Two days after the body of 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey was discovered at the edge of a cane field off La. 3127, a St. James grand jury on Tuesday indicted the fiancé of the girl’s mother in the slaying.
While the indictment of John D. Celestine, 43, on first-degree murder happened fairly quickly, the autopsy of Talaija’s body and other forensic investigations are another matter.
Due to the condition of the body, discovered after a six-day search, officials have not yet determined how Talaija was killed or if she had been the victim of a sexual crime, St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said Tuesday.
The autopsy is being handled by the New Orleans Forensic Center, he said, noting that the St. James Parish Coroner’s Office, being a small one, routinely directs autopsies to other agencies.
Martin also said the Sheriff’s Office has given the State Police crime lab “a lot of things to process. I know the difficulty of going through that, piece by piece. They have to be so careful.
“We’ve been talking to them twice a day,” the sheriff said. “They have been working hand in hand with us. As I got this information, I also advised the D.A.,” Martin said.
Ricky Babin, the district attorney, said he was able to move quickly on the indictment because the Sheriff’s Office “was providing us evidence in real time in the case” from the time the search for Talaija began July 1, the day she was reported missing from her home in the community of St. James.
“Once the body was found, pretty much the case came together,” Babin said Tuesday.
The 12-member St. James grand jury, which serves six months at a time, was already in place, so the jurors convened at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the courthouse in Convent, Babin said.
Celestine, 8308 Pecan St., was already in the St. James Parish jail, booked July 1 on counts of obstruction of justice and false communications on the first day of the search.
Celestine was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail on each of the first two counts, but is now being held without bail because of the first-degree murder charge, Babin said.
Celestine and Emma Dorsey, Talaija’s mother, had known each other for several years before they became engaged two years ago, Dorsey’s father, Lawrence Smith, has said.
Celestine lived with the family.
Smith has said his daughter and Celestine have two young children together, a 4- and 5-year old.
On Tuesday, the sheriff said Dorsey is not a suspect in Talaija’s death and there is no other person of interest in the case.
Family members said Monday they were shocked to learn Celestine was a suspect. Celestine had actually helped search for the girl until her slippers were found in an out-of-use minivan parked in front of the family mobile home on Pecan Street.
They described him as a quiet person who did not share a lot about his past.
The search for Talaija had prompted a multi-agency effort and widespread media attention last week.
Martin found Talaija’s body Sunday morning off La. 3127 while he was searching a route Celestine was thought to take to his job.
Advocate staff writer David J. Mitchell contributed to this report.