Victim: Rita Sybil Juneau Rabalais, 82
Killers: Joseph Elie III, 17, Daveon McCullough, 17, Cedric Howard, 16, Joseph Green, 15, Fredrick Gradley, Jerry Joseph, Lonnie Simmons, Jr., Frederick Bush, & Joseph General
Crime date: October 24, 1994
Crime location: Alexandria
Crimes: Home invasion, robbery, & murder
Weapons: Pipe, knives, wire, & person
Murder method: Beating and stabbing
Murder motivation: Robbery, gang initiation, & witness elimination
Convictions: Joseph & Elie–guilty plea to manslaughter; Green & McCullough–second-degree murder; Gradley & Howard-first-degree murder
Sentence: Elie-13 years; McCullough–life without parole (LWOP); Howard-death, later reduced to LWOP; Gradley-death
During a gang initiation, a group of assailants, four of them juveniles, invaded Rita’s home to rob her and then murdered her. Rita, who was targeted because she was believed to have a lot of money, was surrounded, grabbed by the hair, and slammed to the ground. The attackers kicked her, beat her, hit her in the head with a pipe, and stabbed her with knives from her kitchen. Howard also choked the 82-year-old woman with wire. The killers then ransacked Rita’s home. The offenders were apprehended, with some being convicted at trial and some pleading guilty. According to Joseph, the killers planned to murder Rita if she recognized Howard, who lived in the neighberhood. One of the juvenile killers, Joseph Elie, was released from prison but has been charged with second-degree battery and aggravated arson.
STATE of Louisiana v. Fredrick Domne GRADLEY.
Decided: May 19, 1998
Lane Rutherford Trippe, Counsel for Applicant. Richard Phillip Ieyoub, Attorney General, Charles F. Wagner, District Attorney, Monique Yvette Metoyer, Counsel for Respondent.
Fredrick Gradley was indicted for the first degree murder of Rita Rabalais in violation of La. R.S. 14:30. After trial by jury, defendant was found guilty as charged. A sentencing hearing was conducted before the same jury that determined the issue of guilt. The jury unanimously recommended that a sentence of death be imposed on defendant. The trial judge sentenced defendant to death in accordance with the recommendation of the jury.
On appeal, defendant relies on twenty-six assignments of error for reversal of his conviction and sentence.1
On the morning of October 24, 1994, Leta Juneau became concerned when her eighty-two year old sister-in-law, Rita Rabalais, did not attend 8:00 A.M. daily mass, as was her custom. Immediately after the service, Leta went to Rita’s home to check on her. When she arrived, she found the door to Rita’s home unlocked. She entered the house and called to Rita, but neither Rita nor her pet dog responded. Various items were in disarray around the home and Leta became alarmed. She called her daughter, who shortly thereafter arrived with Leta’s grandson, James Yarborough. James found Rita’s pet poodle closed up in one of the home’s bedrooms, cowering by the side of a bed. By that time, various other family members had arrived and gone through the house looking for Rita, to no avail. While searching about the house for his great-aunt, James noticed that a chest of drawers had been pulled from its usual spot against a wall and placed in front of the closet in Rita’s bedroom. The police were called to investigate.
When the police arrived on the scene, James directed Officer James Bettevy to Rita’s bedroom and pointed out the chest blocking the closet door. The officer moved the chest, opened the closet, and directed his flashlight inside. There Officer Bettevy and James Yarborough found the bludgeoned body of Rita Rabalais, covered with blood, in a slouched position on the floor of the closet.
The homicide division of the Alexandria police department soon arrived to collect evidence. Detectives J.D. Griffith and Ronald Beson took photographs, dusted for fingerprints, and recovered from the kitchen garbage can a knife, a knife sharpening rod, and a rubber glove bearing a latent palm print. They also found a bloody shoe print left on the floor of the home. The portion of the floor where the shoe print was found was removed by carpenters to be preserved as evidence. All of these items were introduced at trial.
An autopsy on the victim revealed that Rita had been repeatedly stabbed, slashed, and badly beaten. Her face and head bore evidence of multiple bruises and lacerations. There were four groups of fatal wounds. Repeated blows to the head caused massive bleeding to the brain. In addition, there were three fatal stab wounds, one on each side of the neck which had severed the carotid arteries and one to the left side of Rita’s body, which had penetrated six inches and pierced her heart and lung. The coroner, Brenda Rheams, also testified to evidence of blunt trauma about the upper body, apparently inflicted with fists and a blunt object, as well as defensive wounds to the victim’s arms. She verified that the victim’s stab wounds were consistent with wounds that could have been inflicted by the kitchen knife recovered by Officers Griffith and Beson at the scene. She also confirmed that the trauma to the victim’s brain could have been caused by blows with the knife sharpening rod found by the officers.
In the course of their investigation, police canvassed the neighborhood for information. They spoke to Ricky Swafford, a fourteen year old boy living in the area. Ricky testified at trial that he had known Rita and that she appeared to him to be about ninety years old. A few days before the murder, he had heard defendant and several other young men planning to rob and kill Rita as they hung out in the front yard of Lonnie Smith’s house. Smith was Rita’s next door neighbor. He heard Gradley say that he believed the victim had money, jewelry, and a gun and that he wanted to go in “the old lady house and kill her” and see what he could find in the home. Ricky testified that he heard virtually the same comments made by defendant in another conversation the day before the murder. On the morning of the murder, he saw defendant in the neighborhood wearing a white T-shirt with red stains on it.
The police went to defendant’s home and left a message asking that he call the detectives. He did so and reported voluntarily to the police station for questioning the next day, December 9, 1994. After being advised of his rights, defendant gave a statement describing the murder of Rita Rabalais in graphic detail. He confessed that he had entered the victim’s home with at least four other young men with the intention of robbing her. He had discussed the crime with one of the other perpetrators that morning, Cedric Howard, who had said, “come on, let’s go kill this old woman and take her car.” As he entered Rita’s home behind the other attackers, they had already begun to beat her and she was calling out for help. She tried to run for the front door but she was caught by the hair and slammed to the floor where she was kicked, beaten, and hit in the head with a pipe. At some point Cedric Howard choked her with a wire. One of the perpetrators, Jerry Joseph, ran and got some knives out of the kitchen. Defendant admitted that he stabbed the elderly victim in the side and witnessed others in the group continue “cutting her all up.” Then they pushed her into a closet and moved a dresser across the door. Defendant cleaned off the knife he had used and threw it and some hospital gloves worn during the murder into the kitchen garbage can. Then the attackers looked through the victim’s “stuff” and her dresser, looking for the car keys. Defendant confirmed Ricky Swafford’s testimony that he had seen him in the neighborhood that morning after the murder.
The state’s expert forensic metallurgist, William Tobin, confirmed that the knife and knife sharpening rod found in the kitchen garbage can came from a knife block on the counter of the victim’s kitchen. FBI special agent, Gary Kanaskie, testified that the bloody shoe print left at the scene of the crime was consistent with prints left by the Adidas sneakers seized from defendant pursuant to a warrant. Tim Trozzi, an FBI fingerprint expert, testified that the palm print found on the rubber glove retrieved from the victim’s kitchen garbage can matched defendant’s palm print.
Police also secured the statement of Jerry Joseph, one of the men who participated in the crime. Joseph was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of forty years in prison at hard labor, in exchange for his cooperation in giving evidence of the crime. This witness testified at trial that he had known defendant for about one week before the murder. One evening outside a local club, he heard defendant and others talk about robbing a lady who lived on Kelly Street. He heard defendant and Cedric Green planning the robbery; the plan was that if Rita recognized Cedric, who lived in the neighborhood, she would be murdered. On the morning of the murder, he met up with the group again and saw part of the group enter the rear of the victim’s home after Cedric Howard had “messed with the back door” with a screwdriver. The rest of the group, including defendant, entered the front door. When Joseph went into the house, the victim was surrounded and was being beaten about the head with a pipe, kicked in the face, and punched. He saw defendant come into the room from another part of the house with the murder weapon, a kitchen knife. As one of the perpetrators held Rita up, he saw defendant’s arm go up with knife in hand and then saw Rita fall. Jerry Joseph testified that money was taken from the house. He believed about $800.00 was taken and he personally got $100.00.
Defense counsel admitted during opening statements that Gradley had confessed to being at the scene of the crime and inflicting one of the victim’s fatal wounds. However, counsel suggested that the stabbing was without specific intent and that it occurred as the victim tried to grab on to the defendant. The jury was asked to find the defendant guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter rather than first degree murder.
December 29, 1998
Before PETERS, AMY and GREMILLION, Judges. Charles F. Wagner, Dist. Atty., for State of Louisiana. John Michael Lawrence, Shreveport, Kenneth P. Rodenbeck, Alexandria, for Daveon D. McCullough et al. Elvin Clemence Fontenot, Jr., Fontenot & Skidmore, Leesville, J. Michael Small, Alexandria, for Joseph Michael Elie III. Charles Gregory Gravel, Gravel, Brady & Berrigan, Camille Joseph Giordano, Giordano & Giordano, Alexandria, for Lonnie Ray Simmons, Jr. Tony Clell Tillman, Leesville, Keith Wayne Manuel, Marksville, for Frederick Demond Bush.
This matter is before us on a pretrial supervisory writ application by the State of Louisiana wherein the state questions a ruling of the trial court which suppressed testimony of a codefendant as being illegally obtained. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court’s ruling and remand the case for further proceedings.
The criminal charges involved in this writ application arose from the death of Rita Rabalais in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, on October 24, 1994. After an initial investigation, five individuals were arrested for the crime, including Jerry Joseph. After he was indicted, Joseph entered into a plea agreement with the state. In return for cooperating with the state and providing testimony concerning Ms. Rabalais’ death, he was allowed to plead to the reduced charge of manslaughter, a violation of La.R.S. 14:31. In cooperating with the authorities, Joseph named Daveon McCullough; Joseph Michael Elie III; Lonnie Ray Simmons, Jr.; and Frederick Demond Bush as perpetrators of the crime. As a result of the information provided by Joseph, McCullough was charged with first degree murder, a violation of La.R.S. 14:30, and the other three defendants were charged with second degree murder, a violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1.
STATE of Louisiana v. Cedric D’Wayne HOWARD.
April 23, 1999
On October 24, 1994, Alexandria police officers, responding to a call from the victim’s niece, discovered the severely battered body of 82-year-old Rita Rabalais hidden in her bedroom closet. After the Alexandria police department homicide division secured the scene, detectives took photographs, dusted for fingerprints, and recovered from the kitchen garbage can a knife, a knife sharpening rod, a blue hand towel, and a rubber glove bearing a latent palm print. The officers also recovered a piece of metal tubing, part of a Weedeater, from a wicker basket in the dining room.
An autopsy revealed that Rita had been stabbed multiple times and badly beaten. Her face and head were severely bruised and lacerated and repeated blows to the head had caused massive bleeding to the brain. In addition, Ms. Rabalais had suffered three other potentially fatal knife wounds: One on each side of the neck, severing both the carotid artery and a primary vein, and a stab wound to the left side which had penetrated six inches and lacerated the heart and one lung. The state’s forensic pathologist found evidence of multiple blunt trauma, as well as of defensive wounds to the victim’s arms. He verified that the victim’s wounds were consistent with the type of injuries which would have been inflicted by the instrumentalities recovered at the scene.
During the investigation, the police questioned Ricky Swafford, a 14-year-old boy who lived near the victim. He testified at trial that a couple of nights before the murder he had been outside Lonnie Simmons’ house with the defendant and several others as they were planning the crime. He also testified that, although the defendant did not say much in the conversation, he believed that the defendant was willing to assist in the robbery/murder. Ricky further recalled that he did not go to school on the morning of the murder and that as he was walking to his aunt’s house, he saw Freddie Gradley in the back alley two houses down from the victim’s. He described Gradley as wearing jeans and a white t-shirt which had a big red stain on it. Swafford did not see anyone else in the vicinity. Later, the police came to Ricky’s house and interviewed him there, as well as at the detective division. On December 8, 1994, Ricky Swafford gave a statement to police about the conversation he had overheard.
Also on December 8, 1994, Detectives Don Weatherford, Jr. and Gary Billingsley interviewed the defendant, who was in Renaissance Detention Center at the time. The following morning, the same detectives took a taped statement from the defendant as part of the investigation. Defendant did not inculpate himself and was not arrested after his statement. However, on December 9, 1994, the detectives took Fredrick Gradley’s statement, who confessed his own involvement, and implicated the defendant and four others. Gradley was arrested and warrants issued for the arrest of Jerry Joseph, Joseph General, Joseph Green, and defendant. These five defendants were indicted for first degree murder on February 2, 1995.
On June 22, 1995, Jerry Joseph entered a plea agreement with the state. The state agreed to reduce the charge against him to manslaughter, in exchange for his truthful testimony against his co-perpetrators. Following Joseph’s cooperation with police, four additional perpetrators were implicated and arrest warrants issued for Lonnie Simmons, Joseph Michael Elie, Frederick Demond Bush, and Daveon Deshan McCullough. These four defendants were indicted on the same first degree murder charge on July 20, 1995.
Joseph testified at defendant’s trial that he had been present at the Eat A Bite Club when defendant and Fredrick Gradley were planning a break-in at a woman’s house on Kelly Street. Joseph disclosed that Ms. Rabalais had been targeted because she was supposed to have a lot of money. He further testified that later that night he met Gradley, Joe General, Ced Howard and Joe Green (Joseph’s cousin) on the corner of Chester Street. Also present were Mike Elie, Lonnie Simmons, Daveon McCullough, Fred Bush, and an individual who remains unidentified. While the others entered Ms. Rabalais’ house, Joseph testified that he remained on the porch of a house across the street, drinking a 40-ounce beer. Shortly afterward Joseph went inside and saw the victim surrounded by the others. They were beating, kicking and stabbing the victim. At one point, as Ms. Rabalais held onto Gradley, defendant hit her over the head with a pipe. Joseph testified that he left the scene before the others stuffed her in the closet, but that he did observe General and some of the others wiping the walls and cleaning anywhere they had touched. Joseph further admitted that money was taken from the house and that he got $50.00.
Defendant did not testify at trial. However, before the jury entered the courtroom to hear opening statements in the guilt phase, defendant addressed the court, claiming that he disagreed with his lawyers’ strategy geared to ending trial with a life sentence for a crime he did not commit, and that he would prefer death to a life sentence. He then asked the judge to find him guilty.
December 6, 2000
A jury unanimously convicted Defendant, Daveon Deshan McCullough, of the second degree murder of Rita Rabalais after he and three codefendants1 were charged by grand jury indictment with first degree murder. He appeals his conviction on numerous grounds and also appeals the denial of his motion for a change of venue.
Louisiana bill could allow juveniles sentenced to life in prison eligible for parole; families of victims outraged
April 19, 2017
A bill proposed by a Baton Rouge republican senator that would make all inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles eligible for parole after 30 years is creating waves here in the Central Louisiana law enforcement, legal community, and mostly for families of victims.
Many here are furious about the bill, including the family of an elderly woman who was brutally murdered by nine young men in 1994. Three of those nine convicted were juveniles at the time. They’re approaching 30 years in prison. And, if this bill passes, there’s a chance they could be paroled.
