether he considered her a threat since he didn't initially put her in handcuffs.

Stevens replied that he didn't at the time. His primary concern was Coutee.

Higgins also played a video from police headquarters, where the three girls initially were taken after the shooting. Someone had bought pizza and drinks for them, and the two older girls were talking loudly while Stevens and other officers watched and played with them.

At one point, Stevens whispered to another officer that he wanted to "take her ass to jail," and Higgins asked him why he said that.

"She just killed somebody," Stevens replied.

Higgins asked him if he'd ever investigated a stand-your-ground case before. Stevens said no.

Higgins asked if he still was ready to take her to jail.

"That's what I said," Stevens said.

Harris then asked Stevens whether Giles seemed scared when he approached her, whether he was a detective who decided what charge to arrest someone on and whether the lead detective ever contacted him to ask his opinion.

Stevens replied no to each.

Harris asked if his involvement was limited, and Stevens said yes.

Teachers talk about being at the scene

Jurors also heard testimony from two teachers who were among the first to reach Coutee after the shooting.

One, Brittainy Wilks, said she and her family were getting gas at the nearby Murphy's station for a trip to a Louisiana State University football game when her husband alerted her to the shooting. She saw a man face down on the ground, she testified.

Wilks, a teacher who once was a physical therapy assistant, said Coutee wasn't responsive but was breathing and moaning. She didn't see any wounds on him until she and her husband rolled him over.

When she saw the gunshot wound, she said she applied pressure and tried talking to him.

"I didn't get a response," she said.

She later began CPR on Coutee, and it wasn't long before Katherine Lewis arrived.

Lewis, a former Rapides Parish teacher who now lives in Texas, had been grabbing lunch with her 7-year-old daughter nearby when she saw Coutee's legs on the ground.

She testified her first thought was someone had a heat stroke, so she went to offer help. She uncrossed Coutee's legs and stood by to see if Wilks needed help.

Both Wilks and Lewis identified Giles as the woman they saw at the scene. Wilks told Harris she didn't know Giles was involved in the shooting and that she was not crying.

"I honestly thought she was another bystander at first," Wilks testified.

Lewis described Giles as very calm and said she was using her phone. When she told Stevens about the three children in Coutee's truck, he told her to go sit with them.

She testified that the oldest girl was crying. She said she began asking them about their favorite colors, school and other topics to try to distract them from what was happening outside.

When she left the scene, she continued on to the Westside Regional Library with her daughter. While her daughter explored books, Lewis testified, she wrote an email to herself with a statement of what had happened.

Jury hears 911 calls

The state also played six 911 calls. The first was from Giles, who requested an ambulance before identifying herself and also asking for police to come to the parking lot.

"What's going on?" asked a dispatcher.

"Please just come," said Giles before hanging up.

The next two calls went to a voicemail. The fourth call was a busy signal, and the fifth again went to voicemail.

The sixth call was from another woman at Murphy's station, who said she believed someone had been shot. People pumping gasoline had heard what sounded like a gunshot, and she saw Coutee on the ground.

The woman told dispatchers she didn't want to get any closer to the scene, though.

Angie Branton, who works at the Rapides 911 center, testified that the three calls that went to voicemail originated at the 911 center. She said a dispatcher attempted to call Giles back, but those calls weren't answered.

Opening statements offer different realities

The afternoon's testimony followed a morning hearing on motions filed by the state and defense, as well as opening arguments.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Greg Beard denied a defense motion to quash a subpoena requested by the state for documents from Red River Bank.

The state wanted to use those documents during the trial as proof, it contends, of Giles' attempt to withdraw money from Coutee's bank account more than a year after the shooting and the continuation of her plan to kill him and profit from his death.

Beard granted the state's motion to use the information during the trial.

During opening arguments, Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau called Coutee a loving father, son, teacher and "an all-around great guy" who wanted the American dream.

"Unfortunately for Thomas, he met a cold, calculating and manipulating woman," he said.

The story that led to Coutee's death started long before the day of the shooting, he told jurors. He briefed them on the pair's relationship, their daughter and at least two incidents during child swaps in which he said Giles was physically abusive toward Coutee.

But he told them repeatedly that Coutee always did the right thing and contacted the police instead of retaliating.

He said Giles started looking for a gun, even asking to borrow one from a friend who refused the request. On a trip to Texas, she bought a gun and an insurance policy, said LeBeau.

Then, Coutee filed for sole custody of their daughter. "This defendant was not going to let that happen," he said.

She was served with court papers about another hearing a day before the shooting, said LeBeau. The day of the shooting was their daughter's second birthday, and Coutee wanted to meet at a police station to pick up Giles' two other daughters so they could attend her party at Chuck E. Cheese.

Instead, Giles wanted to meet in the Walmart parking lot, which was within sight of her townhouse. LeBeau said Giles' new gun was in the pocket of her Dodge Durango's door, loaded with hollow-point bullets.

"Kayla put a bullet through that heart," he said, and the only witnesses were the three young girls.

"Kayla Giles might be evil, but she is not stupid," said LeBeau, who said she plotted, planned and researched on how to kill Coutee.

He told the jurors they would not see a single documented incident of Coutee harming Giles. What happened was not self-defense, but a meticulously planned attack by a cold woman, he said.

Higgins painted a starkly different picture, saying there are two sides to the story.

Still, he admitted that the state's version of events would reflect badly on Giles. "You're gonna dislike her," he said.

Higgins said the case isn't about bad acts. He insisted Coutee filed police reports because he was posturing for a favorable outcome in the custody case.

He also said the state planned to introduce the bad acts because they have a weak case, criticizing the police department's handling of the case.

Giles bought the gun because she was concerned about threats from Coutee, he said. He mentioned her three years of service in the U.S. Army, followed by three years in the reserves.

She was taught by her military service to be prepared, he said, and she had become concerned by threats from Coutee. Being prepared is not a crime, said Higgins.

Coutee's mother, Cathy Pearson, was the state's first witness. She described her son as a good person who would give anyone the shirt off his back if needed.

She said her son did have guns, but she didn't know enough about them to describe them. She agreed that he practiced mixed martial arts, but told Higgins that he only had six or seven fights before giving it up.

Testimony will continue on Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on Alexandria Town Talk: Jurors in Kayla Giles murder case hear 911 calls, see video from scene

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