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Elmo Patrick Sonnier - Louisiana Execution - April 5, 1984
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Thread: Elmo Patrick Sonnier - Louisiana Execution - April 5, 1984

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    Elmo Patrick Sonnier - Louisiana Execution - April 5, 1984


    David LeBlanc, 16, and his fiance, Loretta Bourque, 18




    Facts of Crime: Sonnier was convicted of the slayings of Loretta Bourque, 18, and her fiance, David LeBlanc, 16. Each was shot three times in the head on November 5, 1977. Brothers Elmo and Eddie Sonnier were both convicted and sentenced to die for the deaths. The two pretended to be law enforcement officers, abducted the couple from a lovers lane near New Iberia and drove them more than 20 miles to a remote sugar cane field, where both raped the girl while the boy was handcuffed to a tree. Both teenagers were then murdered, shot three times each in the back of the head with a .22-caliber rifle. A month after the murders, both confessed that Elmo was the one who pumped three .22-caliber bullets into each of the victims' heads. Although Eddie initially was also given the death penalty, he managed to "give it back," as he put it, by claiming he did not pull the trigger. It was after his sentence was reduced to life in prison that he first said he was the triggerman. Elmo's death sentence was also reversed on procedural grounds. Upon a new sentencing hearing, he was again sentenced to death, despite Eddie changing his testimony and claiming that he had pulled the trigger.

    The execution of Sonnier gained notoriety later, when it served as the foundation for a book written by Sister Helen Prejean: "Dead Man Walking."

    Victims: Loretta Bourque and David LeBlanc

    Time of Death: 12:15 a.m.

    Manner of execution: Electric Chair

    Last Meal: steak dinner

    Final Statement: As he was led into the execution chamber, he looked at LeBlanc and said, "Mr. LeBlanc, I can understand the way you feel. I have no hatred in my heart, and as I leave this world, I ask God to forgive what...I have done." He then asked LeBlanc's forgiveness. Immediately after, Godfrey Bourque, the father of the other victim, who also witnessed the execution, said, "He didn't ask me." Both fathers sat expressionless, with their arms crossed, as the execution was carried out. They declined to talk to reporters afterward. Sonnier's last words were addressed to Prejean. "I love you," he said. "I love you, too," she replied.

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    April 5, 1984

    Sonnier Executed for Double Murder

    By James Hodge
    The Times-Picayune

    Angola, Louisiana - Elmo Patrick Sonnier, convicted of murdering a teenage couple in a sugar cane field in New Iberia, was electrocuted early Thursday after telling the father of one of the victims, "I ask you to have forgiveness." Lloyd LeBlanc, who witnessed the execution, nodded and said, "Yes." Sonnier, 34, was then strapped into the electric chair, executed, and pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m. by the local coroner.

    He was convicted of the slayings of Loretta Bourque, 18, and her fiance, David LeBlanc, 16. Each was shot three times in the head on Nov. 5, 1977.

    Sonnier was the third person executed in Louisiana in four months. Robert Wayne Williams was electrocuted Dec. 14 for killing a Baton Rouge supermarket guard, becoming the first person executed in Louisiana since 1961. Johnny Taylor Jr. was put to death Feb. 29 for stabbing a Kenner man to death in a shopping center parking lot. Sonnier was one of two men scheduled for execution Thursday. Arthur Frederick Goode II faced death at 6 a.m. in Florida's electric chair for raping and strangling 6-year-old Jason Verdow. Sonnier was the 17th man executed since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. Goode's execution would mark the first time two inmates have been executed on the same day since the court lifted the ban.

    State prison warden Ross Maggio said Sonnier spent his last day with Sister Helen Prejean, a New Orleans nun who serves as his spiritual adviser, and with a female friend who is a lawyer but is not involved in his case. The condemned man ate a steak dinner and was kept up to date as five courts turned down his 11th-hour pleas for a stay.