“We put a lot of faith in the justice system, and the justice system has let us down,” said Sharon Yarbrough, niece of Rita Rabalais.
It has been more than 20 years and Rita Rabalais’ family said they feel like they can’t get any closure after they found her brutally beaten and stabbed to death.
“It’s been horrific,” expressed Yarbrough. “I’ve had to go through counseling. My daughter has had to go through counseling.”
It’s because of Louisiana Senate Bill 16 which has recently surfaced. This bill could allow some of the men responsible out of jail.
“It seems that nowadays the criminals have all the rights and the victims have none,” said Yarbrough.
82-year-old Rabalais was murdered by nine young men in 1994 at her home on Kelly Street in Alexandria. Three of the nine convicted were juveniles.
Joseph Green, 15, and Daveon McCullough, 17, were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Cedric Howard, 16, was convicted of first degree murder and sent to death row, but that sentence was overturned to life without parole.
“You can’t say it was a spur of the moment thing; that they didn’t know what they were doing,” said Yarbrough. “It was planned out, and it was planned out to the detail.”
This case has already been brought into light after the US Supreme Court ruled last year that prisoners who are serving life sentences for murders committed when they were teens should have the chance for parole.
“The Supreme Court also says in that ruling, the more heinous the crime, then they can still be held with life without parole,” explained Yarbrough.
Now Louisiana SB 16, authored by Republican State Senator Dan Claitor of the 16th District in Baton Rouge, said that “Any person serving a sentence of life imprisonment for a conviction of first degree murder or second degree murder shall be eligible for parole after 30 years.”
But there is lengthy list of requirements to qualify.
Part of the conditions are that those imprisoned have good behavior and go through rehab programs. SB 16 is backed by the governor. It cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when it passed the Senate Judiciary C Committee and its now on its way to the full Senate.
Sen. Claitor said this bill is needed because the US Supreme Court ruled that the state must comply. He left this message to families who feel like they’re being wronged.
“I believe it’s wrong on our part to believe every family will oppose it,” said Sen. Claitor. “And I believe it’s wrong on our part to believe every family will be for it.”
According to the Advocate, there are currently 300 inmates in Louisiana who were sentenced to life in prison while they were juveniles, 89 of them have already served 30 years.
Some law enforcement is angry about the bill.
“I don’t care whether he is 14-year-old or 60-years-old,” said Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton. “When you commit some of the crimes that these juveniles commit, they don’t need any breaks.”
The Sheriff’s Association even opposed the bill.
“It will be debated on the floor,” explained Sheriff Hilton. “I don’t think it will be a breeze to go through.”
However, Sen. Claitor believes that the list of requirements will assure that only those who are rehabilitated could be eligible for parole.
“If a possibility of parole is granted, that does not mean that the worst of the worst will be turned out on the street,” explained Sen. Claitor. “The worst of the worst will remain and die in prison.”
Rabalais’ family hopes Sen. Claitor and the Senate will take time to listen before casting their vote in favor of the bill.
“I would like to remind him to just find justice for these victims and their families,” expressed Melissa Phillips, great-niece of Rita Rabalais. “That’s what’s important in our case. Let there be justice for the victims.”
July 26, 2018
Daveon McCullough, one of nine people charged in connection with the October 1994 murder of Rita Rabalais, 82, is due back in court on Friday for a hearing leading up to a fall hearing to determine if he will be eligible for parole after being sentenced to life in prison in 1999.
McCullough was 17 years old at the time of the crime. Rabalais was discovered beaten and stabbed to death in her home on Kelly Street in Alexandria. According to prosecutors, her death was part of a gang initiation.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that inmates sentenced to life as juveniles must be given a meaningful chance at parole. And, in 2016, the decision became retroactive.[Sic] *1
Since then, the family of Rabalais has been fighting to keep McCullough behind bars for good by insisting on a Miller hearing which prevents the “worst of the worst” from getting out. That hearing is set for the end of the year.
