OPELOUSAS — A St. Landry Parish jury on Wednesday found an Opelousas man guilty of first- degree murder in the 1988 stabbing death of Brenda Dupont, a verdict celebrated by family members who had spent decades waiting for her killer to be brought to justice.
State District Judge Alonzo Harris set a Feb. 18 sentencing date for Joenell Rubin, 45, whose DNA was matched in 2012 to semen found on Dupont when investigators discovered her body nearly a quarter century earlier.
Prosecutor Donald Richard said the St. Landry Parish District Attorney’s Office was not seeking the death penalty in Rubin’s case. He did not say why the DA’s Office did not consider the death penalty.
The jury’s verdict came after about three hours of deliberations. The vote to convict was 10-2, according to a poll of jurors conducted at the request of defense attorney Roy Richard.
As Rubin was loaded into a Department of Public Safety and Corrections van following the verdict, Dupont’s relatives celebrated on the other side of the parish courthouse in downtown Opelousas.
“We got justice,” said Linda Nicholas, Dupont’s younger sister, who 27 years ago lived next door to where the victim was murdered.
Nicholas said she promised her sister when she was standing next to her casket “that I would solve her murder and we did. I have no words for how I feel, only that it’s been a long time coming and here it is.”
The conviction follows two days of testimony in which the prosecution presented numerous forensic witnesses and retired police officers who investigated Dupont’s murder when it was an active case and after it became a cold case that was reopened in 2012.
Christopher Tate, a criminal pathologist employed by the Acadiana Crime Lab, testified Tuesday that autopsy results performed on Dupont days after her death revealed she had been stabbed 31 times.
Some of the victim’s stab wounds were located on her hands and arms, Tate said, which he said indicates she struggled with her attacker before she died.
The judge during the trial allowed jurors to watch a 29-minute video taken at the crime scene shortly after Dupont was found partially clad and lying on her back next to a bloody mattress that had been overturned.
The video, taken by former St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Rene Speyrer at the request of city police, was viewed by jurors on Monday.
In his opening statement to the jury, prosecutor Donald Richard said Rubin became the main suspect in Dupont’s death in March 2012, after city police received information from Acadiana Crime Lab technician George Schiro that lab analysis revealed there was a DNA match in the Dupont cold case.
Former city police Detective Dwain Grimmett testified he was assigned Dupont’s cold case in 2012 and had contacted Schiro shortly afterward to help him find Dupont’s killer by using DNA analysis.
Rubin’s DNA became available, Grimmett said, when Rubin was imprisoned in the city jail on a domestic violence charge.
In a video played for the jury, Grimmett was shown executing a search warrant to obtain a sample of Rubin’s DNA. Rubin also is shown on the video consenting to having a DNA sample taken.
In a separate video shown to jurors, Rubin told Grimmett he had never been inside Dupont’s apartment and that he “did not know her.”
Dupont’s sister, Linda Nicholas, testified during the trial that Rubin had a knife that he had shown her in her house the afternoon before Dupont was killed.
Attorneys from both sides presented closing statements Wednesday morning.
Prosecutor Donald Richard told the jury that the video and photos taken at the crime scene indicate a violent struggle between Dupont and her assailant and that the sex she had before her death was anything but consensual.
He said the victim, who was 29 at the time of her death, “was spread out like a frog on a dissecting table and she was almost dissected.”
It was 21st century technology, Richard said, that allowed authorities to place Rubin back where he was, about 27 years ago, inside the apartment where Dupont was murdered and raped.
Defense lawyer Roy Richard said the only thing prosecutors proved following two days of testimony was that Rubin had sex with Dupont sometime before her murder and that Rubin lied to investigators about that.
He also said Opelousas city police detectives over the years lost investigate files that contained original information about the case and that others who could have been linked to the murder were never thoroughly questioned before being eliminated as possible suspects.
The defense lawyer told jurors that investigators can’t even place Rubin in Dupont’s house with the evidence they presented during the trial.
“Did they test the bloody sheets or the bloody handprint on the wall?” Richard questioned. “What other information is still out there? We don’t know, because it’s been lost.”