GONZALES — One by one, the last three men convicted in the home invasion triple homicide committed over a safe of valuable coins stood before state Judge Alvin Turner Jr. more than three years after the fact Wednesday evening.
One by one, each received sentences from Turner, of the 23rd Judicial District, bringing an end to a long, painful judicial process for the families damaged in that February 2012 night. Robert Irwin Marchand; his wife, Shirley Marchand; and her son, Douglas Dooley, were beaten and had their throats slashed in the couple’s home in a quiet corner of Ascension just north of Gonzales.
“The family can finally have some closure,” Charlotte Guedry, spokeswoman for District Attorney Ricky Babin, said after the sentences.
“You know, they’re on the way to that now.”
Robert Marchand, 74, and Dooley, 50, of Cross Plains, Tennessee, were found dead at the scene on Feb. 18, 2012. Shirley Marchand, 72, died on March 2, 2012.
The defendants, who had faced three counts of first-degree murder, reached plea bargains with prosecutors after the two central figures in the Feb. 17 slayings, Michael Aikens and Bernard James, had previously been convicted on three murder counts and sentenced to life in prison.
Rolando Durrell Stewart, 25, 15379 Roy Rogers Road, Prairieville, who also had been convicted on unrelated charges, including an attempted second-degree murder count, received the longest sentence Wednesday, 63 years at hard labor.
Travis “Buddah” Moore, 22, 4950 Wilot St., Baton Rouge, who had agreed along with co-defendant Devon James, to testify for prosecutors, received 26 years in prison.
James, 27, 40140 S. Autumnwood, Prairieville, who received 15 years, did not participate in the robbery and murders. But he lent Bernard James, his cousin, his Suburban for the robbery, helped open the safe later, clean it of fingerprints with bleach and dispose of it in Livingston Parish, according to the plea read in court Wednesday.
Turner gave his reasons for each man’s sentence, spelled out the prison time and then handed over each man to the state Department of Corrections.
Each time, emotional family and friends of the defendant walked out of the rear of the courtroom as sheriff’s deputies quietly led the defendant in the opposite direction.
At one point, the moans of sorrow from a woman could be heard after she left a courtroom.
The sadness was no less intense minutes earlier when the daughter of Robert Marchand and the widow of Dooley told the three defendants sitting together with their attorneys how the murders had cut short the lives of people they loved.
“These past three years have been the most difficult times in all of my life,” said Laureida “Lolo” Dooley, widow of Douglas Dooley.
Laureida Dooley said she has suffered with depression and needed counseling but told the men their families had probably suffered no less.
“I’m sure today is just as difficult for them as it is for us,” Dooley said, adding the men made the decisions that led them to court Wednesday.
All three men, Stewart, Moore and James, had pleaded guilty to three counts of being accessories after the fact to first-degree murder and obstruction of justice.
Stewart and Moore, who entered their pleas Dec. 17, also pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary.
James, who entered his plea Wednesday, also pleaded guilty to compounding a felony.
Turner has sealed key parts of the court record, but the factual descriptions in the two of the five plea agreements — for Devon and Bernard James — portray Aikens, 38, 16460 La. 930, Prairieville, as the mastermind of the robbery.
Aikens had worked for Robert Marchand, an avoid coin collector, in his house-moving business and suggested the men could get quick money by burglarizing the safe.
Four of the men, Aikens, Bernard James, Moore and Stewart, showed up at the Marchand home at 10:20 p.m. Feb. 17, 2012, after Bernard James borrowed the sport utility vehicle from Devon James, a college graduate with a business degree.
Aikens went to the door and spoke with Marchand briefly until signaling the others.
Bernard James rushed the door and knocked down Marchand. Moore followed behind, stepped over an unconscious Marchand, who had been beaten by Aikens, and looked for the safe.
Shirley Marchand and Dooley happened upon the men and were beaten primarily by Aikens. Bernard James also hit Dooley with part of a two-by-four to get Dooley off Aikens’ back at one point.
But it was Aikens who beat him and was left alone with the Marchands and Dooley while the other three rolled the safe out the house.
As in Bernard James’ plea agreement, Devon James reported that Aikens later said: “Look at my knife; I still got skin in my knife.”
Devon James’ plea also says that Aikens added, “They had to go because they knew me.”
Devon James’ plea goes on to describe how the four men broke into the safe at his house and later disposed of it but noted that Devon James did not know of the slayings until days later.
Once he found out, Devon James painted his SUV with primer and removed his back seat to get rid of any DNA from Aikens.
But deputies ended up finding the safe and found Bernard James’ DNA inside it and on cigarette butts in Devon James’ Suburban.
Aikens pleaded guilty in October 2013 to three counts of first-degree murder.
In August, Bernard James pleaded guilty to first-degree murder counts in Robert Marchand’s and Dooley’s deaths and to a second-degree murder charge in Shirley Marchand’s death.
Once the proceedings were over Wednesday and Turner left the courtroom, prosecutors and family and friends of the Marchands and Dooley spoke quietly and hugged one another one last time.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.