Jury Rules La. Woman Murdered Estranged Husband Outside Walmart During Custody Exchange of 2-Year-Old Daughter

Kayla Giles and her husband, Thomas Coutee, Jr., were embroiled in a contentious divorce and custody battle when she shot him in 2018

Kayla Giles
Kayla Giles. Photo: Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office

On Sept. 8, 2018, Kayla Giles met her estranged husband at a Walmart parking lot so he could take her two daughters from a previous relationship to a birthday party for the couple's 2-year-old daughter.

But Giles shot him in what she said was self-defense, a claim that a jury in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, rejected in a recent verdict.

On Saturday, Giles's 35th birthday, the mother of three was found guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice for the shooting death of her estranged husband, Thomas Coutee Jr., in Alexandria, court records show.

Second-degree murder in Louisiana carries an automatic life sentence, and obstruction of justice carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

Giles is scheduled to be sentenced on March 28.

Standing outside of the courtroom and choking back tears, Coutee Jr.'s mother, Cathy Pearson, said, "My baby got the justice he deserved," KALB reported. "She'll never be able to hurt anybody else."

Thomas Coutee Jr.
Thomas Coutee Jr. Facebook

At the time of the deadly shooting, Giles, then 31, and Coutee Jr., 30, were embroiled in a contentious divorce and custody battle over their daughter, who turned two on the day of the shooting, Alexandria Town Talk reported.

The couple separated in February 2018 after nearly four years of marriage. Giles had two daughters from a previous relationship when she married Coutee Jr.

On Aug. 20, 2018, a judge awarded the couple shared custody of their daughter.

Eight days later, Coutee asked for a new trial in the custody fight, claiming Giles had been abusive in the past by slapping him during a custody exchange in May, KALB reported.

On Sept. 7, 2018, just one day before the shooting, Giles was served papers ordering her to appear in civil court to reconsider the custody arrangement, Alexandria Town Talk reported.

Coutee Jr. wanted sole custody of their daughter.

"This defendant was not going to let that happen," Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau said during opening arguments, Alexandria Town Talk reported.

On the day of the shooting, Coutee Jr. asked Giles to meet him to pick up her daughters so they could attend a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese he planned for the couple's daughter. He wanted to meet at the police station, but Giles suggested they meet at the Walmart parking lot, which she could see from her condo.

LeBeau said Giles came to the parking lot armed with a gun planning to kill Coutee Jr., KSLA News 12 reported.

"Kayla put a bullet through that heart," LeBeau told the jury.

Giles' attorney, George Higgins III, told jurors that his client hadn't plotted to kill her estranged husband, but acted in self-defense.

As a U.S. Army veteran, Giles' attorney argued she learned to always be prepared and brought a gun with her because she was concerned about threats from her estranged husband, Alexandria Town Talk reported.

Coutee Jr. was leaning into Giles vehicle when she shot him, Higgins told the jury. He had also opened the door of her vehicle.

Higgins went on to argue that evidence for Giles' self-defense claim "is as clear as a bell," KALB reported, especially since someone planning a murder "wouldn't do it at high noon in the Walmart parking lot."

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Lebeau argued that shooting someone for opening a car door "was not justifiable" since it was not unlawful or forceable entry, KALB reported.

During the trial, Giles's oldest daughter, who witnessed the incident, testified that she never saw Coutee Jr. "lunge" at the car, KALB reported.

While leaving the courthouse, Coutee Jr.'s father had a message for his daughter-in-law, KALB reported: "Happy Birthday, Kayla."

Higgins told KALB he will appeal.

"There's just no law about this Stand Your Ground, it's relatively new," he told KALB. "It's the first in-vehicle Stand Your Ground case that we saw. So, (the verdict) doesn't surprise me at all."

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