Six years after the strangled bodies of a Baton Rouge couple in their 70s were found in the backseat of their pickup at a Hammond gas station, jury selection is set to begin Monday in the trial of one of two men accused in their shocking deaths.

Frank Garcia, 53, of Hollywood, Florida, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the October 2015 slaying of Denis "Bubbie" Duplantier, 71, and Suzanne "Suzy" Duplantier, 70.

Authorities have said the Duplantiers were robbed and beaten in their Highland Road home, where they lived almost all of their 48 years of marriage, before they were kidnapped and killed.

Garcia's cousin, Ernesto Llerena Alonso, 48, who did landscaping work for the couple and lived on other property owned by them, faces the same murder counts and will later be tried separately.

East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors announced in 2016 they would not seek the death penalty against either man after discussions with the victims' families. They face mandatory sentences of life in prison if convicted as charged.

The Duplantiers were reported missing by worried family members who hadn’t had contact with them for more than a day. Baton Rouge police officers conducted a welfare check and found the door open to the couple’s home at 5020 Highland. The couple and their red pickup were missing.

A safe inside the Duplantier home was found open, with cash missing, authorities have said. Blood was located in several rooms. Authorities believe Garcia and Alonso entered the couple's home and beat them to get the information needed to open the safe.

A large amount of cash and a number of unspecified items believed stolen from the home were found at Garcia’s residence in Florida, authorities had said previously.

In a new court filing Thursday, prosecutor Dana Cummings disclosed that the Duplantiers' jewelry was found at Garcia's home.

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"Nicole Nembhard with the Hollywood Police Dept. stated that the victims' jewelry was already out on the patio table when she arrived at Frank Garcia's residence," Cummings wrote in a document regarding the state's pretrial disclosures.

The document also revealed that the residence of another man was searched by authorities. The document says Baton Rouge police detective Zac Woodring could not remember the circumstances surrounding the search of that residence, "but thinks that (the man's) name may have come up in the investigation in connection with the report that he may have been reported to have had missing coins from the safe in his possession."

The document filed by Cummings further states that the victims' daughter, Terri Duplantier, told Baton Rouge police that her father "previously hid cocaine in his house."

The couple's bodies were found after OnStar tracked their missing pickup to the Petro truck stop near Interstate 12 in Hammond. Baton Rouge police notified Hammond police, who found the truck — with the bodies in the backseat — on Oct. 19, 2015, in a corner of the truck stop where it would not be easily noticed.

Alonso's white pickup was captured on surveillance video as it followed the couple’s vehicle into the truck stop, authorities have said. Alonso’s truck was later discovered at Garcia's home in Florida.

Garcia's attorneys have claimed in previously filed documents that he and Alonso have antagonistic defenses, and the lawyers said they anticipate that Alonso will try to "shift blame from himself to Garcia" at trial.

Issues with lawyers, evidence and appeals have scuttled numerous previous trial dates in the case.

A state appeals court ruled last year that the two men can receive a fair trial in East Baton Rouge Parish. The appellate court reversed state District Judge Trudy White, who had decided in 2019 that East Baton Rouge jurors should not hear the case.

State District Judge Tiffany Foxworth-Roberts is now presiding.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.