GONZALES — After a grand jury investigation, Ascension Parish District Attorney Ricky Babin said his office has found no evidence of any unreported rapes or any rape cases that were covered up as suggested by explosive, recorded allegations attributed to onetime parish president candidate Murphy Painter.
Last month, a local news website posted recorded statements attributed to Painter, a former chief deputy of the Ascension sheriff's office, that he had once been asked to ignore reports of the rapes of five girls younger than 12 years old.
Painter disputed that the recordings were of him and Louisiana State Police declined to investigate over the summer, but Babin’s office said it began an investigation and convened a grand jury to look into the 30-year-old cover-up allegations to determine if a possible rapist escaped justice.
In a statement Tuesday, the District Attorney's office said that neither the office nor the grand jury has turned up any indications of impropriety and their investigations have been closed.
"All cases currently and previously handled by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Twenty-Third Judicial District Attorney’s office are and were thoroughly and correctly handled based on the information and evidence known at the time the complaints were investigated," the statement says.
The recorded comments were published on Oct. 18, just days after Painter placed second in the Oct. 12 election primary for parish president behind lead vote-getter Clint Cointment.
Cointment and Painter, both Republicans, had been headed to a Nov. 16 runoff, but Painter dropped out three days after the comments were published, handing victory to Cointment. Now parish president-elect, Cointment will take office in January.
In the 49-second recording, a voice that is purportedly Painter's can be heard complaining he spent years working for now deceased Sheriff Harold Tridico in hopes of one day "taking over."
"The next week, whenever we find a friend of ours that raped five girls under the age of 12 years old, and y’all want me to turn my head on that and look the other way," the voice says, before turning to other allegations.
Once that excerpted recording came to light, Babin said he wanted to bring Painter before the grand jury to ask him about the comments and also subpoena a copy of the full recording for the probe. The snippet that was published was apparently part of a much longer recording.
Babin has said there is no statute of limitations on the rape of a child under age 12 and wanted Painter's help to find out if there are rape victims who have not been disclosed and, if so, to bring their rapist to justice.
The Ascension Parish grand jury met Monday at the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales on several matters. Painter could be seen leaving the courthouse mid-morning and entering his sport utility vehicle parked near the main entrance.
Citing grand jury secrecy, Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for the District Attorney's office, refused on Tuesday to discuss what happened in the closed-door gathering of the panel, including if Painter had testified or if the full recording was played for grand jurors.
In a text message Tuesday, however, Wade Petite, publisher of the Pelican Post news website that posted the recorded comments, said he was subpoenaed for the full recording and provided it to Babin's office.
Painter didn't return requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday about his appearance at the courthouse. He also has not responded to previous requests for comment about why he dropped out the presidential runoff.
In an interview last month, Painter refused to characterize what was being referenced in the recorded comments.
But in a written statement, he said the incidents mentioned in the recorded comments happened after he left the Sheriff's Office. He was Tridico's chief deputy until 1988 when the two had a falling out and few years later ran unsuccessfully against Tridico.
In the statement, Painter also denied the allegation "that somehow, somewhere, I was involved in a cover-up" of any such crimes while employed with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Painter did acknowledge that Petite interviewed him in 2017 about his litigation against the state but denied that his voice was on the published recording or that it accurately reflected anything he might have said.
Instead, Painter charged that Petite is an open supporter of Cointment and was trying to defame him with the recordings, following through on a year-old political threat against him.
Petite, who has previously published unflattering recordings of local leaders and others, has said he favored Cointment for parish president.
But Cointment and Petite have denied any coordination in the publishing of the comments, which were from a 2-year-old interview.
Babin has said he provided the excerpted recording to State Police this summer after Petite provided it to him June 24, but state investigators declined to pursue the matter, citing insufficient evidence.
Petite helped a former Gonzales City Council candidate secretly record Kenny Matassa, the outgoing parish president, and one of his political allies, Olin Berthelot, in 2016 and publicized those recordings, leading to their indictments on bribery counts.
Matassa, who narrowly defeated Cointment in a 2015 runoff, was acquitted last year. The charges against Berthelot were dropped.
Neither Matassa nor Berthelot disputed he had been recorded but said no attempted bribery occurred. Matassa did not seek reelection after the bribery allegations harmed his political fortunes.