Family members of an elderly couple killed in their Highland Road home made a “gut-wrenching” decision after meeting with prosecutors over whether the death penalty should be sought against the two men charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 19 killings.
There will be no death penalty phase in the trial, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse while flanked by the three daughters of Denis “Bubbie” Duplantier and Suzanne “Suzy” Duplantier. Instead, prosecutors will ask jurors to convict cousins Ernesto Llerena Alonso and Frank Garcia as charged, a verdict that would send the men to prison for the rest of their lives.
Moore said he explained to the victims’ family that capital murder cases take years to go to trial, and that appeals and post-conviction proceedings in state and federal courts can tack on decades of legal proceedings.
“This is a killer for them,” Moore said of the murder case. “They have had enough. They want to get this part over with. This will really just speed up the process.”
“They had to search their souls and search their hearts,” he added. “I commend them for the courage to do that. It had to be a gut-wrenching decision.”
The Duplantiers’ daughters did not speak with reporters.
Alonso, 43, and Garcia, 48, will next appear in court in November.
Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball and her husband, ex-state Rep. Clyde Kimball, who are close friends of the Duplantier family, sat in the jury box inside state District Judge Trudy White’s courtroom while Alonso and Garcia made their latest court appearance in the case.
Kitty Kimball said afterward that Suzie Duplantier was her maid of honor at the Kimballs’ wedding in 1967. The Duplantiers, she said, got married a month after the Kimballs wed.
Alonso, who did landscaping work for the Duplantiers and lived in an apartment above a Nicholson Drive barn on their property, is represented by the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana in New Orleans. Garcia is defended by the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office.
“I appreciate the work, the thought and the caring that has gone into this decision on the part of the family and the district attorney,” said Alonso’s lead attorney, Dwight Doskey.
“It’s a difficult decision,” added David Price, one of Garcia’s lawyers. “We appreciate the thought and consideration that went into it. We’re pleased.”
Doskey pledged that the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana will remain on the case despite it no longer being a capital case, saying the group has an ethical obligation having already established a strong relationship with Alonso.
Price, director of the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office, said he is weighing whether his office will stay on the case.
Authorities have said the Duplantiers were robbed, beaten, kidnapped and strangled. The bodies of Denis Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne Duplantier, 70, were found Oct. 19 in the backseat of their red pickup at a Hammond gas station.
Alonso and Garcia pleaded not guilty in February, the same month they were indicted. Both are being held without bail.
A safe inside the Duplantier home was found open, with cash missing, and a large amount of cash and a number of unspecified items believed stolen from the home were discovered at Garcia’s home in Hollywood, Florida, authorities said.
Alonso was arrested Oct. 21 at Garcia’s home. Garcia was arrested Nov. 18 at his home.