After a murder conviction, a couple helps others navigate the justice system

Wilfred Vangure knows the frustrations of navigating the justice system.

After being convicted of second degree murder, a crime he said he did not commit, Vangure appealed his conviction with the help of a lawyer. He told the court he had a preliminary hearing and wanted to include those details as part of that appeal.

But the assistant district attorney who prosecuted his case did not recall a hearing. Vangure advanced his appeal initially without hearing testimony, evidence that his wife, Precious Vangure, said would have helped her husband’s appeal.

Precious Vangure never gave up searching for testimony from that hearing, going to the office of the court clerk and district attorney to rummage through records, and eventually found it at the clerk’s office in 2016.

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“The biggest thing is that it’s hard to get resources because there’s so much mis-education about what we need and what things we need to ask for,” she said.

“If you don’t have a family member or a lawyer working with you on your case or trying to categorically help you through the process, then what happened to Wilfred will happen to others.”

These frustrations led the Vangures to create their non-profit organization, Incarceration Speaks, to help other incarcerated people and their families navigate the criminal justice system.

Help other families, incarcerated people

Wilfred Vangure, a tall man from New Iberia, believes in friendship and family, his wife said. He took care of his grandmother and his brother before being incarcerated. He has a lot of love in his heart and is a peacemaker, she said.

Her vice wanted to make a quick buck, Precious Vangure said. He was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

But Wilfred Vangure has a natural leadership ability and people would gravitate towards him, Precious Vangure said. In prison, Wilfred Vangure brought people he knew with issues to him, including their own difficulties navigating the appeals process and post-conviction help. And he would help.

Precious assisted families in her own capacity, providing transportation when she could. One woman she would bring was an 87-year-old mother. The idea for the non-profit organization was born in 2017 from a conversation between the two of them.

“We wanted something that would be relevant to families, to help them navigate the prison system, how to navigate someone incarcerated, how to navigate family relationships,” she said. “During the non-profit organization, we will be able to help provide education. We can help families navigate their legal affairs and complete the correct paperwork, help them find lawyers. »

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It’s an opportunity for Wilfred Vangure to share his first-hand experience with others, he said in a phone interview.

“Being around people whose families lack resources or family lacks education is a way for me to share my perspective with others in my situation,” the 36-year-old said. “The bottom line is that you have to do your due diligence and you have to have a lot of determination.”

The Vangures began launching the nonprofit in 2020 and received nonprofit status last August. They held workshops with judges to share resources with those involved in the criminal justice system and created a support group for women whose partners are incarcerated.

But Precious, who works full time and is in school, has had to sideline the nonprofit for the past five months while they deal with a Supreme Court ruling in the Wilfred Vangure case.

What led to Wilfred Vangure’s conviction?

On July 4, 2008, then 23-year-old Wilfred Vangure and his brother, from New Iberia, and a few of their friends went to the now closed Night Caps club on the McKinley Strip in Lafayette.

Inside the club, Vangure’s brother began to argue with a group that included 19-year-old Paxton Simon, Vangure said. He went to them and told them they didn’t need to fight, they were from the same hometown. He tried to keep the peace.

But a fight ensued and they were kicked out of Night Caps.

Simon and his friend lingered in the parking lot trying to get the keys to their truck which was with a friend who was still inside.

Vangure said that once he was kicked out he went to his girlfriend’s car and as he sat in her car some men approached the car and started harassing them. They argued and Vangure ran, then a police car pulled up behind him, he said.

Instead of going to his girlfriend’s car, former prosecutor Jay Prather argued before a Lafayette parish jury in December 2012 that Vangure found Simon in the early morning hours of July 5 in the parking lot near of Night Caps, approached him and fired a gun three times, fatally killing the teen and then running.

Former Lafayette police officer Oren Haydel, riding a horse, said he heard the gunshots and saw the final muzzle flash and then chased Vangure, losing sight of him at least once, according to court records. Officers arrested Vangure after seeing him hiding behind a building.

