Cellphone records put two suspects in the October slayings of a Baton Rouge couple near each other at the time of the murders, with their messages registering from the same Baton Rouge cell tower, while police say evidence shows the men closely following each other in different vehicles around the time of the killings.
Police in the South Florida city of Hollywood arrested Frank Garcia on Wednesday night and booked him into jail in nearby Fort Lauderdale on two counts each of first-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping.
A vehicle registered to Garcia can be seen arriving in Baton Rouge on Oct. 17 and was spotted again headed eastbound out of the city later the next day, according to an arrest warrant for Garcia. The bodies of Denis “Bubbie” Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne “Suzy” Duplantier, 70, were discovered in the back seat of the couple’s red pickup in the parking lot of a Hammond gas station Oct. 19.
The arrest comes almost a month after Ernesto Llerena Alonso, 42, was arrested on the same counts at Garcia’s home in the ocean-front city of about 150,000.
Garcia and Alonso are accused of robbing the Duplantiers in their Highland Road house and strangling the couple.
Garcia and Alonso are believed to be cousins, but authorities are still trying to determine their exact relationship, said Baton Rouge police spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola. Florida records show the new defendant’s last name as Garcia-Llerena.
Both men are believed to have entered the Duplantiers’ home, where they are accused of beating the couple until gaining access to a safe, said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
“There were two people (in the Duplantiers’ home), and we suspect it was these two,” Moore said.
Authorities believe Garcia then helped Alonso drive the bodies to the Hammond gas station, where the pair abandoned the couple’s truck in a remote corner of the parking lot and left in Alonso’s white Chevy pickup, Moore said.
Alonso’s pickup truck, which was captured on surveillance footage at the gas station, was found parked at Garcia’s Hollywood home at 2434 Garfield St. Unspecified items believed to have been stolen from the Duplantiers were recovered from Garcia’s home, according to an arrest warrant for Garcia signed earlier Wednesday by 19th Judicial District Court Judge Bonnie Jackson.
At the time of Alonso’s arrest, Florida authorities said they recovered a large amount of cash believed to have been stolen from the Duplantiers. Authorities have declined to specify exactly how much money was taken.
The arrest warrant for Garcia said records show his cellphone was in Baton Rouge at the time the Duplantiers were killed, that he used it to contact Alonso and that the phone registered from the same cell tower as Alonso’s during the time of the killing. It also stated that police have evidence that shows Garcia’s vehicle leaving Baton Rouge on Oct. 18 “in close proximity” to Alonso’s vehicle at the time of the Duplantiers’ deaths.
Alonso, a Cuban national who has permanent legal residency in the United States, had worked as a landscaper for the Duplantiers for several years and lived in an apartment above a barn on property owned by the couple at 4950 Nicholson Drive.
Moore said it did not appear that Garcia had ever lived or worked in Baton Rouge. Garcia is in the country legally, Moore said, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he is a United States citizen or a resident alien.
Both men are being held at the Broward County Jail in Florida while Baton Rouge authorities seek to have them extradited to Louisiana to face prosecution. Alonso, who has so far fought attempts to return him to Louisiana, had until midnight Thursday to file a writ opposing his extradition.
“If no writ is filed, we will contact Louisiana to pick him up,” said Kristi Grimm, a spokeswoman for the Broward County State’s Attorney’s Office. “If they file the writ … a hearing will be scheduled at a future date.”
Messages left with Alonso’s attorney in Florida seeking comment were not returned Thursday.
Moore said paperwork already has been sent over to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office to obtain an extradition warrant for Garcia, the first step toward bringing the second suspect back to Louisiana.
Baton Rouge police officers will be sent to Fort Lauderdale to bring both men back if or when a Florida judge approves their extradition, Coppola said.
He said the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information can call police or CrimeStoppers.