Angel on Death Row

Newspaper Accounts

Sonnier executed for double murder


Copyright 1984 The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the Times-Picayune.
April 5, 1984

By JAMES HODGE
Staff Writer


ANGOLA, La. - 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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