    As he was led into the execution chamber, he looked at LeBlanc and said, "Mr. LeBlanc, I can understand the way you feel. I have no hatred in my heart, and as I leave this world, I ask God to forgive what...I have done." He then asked LeBlanc's forgiveness. Immediately after, Godfrey Bourque, the father of the other victim, who also witnessed the execution, said, "He didn't ask me." Both fathers sat expressionless, with their arms crossed, as the execution was carried out. They declined to talk to reporters afterward. Sonnier's last words were addressed to Prejean. "I love you," he said. "I love you, too," she replied.

    Sonnier, wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt, was then strapped into the death chair. Witnesses said he appeared to be smiling. At 12:07, his body was jolted with 2,000 volts of electricity for 20 seconds, followed by 500 volts for 10 seconds. The sequence was repeated. There was no movement after the second jolt.

    The way was cleared for the execution Wednesday when the five courts turned down a plea to stop it. The U.S. Supreme Court, the last of the five, turned Sonnier down only five minutes after his attorneys filed their petition. Gov. Edwin W. Edwards then decided not to intervene, telephoning the condemned man to convey his decision personally.

    In his appeal, Sonnier's attorney William Quigley said a former Angola inmate has told him he heard Sonnier's brother confess to the crime. Quigley said he received a call "out of the blue" Wednesday morning from Richard Silvestri, who was in Angola from 1978 to 1981 and was at one time assigned to a cell next to the one occupied by Eddie Sonnier, who is serving a life sentence for the slayings of the teen-age couple. Silvestri said he could testify that Eddie Sonnier admitted to him that he, and not his brother, was the trigger man in the slayings. Eddie Sonnier had written a letter to Edwards admitting he fired the shots and asking that Edwards spare Elmo Sonnier's life. The information on Silvestri was filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court after three other courts had rejected earlier appeals to delay the execution.

    State District Judge Thomas Bienvenue, the state Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge John Shaw all refused to stop the execution. But Quigley said that when those courts ruled they did not have the new information. The 5th Circuit, which was given the new information, denied the stay request Wednesday evening. The Supreme Court also rejected the bid without comment on a 6-2 vote. Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan dissented as they always do in death penalty cases and Justice William Rehnquist did not participate. The appeals all centered on the question of who pulled the trigger when Bourque and LeBlanc were killed. There was no question of whether the Sonnier brothers were involved in the crime, only which one acted as the trigger man.

    Elmo and Eddie, 27, were both sentenced to die for the deaths, but the state Supreme Court changed Eddie's sentence to life in prison because trial testimony indicated he only held the flashlight while his brother shot the youths to death. Prosecutors said the two pretended to be law enforcement officers, abducted the couple from a lonely lovers lane near New Iberia and drove them more than 20 miles to a remote sugar cane field, where both raped the girl while the boy was handcuffed to a tree. Both teen-agers were murdered, shot three times each in the back of the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

    Although Eddie initially was given the death penalty, he managed to "give it back," as he put it, by claiming he did not pull the trigger. It was after his sentence was reduced to life in prison that he first said he was the trigger man. A state district court, however, did not believe him when he testified in Elmo's trial. Elmo was sentenced to die for the crime.


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    April 6, 1984

    Killer Struggled With his Feelings Toward Fathers

    By James Hodge
    The Times-Picayune

    In the hours before he was put to death, Elmo Patrick Sonnier struggled with ambivalent feelings toward the fathers of his victims, who asked to watch the electrocution, said Sister Helen Prejean, the spiritual adviser who sat with the condemned man during his final hours. Godfrey Bourque and Lloyd LeBlanc --the fathers of Loretta Bourque, 18, and David LeBlanc, 16, whom Sonnier was convicted of murdering in 1977-- were granted permission to witness the execution Thursday.

    Sonnier, 34, had heard news reports quoting Bourque as saying he'd like to pull the switch himself, said Prejean, a New Orleans nun. "If they want to pull the switch, OK, let 'em," he told Prejean angrily as he puffed on cigarettes and gulped coffee. But in the end, she said, he decided "he didn't want his final words to be angry ones."

