CROWLEY — Family and friends of Skylar Credeur wept with relief Thursday after an Acadia Parish jury convicted Credeur’s stepfather, Kerry Bertrand, of killing the 20-year-old university student in August 2013.
“Hopefully (Bertrand) sees Angola for the rest of his life,” said Sally Stelly, Credeur’s aunt, who wore a red T-shirt with white lettering that read “Justice for Skylar.”
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for two hours and 20 minutes before unanimously declaring Bertrand guilty of second-degree murder. The jury declined to find Bertrand guilty of the lesser crimes of manslaughter or negligent homicide, which carry lesser sentences.
Judge Kristian Earles set Bertrand’s sentencing hearing for 10 a.m. Wednesday. The hearing will be a formality, as Louisiana law sets the sentence for second-degree murder at life in prison at hard labor, with no chance of parole, probation or suspended sentence.
Bertrand, 45, has been locked up in the Acadia Parish jail since his arrest on Aug. 31, 2013. He did not testify in his defense.
Credeur was killed Aug. 21, 2013, after breaking her silence on years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Bertrand. Her mother, Alidia Credeur Bertrand, had filed for and received a protective order against Bertrand before she found her daughter dead in a bathtub that day before noon. The rural home is located on Victor Drive near Rayne.
Credeur’s body was unclothed and lying in the water with a Dell laptop lying on her chest and plugged into a bathroom receptacle, which led the Acadia Parish Coroner’s Office to at first rule she was accidentally electrocuted.
However, in a later autopsy report and in testimony this week Calcasieu Parish Coroner Dr. Terry Welke said Credeur drowned, and that she suffered a blow to the top of her head and had strangulation marks on her neck.
“She died from being held under the water until she drowned, and that’s a fact,” prosecutor Burleigh Doga said in closing arguments Thursday.
Bertrand’s attorney, Thomas Alonzo, disputed Welke’s account and said the first conclusion on Credeur’s death was accurate.
“The reason it was ruled an accident is because it was an accident,” Alonzo told the jury Thursday. “She was electrocuted.”
Alonzo said the prosecution presented no hard evidence that directly linked Bertrand to the bathroom where Credeur died — no conclusive DNA matches and no water on the bathroom floor to indicate a struggle.
Taking aim at Welke, Alonzo told jurors: “Are there any photographs to prove what that grouchy old doctor testified to?”
When it came his turn to speak again, Doga countered Alonzo’s claim: “Dr. Welke may not be warm and fuzzy, but he is an experienced coroner who has testified in a number of cases.”
Hours after Credeur was discovered in the tub in 2013, her uncle, Edmond Credeur, climbed into the home’s attic and found Bertrand lying in the rear behind an air conditioning duct. Edmond Credeur testified Wednesday that after discovering him, Bertrand stood up and said, “I didn’t do it.”
On Thursday, Alonzo didn’t try to explain why Bertrand hid in the attic, saying only that he “made a stupid mistake” and panicked.
“But he’s not charged with being not too bright,” Alonzo said, reminded jurors that Bertrand was on trial for murder.
After the verdict, Alonzo and Doga said the jury and the judge were first-rate.
“I think (Bertrand) received a fair trial,” Alonzo said, but added, “We’re not happy with the verdict”
Doga said Credeur’s family waited a long time — almost 21/2 years — for justice.
“Everyone did their jobs today,” Doga said. “The system worked. But it was a difficult trial in different respects.”
Credeur’s mother, Alidia Bertrand, did not testify at the trial though she was a member of the prosecution’s witness list. After the verdict, walking through the courthouse hall and crying, she waved off reporters seeking comment.
Other members of the family also passed on commenting, except Sally Stelly, Credeur’s aunt, who remembered the alleged sexual abuse suffered by her niece.
Kerry Bertrand “took a 20-year-old. She was a person,” Stelly said. “He took her life after abusing her her whole life.”
Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad.