A Jefferson Parish judge sentenced Dexter Allen to life in prison with no chance of parole on Friday for the 2015 murders of David Pence and his son Nicholas in their family home in Metairie.
The crimes occurred two years ago Saturday.
Judge Raymond Steib's voice twice cracked with emotion as he told Allen that he based his sentence on the fact that Allen had never shown “any emotion other than anger” during the trial.
He said Allen had sat impassively during the playback of Beth Branley’s frantic call to 911, during which she pleaded in vain for her son to keep breathing and keep his eyes open.
Branley had been asleep in another room when Allen, who had been breaking into cars near the Pences' Clifford Drive home, came into the house to steal a purse.
He shot David Pence, 56, in the face with a shotgun and twice more as he slept on an easy chair and then turned the gun on Nicholas, 25, who came into the room to see what was happening.
"By any definition," Steib said, "the murder of David and Nicholas Pence was heinous."
Because Allen was 17 at the time of the murders, Steib had to decide whether he should be deemed eligible for parole after 35 years.
Steib noted that nothing said during the trial or the hearings that preceded it at 24th Judicial District Court suggested that Allen had any developmental disabilities or suffered from substance abuse problems. He noted Allen's own mother testified he was a smart kid.
Steib sentenced Allen to two life sentences without parole for the killings and two years each on the 19 counts of burglary against him.
The victims' family and friends shed tears of relief as the sentence came down.
As Allen was led from the courtroom, he told his mother, "I love you."
Dressed in black, Beth Branley took the witness stand in a Gretna courtroom Thursday, two da…
After the sentencing, Branley said the family felt a sense of relief, not just at the outcome but that their ordeal was over. She thanked District Attorney Paul Connick's office, the investigators and the judge, but she added that the family will continue to struggle to come to grips with such a sudden, senseless loss.
"I just hope that we all can start to heal now," she said. "It's been a very long road, almost two years to the day that we've been through this. ... We'll go through it for the rest of our lives, but I tell my kids so long as we stick together, we're going to be OK. And I'm blessed to have them as my family."
Tara Pence, the daughter of David and brother of Nicholas, said she appreciated the emotion that was apparent in Steib's voice when he delivered the sentence. She said she was glad that Steib too had noticed Allen's cold demeanor during the proceedings.
"I'm just glad he was so attentive," she said.
Branley said the family plans to have a crawfish boil this weekend, the second in what has become a tradition among family and friends — a gathering to celebrate the life of David and Nicholas Pence.
Allen and his girlfriend, Haraquon Degruy, had broken into almost 20 vehicles in Metairie on the day of the killings, driving around the neighborhood in a white Toyota Highlander that Allen had carjacked in New Orleans. They ended up by chance at the Pence family's home on Clifford Drive, where prosecutors said they spotted Branley's purse on a counter from outside the house.
Police tracked Allen and Degruy to a New Orleans East apartment complex, where they charged at officers in the stolen Highlander and then led them on a chase that ended with a crash on Interstate 10, police said. Degruy was arrested there. Allen jumped into the Industrial Canal but was captured near Almonaster and Jourdan roads.
Police recovered the shotgun from under the house in which Allen lived with his mother and found David Pence's CVS pharmacy card under the seat of the stolen Highlander.
Degruy, 21, was charged with being a principal to second-degree murder and 19 counts of burglary. She faces life in prison as well; her trial is set to begin in May.
Even after a year of living and breathing the case, a prosecutor said in court Monday, she w…
Allen, who is 19 but was only 17 at the time of the shooting, would have faced an automatic sentence of life in prison without chance of parole were it not for a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2012, in the case of Miller v. Alabama, holding that such automatic punishments for juveniles violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The court said juveniles aren’t fully developed socially, mentally or emotionally and are more vulnerable to bad influences, less able to control their impulses and less capable of understanding the consequences of their actions than adults are.
Because of their potential for further development after they’ve committed a crime, the Supreme Court found that children have to be treated differently from adults when it comes to sentencing, meaning that judges have to decide whether there is reason to think they may be rehabilitated and thus should be allowed the possibility of parole after 35 years.
Allen's attorney, Jerome Matthews, has complained he was not given the resources to investigate Allen's past for mitigating circumstances.
During the sentencing, however, Steib reiterated his previous ruling, upheld on appeal, that the law doesn't require an extensive search of Allen's past and that nothing in the case suggested Allen had problems that would have contributed to his decision to kill the Pences that night.
"You played the cards you were dealt," he told Matthews. "Unfortunately, you were dealt a bad hand.”