    Sonnier directed his last statement to LeBlanc, saying, "I can understand the way you feel. I have no hatred in my heart. As I leave this world, I ask God to forgive...me for what I did." He then asked LeBlanc for his forgiveness. LeBlanc nodded, and then Bourque remarked quietly: "He didn't ask me."

    Sonnier also said that his brother, Eddie, "did it," Prejean said. Prosecutors said both Sonnier and his brother abducted the couple from a lovers lane near New Iberia, drove them to a remote sugar cane field, and raped the girl. The teen-agers were shot three times each at close range in the back of the head. Since their arrests, the Sonnier brothers switched their stories about who did the shootings. But Eddie Sonnier insisted in a letter to Gov. Edwin W. Edwards earlier this week that he was the killer and not Elmo Sonnier. Elmo Sonnier told Prejean that Eddie Sonnier was the trigger man. Eddie Sonnier's sentence was reduced to life in prison because a court believed he did not fire the fatal shots.

    Prejean, who talked to Elmo Sonnier through a steel mesh window most of the day Wednesday, said he bore no ill will toward Eddie Sonnier and dictated a letter to her Wednesday afternoon to give to his brother. "He told him to be cool, keep his head and stay out of trouble. He ended it, 'I love you, your big brother.'" Elmo Sonnier never really believed his appeal would be successful, she said. After he ate a steak dinner, she said the death house phone rang and then a guard came and told Sonnier his appeals had been turned down by the federal courts. "I know I'm not going to make it," he told Prejean. Minutes later, after Edwards refused to intervene, "there was fear and anguish on his face," she said.

    Guards, dressed in black, came in and shaved his head and leg. Later he resigned himself to his fate and started talking about life after death, she said. "He also said no one was going to see him break." Prejean followed Elmo Sonnier to the execution chamber, her hand on his shoulder, reading from Isaiah Chapter 43: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you...When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned...Lead out the people who are blind though they have eyes, who are deaf though they have ears." After reading his last statement, he was strapped in "Gruesome Gertie," the inmates' name for the state's oak electric chair. Elmo Sonnier caught Prejean's eye: "I love you," he said. "I love you, too," she replied. Then his face was covered with a greenish-gray veil, and the executioner pulled the switch at 12:07 a.m., sending four alternating jolts of 2,000 volts and 500 volts of electricity through his body. Prejean said she closed her eyes for the minute the volts were administered.

    The two fathers sat through the execution, side by side, arms folded and without expression. They had no comment afterward. "The fathers handled themselves well -- with dignity in what was a very difficult situation. We had no complaints about their conduct," Warden Ross Maggio said. Sonnier will be buried in Baton Rouge Friday.

    Larry Moore, director of Rebenhorst Funeral Home in Baton Rouge, said, "A religious community has taken responsibility for seeing that the man is properly buried." Prejean said she and other Catholic nuns are involved. Moore said the funeral home provided the nuns with a casket. The service will be held at the home, with burial at Roselawn Memorial Park.


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    April 7, 1984

    Executed Killer Blessed with Burial for the Elite

    The Times-Picayune

    Baton Rouge (AP) - In death, executed murderer Elmo Patrick Sonnier received what few Catholics ever achieve -- a funeral Mass conducted by a bishop and burial within the shadow of graves of other bishops. Sonnier's 27-year-old brother, also convicted in the 1977 lovers lane murders of two teen-agers, attended the funeral Mass in chains. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Stanley Ott at a local funeral home. Sonnier died in Louisiana's electric chair just after midnight Thursday.

    About 30 members of the family attended the services, at first crowding around the plain gray steel casket adorned with a red splash of roses. Eddie Sonnier, chained at the ankles and wrists and watched by three Corrections Department guards, hovered over the opened casket, gazing at the shaven head of his brother, weeping and consoled by Sister Helen Prejean, spiritual adviser of the murderer. "Patrick died for his brother," said Sister Prejean of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

    In December 1977, a month after the murders of Loretta Bourque, 18, and David LeBlanc, 16, the brothers were arrested and both confessed that Elmo was the one who pumped three .22-caliber bullets into each of the victims' heads. The brothers received the death penalty but the Louisiana Supreme Court reduced Eddie's sentence to life because he was the youngest, was dominated by his older brother and was not the triggerman. After the sentence was reduced, Eddie changed his story and said he was the triggerman, not his brother.

