Gary Plauche is one of the big interviews I never got when I was a newspaper reporter. I usually could get interviews that other reporters couldn’t and others wouldn’t attempt. But Mr. Plauche escaped me.
I tried to interview his wife, his friends and everyone else close to him as an avenue into reaching him. It never happened.
Gary Plauche died this week. He was 68 years old.
If his name sounds familiar, he is the father who in 1984 shot and killed a man accused of kidnapping and molesting his then-11-year-old son. The killing was captured by a WBRZ-TV news crew as sheriff’s deputies led a handcuffed Jeffrey Doucet through Ryan Airport. Doucet died hours later of a gunshot to the head. The deputies were not hit.
The killing, which grabbed worldwide attention, set off a debate on whether vigilante justice is OK in certain occasions. And later, when Plauche pled to a charge that resulted in no jail time, the debate grew even hotter.
My inner debate started when I found out that Doucet, a karate instructor, had been captured in California with 11-year-old Jody Plauche, and they were on their way back to Baton Rouge. I had to have the story.
I was at home watching TV when I got a call, I don’t remember now from whom, that Gary Plauche had shot the guy accused of kidnapping and molesting his son, as authorities were doing their “perp walk” through the airport.
I was stunned that it could happen with Doucet in the custody of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies. Instead of being concerned that a man was near death, I was angry that I wasn’t told he when he was being brought back. Was I some kind of sicko who was mad that I missed seeing someone get killed?
Here was Doucet, virtually at death’s door, and Plauche, now a certified vigilante, who were mere subjects in a great story to me. What had I become? Answer: A good, emotionless news reporter, I guess.
Now, how did this killing occur? Plauche lay in wait at the airport near a pay phone, apparently tipped off about the deputy’s arrival. The WBRZ crew, obviously also alerted, were videoing Doucet’s return when Plauche wheeled around with a handgun and shot Doucet at point-blank range.
Then the argument started over the question, “What would you have done?” Plauche’s son had been kidnapped and possibly molested by Doucet.
Plauche sympathizers, and there were many, said they would have done the same thing. They approved of the killing.
I also got to meet the accused’s family. They were obviously upset and said they felt that Plauche had no right to be judge, jury and executioner. They said Doucet should have had his day in court and that Plauche should be tried in court as a murderer. They definitely had a point.
Plauche went to court and was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to perform community service work. The judge gave Plauche a suspended sentence of seven years after he pled no contest to manslaughter in Doucet’s death.
It seemed all along that the general feeling of the public was that Jeffery Doucet got what was coming to him.
I wanted to ask Plauche if he thought he got the correct sentence for killing Doucet. And, who told him the time and place the deputies would bring Doucet through the terminal? The deputies could have carried Doucet from the plane to a car on the ground.
Now, in the end, I have always been troubled about this story and about myself. I have never gotten over not being at the airport, and for whatever reasons I felt I needed to be there.
And, to tell the truth, I cannot say for sure whether I would or would not have done what Plauche did had one of my children been the victim of a molester. My indecision is worrisome.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.