With a large group of family and friends of the victims looking on, two men accused in the robbery, abduction and strangling of an elderly Highland Road couple in October pleaded not guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder charges at their first Baton Rouge court appearance.
Ernesto Llerena Alonso, 42, and his cousin, Frank Garcia, 48, each were shackled and wore orange East Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuits during their arraignments before state District Judge Trudy White.
Neither man speaks English, so a different interpreter was present for each defendant.
Alonso’s attorney, Dwight Doskey with the New Orleans-based Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, entered a not guilty plea on Alonso’s behalf. David Price with the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office did the same on behalf of Garcia.
Price and Doskey both told White they are concerned about the ongoing public defender funding crisis in Louisiana and how that issue might affect the case.
The judge set a motion hearing in the case for June 23.
Alonso and Garcia are accused in the killing of Denis “Bubbie” Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne “Suzy” Duplantier, 70, whose bodies were found Oct. 19 in the backseat of the couple’s red pickup parked in a remote area of a Hammond gas station parking lot.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday a decision has not been made on whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Alonso did landscaping work for the Duplantiers and lived in an apartment above a Nicholson Drive barn on their property.
Alonso was arrested Oct. 21 at Garcia’s home in Hollywood, Florida, where authorities said they found a large amount of cash believed stolen from the couple’s home. Also located at Garcia’s home was a white truck that surveillance video captured as it followed the victims’ truck into the Petro truck stop in Hammond.
Garcia was arrested Nov. 18 in Hollywood, which is near Miami.
Authorities believe the cousins entered the Duplantier home and beat them to get the information needed to open a safe. Blood was found in several rooms, police have said.
The family members and friends of the Duplantiers did not speak with reporters after Wednesday’s court proceeding.
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Alonso and Garcia on Feb. 4 on two counts each of first-degree murder.