Tommy Francise.jpg

Tommy Francise

The lawyer for a Plaquemine man accused of murdering two men is now arguing his client is not fit to stand trial for the slayings, one of which occurred more than 20 years ago, because he is suffering with a terminal illness.  

Tommy Francise, who was indicted in 2016 on two counts of second-degree murder, was given a grim diagnosis from doctors treating him for Stage IV cancer, which his lawyer says makes him unfit to endure court proceedings.

"We have a motion filed asking for his release based on his health, but the judge denied it," said Jarrett Ambeau, the Baton Rouge attorney representing Francise. "His diagnosis was looking better but now it's looking worse."

But prosecutors with the 18th Judicial District are steadfast in their pursuit to have Francise, 62, go to trial for the crimes he's accused of. 

"I feel sorry for him, but he still has to face justice," said Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton.   

Francise is accused of killing Curtis "Cochise" Smith, who was last seen alive on Feb. 21, 1991, in Plaquemine and whose body has never been found, and George Barrett, who was discovered dead in his Plaquemine home on March 2, 2002, with two bullet wounds in his head. 

Both men previously worked for Francise. 

Authorities said Francise fatally shot Smith, who worked as a roofer and who Francise suspected was stealing his equipment. 

Investigators believe Francise picked Smith up from a grocery store, took him to his house and then killed him. Francise then disposed of Smith's body by stuffing it into a 55-gallon drum that he weighted down and dumped into Bayou Pigeon, authorities have said.

In the Barrett case, investigators said Francise entered Barrett's home and fatally shot him after Barrett filed a workers' compensation lawsuit against Francise. Barrett's body was discovered after he failed to appear in court to present testimony in the case.

Francise's capture for the crimes was featured on a season of the crime series "Killing Fields" in which the Iberville Parish Sheriff's detectives investigated the two cold cases. 

Francise pleaded not guilty to the killings.

His trial was originally scheduled for June 12. It was postponed at his attorney's request so Francise could undergo surgery related to his cancer diagnosis. 

Ambeau couldn't answer any questions related to the status of Francise's surgery or provide insight into his condition. 

"I'm not privy to that information," Ambeau said, "(but) he's currently incapable of standing trial."

According to minutes from a May 10 status hearing, Francise told the court he hadn't had his surgery yet because a nurse treating him lost his paperwork. 

Attorneys will hold a status conference in October to discuss how Francise's case will proceed. 

Clayton is pushing to reset the trial date. 

"As soon as the judge gives me a date, I'll take it," he said.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.