HOUMA, La. — A Louisiana man facing trial in a murder case has been sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole — for committing a lewd act. His lawyer said he thinks prosecutors pursued the unusually harsh sentence because of doubts about whether they could get a conviction on a more serious charge.

Maurice Banks, 25, of Houma, was convicted of his sixth felony when a jury found him guilty of an obscenity charge in September. That sixth conviction designated him as a habitual offender, leading District Judge Johnny Walking of Houma to sentence Banks on Jan. 5 to three decades in prison for committing an obscene act while in jail.

Defense attorney Tracy Schwab said the maximum sentence Banks would have faced on the obscenity charge would likely have been four years, had he not had five prior felony convictions.

Schwab told The Courier (http://bit.ly/2iGd2kn ) that he has appealed the sentence.

“He was charged with a lot of things, but my hunch is that the prosecutors didn’t think they could succeed with the conviction on the murder charge,” Schwab said. “They took him to trial on the obscenity and billed him as a habitual offender. So his four-year sentence became a 30-year sentence.”

Banks still faces a charge of acting as a principal to second-degree murder in the 2015 death of 18-year-old Corey Butler, according to Jason Dagate, assistant district attorney for Terrebonne Parish. Conviction as a principal to second-degree murder — that is, someone actively involved in the crime — would bring the murder charge’s mandatory life sentence, even if someone else killed Butler.

Two co-defendants are also charged.

“There was a discrepancy as to who the shooters were, so we assessed the best way to disperse judgment and thought this was the most efficient thing to do,” Dagate said.

Banks’ past convictions include drug possession, illegal use of a weapon, aggravated flight and battery of a corrections officer.

VIAThe Associated Press
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