Aramis Jackson shot and killed Alexandra Engler during a fatal 2010 home invasion at the 42-year-old single mother's Beauregard Town residence, but her then-9-year-old daughter who was shot multiple times in the attack and still managed to make a chilling 911 call to police is the one who asked that his life be spared, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday after Jackson pleaded guilty in exchange for a life prison term.
With 16-year-old Ariana Engler, her father and grandmother sitting in state District Judge Tony Marabella's courtroom, the 27-year-old Jackson, of Baton Rouge, pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Alexandra Engler and the attempted first-degree murder of Ariana Engler on Sept. 24, 2010, at their Beauregard Street home.
Moore said afterward at a news conference that Jackson, who he said has shown no remorse, was certainly deserving of the death penalty.
The East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office on Friday released the chilling 911 call that then-9-year-old Ariana Engler made on Sept. 24, 2010.
"What is ironic is that the person who has suffered the most in this case, Ariana, … is the one who requested that the state spare his life," he said. "I do not know if I could have made that same decision."
Jackson, who was facing trial in July and a possible death sentence if convicted, gave no statement during the court proceeding, but Bonnie Hunt, the mother of Alexandra Engler and Ariana Engler's grandmother, had plenty to say to her daughter's killer and the man who tried to kill her granddaughter. Alexandra Engler, whose birthday was Thursday, was shot once in the left side of the head; Ariana Engler, who was shot multiple times and still wears a brace on her lower leg, has undergone six surgeries.
Hunt, holding red flowers and photographs of her daughter and granddaughter, turned to face Jackson during her victim impact statement and explained that "the pain cannot be fathomed." She said her daughter was beautiful and always will be.
"I have cried. I have yelled. I have pounded pillows. I don't know why this happened," Hunt said sternly, adding that Ariana Egnler was the light of her mother's life and is the light of Hunt's life.
Hunt said her wish is that no other family will ever again have to endure what her family has gone through.
Jackson, according to a psychologist's report filed in the case, was arrested for the first time at the age of 11 and had been arrested nine times by the time he was 17.
"We as a community need now to look at how this defendant evolved and why he developed the way he did," Moore said Friday. "We cannot have this happen again. There are likely others today that need to be identified and addressed before they do what he did."
Prosecutor Darwin Miller told Marabella, who sentenced Jackson to life in prison for the killing of Alexandra Engler and a concurrent 50-year term for the attempted murder of her daughter, that Jackson left a bloody shoeprint at the crime scene as well as biological material. Moore said later that the biological material was a small amount of Jackson's skin found on the door where he busted into the Engler home.
Miller said Jackson "stood over" Ariana Engler and shot her three times after fatally wounding her mother. Moore said Ariana Engler survived by feigning death next to her mother. She then called 911 for an excruciatingly long period of time, giving her location and later crawling to the door to allow police to find the scene.
In the desperate 911 call, made public by Moore's office Friday, Ariana Engler — crying in pain — tells a dispatcher that, "Somebody broke into our house. He just killed my mom."
"I can't feel my leg," she says at one point. Ariana Engler goes on to describe the shooter as a black man wearing a white T-shirt and jeans who fled out the back door.
"Over here!" she can be heard yelling when police arrive.
Moore called the girl a "young hero."
"At 9 years old, Ariana had to do what trained combat military and law enforcement have to do: survive a firefight," he said. "She performed heroically. At 9, she became a hero. Her life forever changed."
Ariana Engler's father, Johnny Adriani, said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that he's glad the 6 ½-year ordeal is over.
"It just takes a weight off of me," he said. "This is the final piece to be able to go on finally."
Adriani, who described his daughter as a normal 16-year-old who plays the trumpet and enjoys basketball, said he's glad she won't have to testify at a murder and attempted murder trial, even though she was capable of doing so. Hunt said a trial would have re-victimized Ariana Engler.
The evidence against Jackson was insurmountable, he added.
"This was a smart move on his part," Adriani said.
Hunt said at Moore's news conference outside his office that her daughter was a fabulous mother who "totally and completely adored Ariana."
"I carry that on," she said. "I try to keep her (Alexandra) alive as much as possible for Ariana."
Hunt believes justice, although a long time coming, has been served. She said she had no problem looking Jackson in the eyes Friday.
Jackson's pleas came four months after Marabella ruled that Jackson is not intellectually disabled, which cleared the way for the District Attorney's Office to seek the death penalty.