Angel on Death Row

Newspaper Accounts

Executed killer blessed with burial for the elite

Copyright 1984 The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the Times-Picayune.
April 7, 1984

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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