RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - Nicole Chandler, 35, the woman charged with second degree murder for the July 2017 death of Rachel Smith, 59, in the Rapides Parish DC 1 jail has been found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Chandler and Smith were both in the holding tank at the jail after being arrested when Smith started hitting her. Chandler was being held on charges of theft of goods, battery of a police officer, and aggravated battery. Smith was being held for disturbing the peace and remaining on premises.
In a video that was shown to the jury at the trial Wednesday, Chandler fought back and choked Smith until she was unconscious. Smith died as a result from asphyxiation, according to the pathologist.
It took Rapides corrections officers roughly 5 hours until they discovered what happened, despite the fact it was being captured on jailhouse video and that Chandler pressed a call help button that Det. Ronnie Rollins told the jury had not worked for years.
In the opening arguments, state prosecutor Cheryl Carter argued that Chandler killed Smith even after she was unconscious from the fight and she never alerted officers for help by banging on the door.
“Not once does she beat on the door to alert anyone that Rachel Smith is lying on the floor. Not once,” said Carter.
But, Chandler’s attorney, Chris Lacour, argued that it was self-defense.
“Had she not defended herself, it would be Ms. Smith on trial for Ms. Chandler’s murder,” he said.
Det. Rollins showed the surveillance footage from the holding tank, but after Chandler straddled Smith who had fallen on the floor seemingly unconscious, the video lapsed for about seven minutes.
According to Det. Rollins, the lapse was because the cameras are motion sensitive, and if there is no motion taking place, the recording stops. Footage picks back up with Chandler pressing the broken call button and then lying back down on the bench.
The state also called Sgt. Chris Winegeart to the stand who was watching the cameras. Sgt. Winegeart said there are about 160 cameras in DC 1 and they saw Smith lying on the floor and thought she was sleeping. Smith was discovered dead on the floor when he entered at about 3:30 a.m. to start passing out breakfast.
Sgt. Winegeart also testified that Smith arrived to the jail agitated that night.
“She was cussing and fussing at the officers, right?” asked Lacour. “Yes,” said Sgt. Winegeart.
Sgt. Winegeart also told the jury that Chandler had been moved from her original holding spot because, as Lacour put it, “You said they wanted to jump on her and beat her ass.”
Lacour called Chandler’s mother, Tammy Dole, to testify about her daughter’s mental state and history of being the victim of domestic violence. But, that testimony was not heard by the jury because the information that Dole was testifying about did not happen around the time of the crime.
After the case was handed over to the jury, it took them little over an hour to deliberate before coming back with a manslaughter verdict. The jury was polled and 11 out of the 12 said that they voted for manslaughter.
Sentencing is set for August 6. Chandler faces a sentence up to 40 years behind bars. She had previously turned down a plea deal this past Monday for manslaughter that would have given her 15 years behind bars.