No good comes from stealing a shotgun during a hurricane evacuation.
The people of Port Naches Texas had to leave their homes when Hurricane Gustav threatened. While they were away, homes were burgled. A shotgun and a rifle were stolen from a house.
Those weapons were later resold to a guy named Robert Newsom. They were sold by a white man who Newsom knew was a member of the Piazza family and a woman. The man was tattooed and bald. The woman said the guns used to belong to her father, but he died. Newsom paid $175 for the guns.
Newsom later heard about a burglary of some guns during the hurricane evacuation and became suspicious. He went to the police with his newly acquired guns. The police found the woman, Sandy Guilbreaux, who confessed. Sandy was married to Jed Piazza, but told the police that it was Jed’s brother Chad who sold the weapons with her.
The police went after Chad. Newsome picked him out of a lineup that did not include Jed, though he noted that the guy in the picture had hair, and the guy he bought the guns from didn’t.
Jed is bald. Chad is not.
Newsom’s phone showed that he was called from Jed’s phone to set up the gun sale.
The federal government took an interest in this case, and prosecuted Chad for selling the guns. Chad was convicted and sentenced to thirty-three months in prison.
The defense theory was that Ms. Guilbreaux was lying to protect her husband. Ms. Guilbreaux gave conflicting statements when she testified about how much hair Chad had, eventually settling on the idea that he had just shaved his head. She admitted that she had trouble remembering things because she had psychological issues and took prescription medicine that made her forgetful. She lied about being previously convicted for theft.
Chad and Jed’s mother testified that Sandy told her that she was lying to the police about who she sold the gun with.
After the trial, Jed and Chad’s brother Darrin came home from a time in prison. He had been home when the gun-selling happened and wrote an affidavit that he was with Chad during the time of the gun sale. On the night of the gun sale, Darrin swore that,
Around 9:00PM, my brother, Jed Piazza and his common law wife Sandy arrived in a blue colored sedan that looked like an old police car. Jed drove that type of vehicle during hurricane evacuations so he would not be stopped by police. At this time, I was outside smoking cigarettes with one of my other brothers, Steve “Bubba” Piazza. Jed told Steve that he had some guns in the trunk of their car that they wanted to sell. Steve told Jed that he knew of a guy that purchased guns from him in the past but this buyer would not buy stolen guns. Upon hearing this, Sandy, Jed’s common law wife, said that the guns were her father’s. Jed then called this person’s phone number he got from inside a spiral notebook Steve had of everyone’s numbers. I believe this person’s name is Robert Newsome [sic].
Chad’s lawyer filed a motion for a new trial based on Darrin’s statement. The district court granted it.
The government appealed, apparently wanting to make sure there was a circuit court opinion describing their decision to prosecute a case in federal court based on the testimony of the wife of the chief alternative suspect who suffers psychological problems, has a criminal history that she lied about, and told another witness that her husband committed the crime.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to grant a new trial in United States v. Piazza.
If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.