LAFAYETTE — In exchange for a 20-year prison sentence, Laron Maurice Ruffin pleaded no contest Tuesday to manslaughter in the June 2006 shooting death of Ashley Barker, whose killing went unsolved for about two years before DNA evidence led to the Broussard man’s arrest.
The two sides reached a plea agreement on the day Ruffin, 33, was set to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Michele Billeaud said she consulted with the family before agreeing to the deal.
The family wanted Ruffin to serve at least 20 years, and there was no way to offer a guarantee without a plea deal, she said.
Despite DNA evidence that confirmed Ruffin had had sex with the victim, Billeaud called it a “circumstantial case” with holes the state could not fill.
Ruffin’s attorney, Valex Amos Jr., said his client had consensual sex with the victim, then left her while she was still alive at a parking lot near Hooters Restaurant on Ambassador Caffery Parkway.
Ruffin decided to plead no contest because he felt it was in his best interest, Amos said.
An officer on routine patrol found Barker dead from a single gunshot wound to the head on the passenger seat of her Mitsubishi Galant on Lemoine Street at 1:26 a.m., Billeaud said.
Barker’s friends said they had last saw her about two hours earlier at a block party at Hooters Restaurant, Billeaud said.
Barker’s boyfriend told police that Barker left to grab her cellphone charger from her car, parked in a nearby parking lot, and to move the car closer to Hooter’s.
She did not return, Billeaud said.
Her car was found a little more than a mile away with a blown out tire, Billeaud said.
Officers collected evidence at the scene that indicated there had been sexual contact prior to her death.
Barker was fully clothed and there were no apparent signs of a struggle inside her vehicle, she said.
Upward of 20 people submitted DNA samples in the investigation but no matches turned up in the case until about two years later when Laron Maurice Ruffin was arrested for a separate crime in Morgan City, Billeaud said.
He initially denied knowing or having any contact with Barker, although he later admitted to having sex with her when confronted with the DNA evidence, she said.
Ruffin said he paid Barker between $60 and $80 to have sex with him inside her car in the parking lot near Hooters, Billeaud said.
He said when he left her she was still alive.
Billeaud said there were numerous problems with Ruffin’s story
“His statement really did not gel with the facts that we knew,” Billeaud said.
Billeaud said she believes and would have tried to prove — had the case went to trial — that Ruffin forced Barker into her car, where he then forced her to have sex with him at gunpoint.
He then shot her at an undetermined location, Billeaud said.
The bullet passed through Barker’s head and out the passenger side window, Billeaud said. Investigators could find no evidence of the shooting at either the parking lot or on Lemoine Drive, she said.
Had the case gone to trial, Amos said the defense had strong evidence that would suggest that what Ruffin alleged was “certainly possible” because of Barker’s history.
Amos said it is plausible that after Ruffin left, someone else could have met Barker, robbed her and then shot her.
“We felt very strong about our case and our position,” he said.