Suspect named, not yet charged in 2012 murder of Hammond nursery owner already in jail for other crimes _lowres

Eric Selders

The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office for the first time has publicly named the prime suspect in the killing of a Hammond nursery owner who they say is already behind bars for other crimes, though not yet charged with her murder.

The Sheriff’s Office said detectives consider Eric O’Neal Selders, 44, a man with an extensive criminal record, as the suspect in the murder of Mary Alvarez, who was shot and killed Nov. 14, 2012, while working at the nursery she and her husband, Vic Alvarez, ran together.

Alvarez found his wife, called 911 and gave her aid until the ambulance arrived. He was questioned repeatedly by detectives during their investigation into her death.

“As the surviving spouse, and the person who found her, Mr. Alvarez endured many rounds of grueling questioning by the detectives, but he never stopped being cooperative and assisting” with the investigation, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Saturday.

It adds that Sheriff Daniel H. Edwards “wishes to let Mr. Alvarez know the whole department shares in this great loss, appreciates his full cooperation and regrets that in doing our job, he had to endure multiple rounds of questioning that was certainly uncomfortable for him in his time of extreme grief.”

Vic Alvarez said when contacted on Saturday that he did not want to comment on the statement issued by Edwards’ office.

The release said an informant provided detectives with information in November 2013 pointing to Selders as the killer of Mary Alvarez. It said the lead was pursued aggressively and the information was shared with federal authorities, leading to charges against Selders for distributing narcotics and possession of a firearm.

Edwards said in an interview Saturday that Selders has remained in jail ever since his arrest a few days after receiving the tip from the informant. He said Selders is serving a 15-year sentence on the federal charges and faces additional drug distribution charges in federal court in Baton Rouge.

In the months since Selders’ arrest and conviction for the other crimes, detectives have continued to try to build a strong enough case to successfully prosecute him for the killing of Mary Alvarez, Edwards said.

He said investigators have updated the Alvarez family as the investigation has proceeded.

“At this point, TPSO believes it has sufficient evidence to obtain an arrest warrant of Eric Selders,” the press release from Edwards’ office states. “However, due to Selders being in jail and serving a lengthy sentence, we are continuing to work with the District Attorney’s Office to try and bolster the case against Selders before an arrest is made in an effort to try and give the district attorney as strong a case as possible.”

Selders was among 39 people named in an indictment that was unsealed in July for their involvement in what was described as a “violent drug trafficking” network. The network used a Baton Rouge day-care center called the Emmanuel Child Development and Learning Center, 1384 Swan Ave., for storage, according to U.S. Attorney Walt Green. Selders, with the others indicted, is accused of planning the sale of Ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana in 2013.

The indictments were the product of a 29-month drug ring investigation, dubbed “Operation Third World.”

Selders was convicted in 1989 of distribution of cocaine, aggravated battery in 1991, possession with intent to distribute a Schedule II drug in 1998 and possession with intent to distribute a Schedule II drug (cocaine-based) in 2006, according to court records.

The Sheriff’s Office urges anyone who has information about the killing of Mary Alvarez, or about Eric Selders, to call Detective Dale Athman at the sheriff’s department at (985) 345-6150 or to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 554-5245.