A 76-year-old great-grandmother was found beaten to death Wednesday in her Lone Oak Drive apartment and police have arrested a man who said he was high at the time on synthetic marijuana, said Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman 

McKneely said 49-year-old Eric Romell Augustus, who has a lengthy criminal history, admitted to smoking synthetic weed and hearing God tell him to kill. Augustus then struck Lovie Variste on the head with multiple wooden objects, including part of a broken fireplace mantel, McKneely said.

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Variste died as a result of her injuries, the third fatal domestic violence incident in the city in five days, McKneely said.

Augustus left the scene and then returned several hours later before he called his own family and then 911, McKneely said. Police found her in a back bedroom of her apartment in the 3300 block of Lone Oak Drive around 1 p.m. after Augustus called for help. 

As police scoured the scene Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of family, friends and neighbors gathered in the apartment complex parking lot. A person in the parking lot appeared to collapse; an ambulance arrived and EMS workers tended to the person.

Augustus, who lives at the same apartment complex, will be booked in Parish Prison on first-degree murder.

This is not Augustus's first encounter with law enforcement. According to 19th Judicial Court records, Augustus pleaded guilty:

  • in November 2016 to domestic abuse battery and was sentenced to six months in Parish Prison for choking his estranged wife during an argument. Augustus had accused her of talking to another man.
  • in September 2014 to aggravated assault, having armed himself with a hammer and threatened to attack a man with whom he had prior issues. Augustus was sentenced to 60 days in Parish Prison.
  • in October 2013 to aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a firearm, having cut and used a gun to threaten his estranged wife. He was sentenced to six months in Parish Prison.
  • in April 2011 to aggravated battery for an encounter with his estranged wife when he choked her and hit another woman in the head with a hammer. He was sentenced to six months in Parish Prison.
  • in 2009 to first-offense possession of marijuana and was sentenced to six months.
  • in 2004 to principle to possession of Schedule II drugs. Court records are unclear on the sentence.

At the State Police Violent Crimes Unit on Wednesday, Augustus sobbed as detectives led him to a vehicle to escort him to Parish Prison. Wearing a bright yellow police jumpsuit and shackles on his hands and feet, he exclaimed "Lord have mercy."

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It's unclear how Augustus and Variste had met.

Family said Variste moved to the Lone Oak Apartments after her husband recently died and she lived there alone. Augustus told police he started dating Variste around five months ago, after her husband died, and he lived with her for most of that time, according to the arrest report. Shellie Birch, one of Variste's sisters, disputed Augustus's claim that he was dating Variste. Birch said she visited her sister often and she never met or heard about Augustus.

"(Variste was) an amazing person," said Birch. "She would help anybody. Even if she didn't know you, she'd help."

Variste cooked professionally for LSU and for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries before retiring, Birch said. More recently, Variste used those skills to cook her famous gumbo, potato salad and baked goods for anyone who asked, including a little boy in the apartment who started calling Variste "maw maw," Birch said.

Family said Variste had two daughters and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was one of 12 children in her family.

One of her grandchildren, Elisha Hulett, said she will remember her grandmother for her young spirit. Hulett did Variste's makeup for a recent Mardi Gras ball in New Roads where the family spent the night dancing.

Follow Emma Discher on Twitter, @EmmaDischer.