Matthew Flugence, the first defendant in Jefferson Parish charged with capital murder since 2005, avoided a possible death sentence Thursday by accepting a plea deal that will send him to prison for the rest of his life for the brutal killing of 6-year-old Ahlittia North in 2013.
The girl’s overnight disappearance from her bedroom in her mother’s apartment in the Woodmere subdivision of Harvey kicked off a two-day search across the West Bank that ended July 15 with a gruesome discovery: her body, stuffed in a garbage can just six doors down from the Destrehan Avenue fourplex from which she had vanished.
She had been stabbed four times, twice in the abdomen and twice in the neck. Her body was wrapped in the blanket missing from her room.
Flugence, a 22-year-old neighbor who had been North’s babysitter in the past, was identified as a suspect and arrested the next day in Westwego.
Investigators said he told them he found Ahlittia outside of the apartment early the morning of July 13 and killed her before going to a family birthday party.
The case drew further outrage that November, when a detective testified that Flugence told police that the child had initiated sex with him, although her autopsy showed no signs of sexual activity.
The gallery of the 24th Judicial District courtroom in Gretna was packed Thursday for his guilty plea and sentencing. Ahlittia’s family members and law enforcement officers who worked on the case were among those on hand.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office agreed to drop some lesser charges and to not pursue the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea to first-degree murder.
Flugence delivered a series of “yes, sir” answers to questions from Judge Adrian Adams and made no sound as Ahlittia’s mother, who tearfully described herself as “a shattered woman with a broken heart,” called him “pure evil” during victim-impact testimony.
“It’s hard to get what that monster — that animal, the defendant — did out of my mind,” Lisa North said.
“My daughter Ahlittia is gone,” she said. “Not just missing, she’s gone forever.”
North said she has never hated anyone until Flugence shattered her life by killing her daughter and making “unspeakable and unthinkable claims” about her.
“For the rest of my life, I will feel the guilt that I was not there when she needed me,” North testified. “She died terrified and alone at the hands of an evil monster.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Sunny Funk. Flugence was represented by Paul Fleming and Cesar Vazquez, of the parish Public Defenders Office.
Fleming said after the short hearing that the plea deal was in the best interest of his client and everyone involved. North’s family left without comment.
Connick issued a statement saying the North family agreed to the plea arrangement and was thankful for it.
“This outcome gives peace to Ahlittia’s family, who have been spared the painful experience of reliving the horrible events during the trial,” Connick said. “Justice has been served.”
The charges against Flugence that were dropped included one of aggravated rape of a victim under 13 years old, which was tied to allegations that he had sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl shortly before killing Ahlittia. The other charges were unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling and two counts of battery on a corrections officer and resisting arrest.
Flugence waived his appeal rights and will spend the rest of his life in jail with no possibility of parole, probation or suspended sentence.
In 2014, Russell Flugence admitted his brother told him he killed North but he didn’t report it to police. He pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony and was sentenced to one year in prison.
There are now no open death penalty cases in 24th Judicial District Court. When Flugence was indicted in November 2013, it was the first time anyone had been charged with capital murder since 2005, when Isaiah Doyle was indicted for the killing of a Marrero store clerk. He was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to die by lethal injection.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.