A woman, who said she knew Vangure from school, gave a statement to police nearly two months later. She said she was in the parking lot with friends preparing to enter a bar and saw Vangure pull something out and then heard three gunshots. The woman said she later discovered that it was Simon, whose family she knew well, who had been shot.

Officers recovered more than 20 pieces of evidence from the scene, including a firearm matching the caliber that killed Simon near the building where they found Vangure. The only DNA found on the weapon was that of a crime scene detective when he likely contaminated the sample by accident despite wearing gloves, court records show. There was no conclusive DNA evidence on a pair of shoes found near the shooting.

But Vangure’s defense attorney, Arthur Harris, argued there were inconsistencies between Haydel’s testimony and the woman’s testimony, court records show. He also asked why it took her almost two months to come forward and why the police did not question any of her friends about the shooting.

Harris also questioned the lack of DNA and said no one saw Vangure draw a gun.

“If the state had DNA evidence, it would be preaching to holy heaven how big it is and how unflappable it is,” he said during closing statements. “But since they don’t have DNA evidence, they’re doing the exact opposite.”

A jury unanimously convicted Vangure of second-degree murder. He is liable to a life sentence.

But Vangure still says he didn’t shoot Simon. It’s the same thing he told Simon’s parents when he was sentenced.

“I knew the victim and his friends. We all grew up in the same town,” Vangure said. “I understand the loss. For the victim’s family, my heart goes out to them. If there is something I can do, whatever I could have done or done, I am ready.

“Overall, it’s just a miscarriage of justice,” he added.

Request a new trial

Vangure appealed his conviction.

His attorney, different from the one who defended his criminal case, said Vangure was denied a fair trial because prosecutors never told Vangure or his attorney that Haydel was fired from the police department. Lafayette nearly two years before Vangure’s trial.

Haydel was fired from the police department in February 2011 after an internal affairs investigation found he falsified police reports, damaged public records and violated department orders regarding attention to duty, according to the court records.

A letter in the Vangure case file to the district attorney’s office sent in November 2010 by the police department to the prosecutor stated “based on the nature of the complaint (against Haydel), we advise you that the physical evidence in your case should be reexamined before going to trial. »

Prather denied intentionally withholding the information, according to court documents.

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During his appeal, Vangure’s attorney also noted discrepancies between Haydel’s trial testimony and the testimony he gave during the preliminary hearing, the transcript of which was sealed and not released. originally submitted with Vangure’s first appeal documents.

At the preliminary hearing, Haydel said he didn’t identify Vangure as the shooter until after he chased the suspect and was four blocks from the scene, according to court records. But at trial, Haydel said he identified the shooter while the shots were still being fired.

“Given that Mr. Haydel testified as the state’s primary eyewitness, the credibility of his testimony and his alleged identification of the shooter were both critical to the state’s case,” his attorney wrote in call.

But the Louisiana Supreme Court said in March it would not accept Vangure’s appeal, saying he had not shown the state withheld evidence about Haydel. The Vangures have hired a new criminal lawyer and continue to fight for his release.

“Something our community needs”

After exhausting his appeals and fighting through a murky system, Vangure and his wife will return to offering others hope and the resources they felt they didn’t have when it came to the criminal justice system. They plan to relaunch their nonprofit in October.

The couple will begin writing grants to strengthen the services they can provide. They want lawyers and former judges to offer information that can help them. They hope to be an advocacy platform, shining a light on those incarcerated who are asking for parole.

They plan to offer services and information to help families whose loved ones are incarcerated. In the future, they hope to open a multi-purpose center to specifically help young people.

“We’re excited to relaunch because we know it’s something our community needs because it’s something people don’t take the time to do,” Precious Vangure said.

“There is so much bad education about the prison community. It gives them a voice and it gives them a platform where they can come and address whatever concerns they have, whatever they are.

For more information on Incarceration Speaks, email Precious Vangure at incarcerationspeaksall1@gmail.com.

Contact Ashley White at adwhite@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @AshleyyDi.