The first criminal jury trial at the new courthouse in Pointe a la Hache began on Tuesday, November 12th, 2019, and concluded successfully when the defendant entered a guilty plea to multiple sex crimes and trafficking counts, including forcible rape, at the conclusion of the third day of trial.
Defendant Christopher Avist, who is also known as Fats, whose criminal history stretches back at least as far as 1992, was arrested in 2016, along with several others, in connection with a raid at a residence on the basis of narcotics activity. The investigation revealed evidence of human trafficking and sex crimes. In the course of the investigation, the PPSO Special Victims Unit Detective Holly Hardin identified two victims who agreed to come forward and testify. Grand Jury indictments against four defendants, including the Defendant Avist, were issued in January of 2019. The indictments included charges of aggravated rape, aggravated crime against nature, human trafficking, and intentional exposure to HIV.
Trial commenced on November 12th, 2019, with jury selection. Testimony began November 13th, and continued on November 14th, until approximately 6 pm. With additional witness testimony expected later that evening and the next day, the defendant agreed to plead guilty to the crimes of forcible rape, aggravated crime against nature, human trafficking, and intentional exposure to HIV. The forcible rape charge imposed a 30-year sentence, with only 10 years of that sentence suspended. After the first 20 years of the sentence has been satisfied, the defendant will register as a sex offender for the remainder of his lifetime.
The plea was accepted by the State in conjunction with the approval of both victims. The successful conclusion of this prosecution marks the first criminal trial in Pointe a la Hache in nearly 18 years. Further, this investigation has resulted in the first time in the history of Plaquemines Parish that a conviction for human trafficking has been obtained. Two co-defendants have previously entered guilty pleas to various charges, including human trafficking. One final co-defendant awaits trial, but proceedings have been stayed pending a review of his mental competency to proceed.
Narcotics Agent Jennifer Daigle, the lead agent in the 2016 narcotics raid, and SVU Detective Holly Hardin both testified on behalf of the prosecution. Other witnesses, including both victims, took the stand and testified as well.
The Honorable Michael D. Clement presided over the trial, accepted the guilty plea, and sentenced the defendant in accordance with the plea terms.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Edward “Ned” McGowan, lead attorney, and First Assistant District Attorney Robert M. White, assisted by D.A. Trial Assistants Tamara Davis and Viktorija Dekovic, and D.A. Victim Assistant Coordinators Rae Riley and Bonnie Bondi.