    "Blessed are the merciful for they will obtain mercy," Bishop Stanley Ott of the Diocese of Baton Rouge intoned. "At the cross, Jesus said to the thief, 'today you will be with me in paradise.'" Bishop Ott, who prayed for the victims and their families, said, "We live in an imperfect world. We are all sinners. "Jesus, who should have received mercy, did not. But he received God's justice."

    The bishop said Pope John Paul II noted that if people went by the biblical phrase "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," the world would be "very cold." "Finally, there must be mercy," Ott said. "May the mercy of God be with Patrick." Sister Prejean said her friends in the order took on the responsibility of burying Sonnier because his mother is infirmed and couldn't be at the funeral. As for the bishop's presence, she said, "the bishops are taking more and more stands for human rights. They are very much against capital punishment. That's why he was here." Sonnier was buried in a special plot at Roselawn Cemetery set aside for nuns. Just across the narrow gravel road is the plot where bishops and noted priests are buried.


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    Sonnier dies in prison

    Eddie James Sonnier completed the punishment for the 1977 murders of two Teche Area teenagers. Sonnier died Dec. 19 in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

    Sonnier, 57, was the younger brother of Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was executed in 1984 for the murders of Loretta Ann Bourque, 18, of New Iberia, and David LeBlanc, 16, of St. Martinville.

    “We are burying him (Sonnier) today at Angola,” Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot said Thursday. “This is not any different than any other funeral that we’ve had.”

    Fontenot said Sonnier’s death was unexpected and that an autopsy was performed. The autopsy report should be complete in couple of weeks as results for toxicology tests are pending, said Jim Groody, of the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office, who also works with the coroner’s office there.

    Gary Young, a spokesman for the penitentiary, said Sonnier “got sick” at his work site, which is where the state prison incinerates garbage and other debris, and was taken to Angola’s medical facility.

    On Nov. 5, 1977, the bodies of Bourque and LeBlanc were found off Crochet Road near Olivier. They had been shot three times in the back of the head with .22-caliber rifle. A monthlong investigation led to the arrests of the Sonnier brothers.

    At the trial and in subsequent reports, it was stated the Sonniers had come upon the teen couple in a rural area of St. Martin Parish. Using a badge one of the brothers had from a previous job, the Sonniers posed as police officers and told the teens they were trespassing.

    After handcuffing the two together, according to one report, they used the car Bourque and LeBlanc were in to drive the victims to Crochet Road, where LeBlanc was handcuffed to a tree while Bourque was raped by the elder brother, who went by Patrick Sonnier. After the rape, the teens were forced to lie face down and were shot.

    Patrick Sonnier gained notoriety in the 1990s after Sister Helen Prejean, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, used his story as the basis of her best-selling book “Dead Man Walking” that was published in 1993 and made into a movie that was released in 1995. Prejean became Patrick Sonnier’s spiritual director after his sentencing and was with him when he was executed by electrocution.

    The story from the Bourque family’s view was told in a paperback “Dead Family Walking,” written by D.D. DeVinci, in 2007. In a story in The Daily Iberian on the 30th anniversary of the slayings, Bourque’s brother Marty Bourque said his family had been hurt by the teens’ deaths being used for an anti-death penalty book and movie without speaking to the victims’ families.

    “This book gives our family a chance to heal,” Marty Bourque said in the story.

    Fontenot said about 25 inmates die at Angola each year. Some are given funerals with the religious denomination of their choosing.

    Inmates are buried on the prison’s grounds when the family does not claim the deceased’s remains or when an inmate requests to be buried there. Fontenot said she did not know which was the case for Eddie Sonnier.

    http://www.iberianet.com/news/sonnie...9bb2963f4.html
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