In the meantime, several motions related to that case will be heard before Judge Patricia Koch on Friday. Those motions include determining a source of funds, a motion to exclude victim impact evidence, a motion to require the state to provide notice of aggravating factors, and motions related to the Indigent Defender Board.
Catherine Davidson is overseeing the case for the state. Davidson, who recently announced her run for mayor of Alexandria, will see Friday’s hearing through before she is required to leave her position as an attorney for the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office as a requirement of her run.
McCullough is being represented by Mummi Ibrahim out of New Orleans.
July 27, 2018
The family of Rita Rabalais, 82 of Alexandria, who was murdered during a gang initiation in 1994 by a group of nine people, will have to wait longer to see if one of the convicted killers could one day be eligible for parole.
Daveon McCullough was 17 at the time of the crime. Rabalais was discovered beaten and stabbed to death in her home on Kelly Street in Alexandria.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that inmates sentenced to life as juveniles must be given a meaningful chance at parole. And, in 2016, the decision became retroactive. [Sic] *2
Since then, the family of Rabalais has been fighting to keep McCullough behind bars for good by insisting on a Miller hearing which prevents the “worst of the worst” from getting out.
McCullough was back in court on Friday for a hearing on a series of motions related to that effort. He is being represented by Mummi Ibrahim out of New Orleans, who is taking the case pro bono. But, because McCullough qualifies as indigent, new financial opportunities are now available to him as the case proceeds due to changes within the state legislature that provide money for Miller hearings.
“There has been money dedicated for Miller-Montgomery,” said James Dixon, Jr. with the state public defender’s office. “I think we will have a process in place by the end of September.”
After learning that, Judge Patricia Koch determined that it would be impossible to pull off the Miller hearing by the end of the year as originally planned because McCullough’s attorney would need to begin the process of looking for expert witnesses and exploring DNA options.
Several other motions that were supposed to be decided on, including one dealing with aggravating factors of the case and an effort by the defense to limit victim impact statements, are ongoing, although the state said it plans to object to the victim impact motion.
“The state is going to respond,” said Catherine Davidson, who will leave the case next week as she begins her campaign for mayor of Alexandria. “We are going to object to exclusion.”
The family of Rita Rabalais said the process has been frustrating.
“This is tiring,” said James Yarborough, her nephew. “To hear again the money that is going to be put forth by taxpayers to defend this convicted murderer to try and release him early, we’re tired and we’re upset.”
In a similar matter, two other convicted murderers were re-sentenced today by Judge Koch after the state agreed not to push for a Miller hearing.
Thea Johnson was serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1999 beating and stabbing death of her mother, Linda Kile. And, Dwaine Young also had a life without parole sentence for the 1993 shooting death of Peter Rachal. Both have now been re-sentenced to be parole eligible.
Ibrahim said in court that those sentences were still too harsh and she planned on filing additional paperwork to try to get the sentences reduced.
January 23, 2019
Joseph Michael Elie, III was 17-years-old when he and eight others entered the Kelly Street home of Rita Rabalais, 82, in October 1994 and beat and stabbed her to death.
Elie, who later ended up being represented by Mike Small, was indicted for second degree murder and ended up taking a plea deal for the lesser offense of manslaughter. He was sentenced to prison for 13 years in 2001.
But, he hasn’t cleaned up his act. Just last week, now at age 41, he was arrested again.
The Alexandria Police Department said Elie beat his pregnant girlfriend unconscious and tried to set a home on Madeline Street on fire last September. He skipped town and went to Atlanta. But, police said he returned last week and sent that same home up in flames.
Elie is now facing attempted aggravated arson, second degree battery and aggravated arson charges.
“I read in the newspaper where Joseph Elie had been arrested,” said Sharon Yarbrough, the niece of Rita Rabalais. “I was just flabbergasted.”
To this day, Yarbrough is her aunt’s most vocal advocate.
“Every time he gets out he has another chance to harm someone else,” she told News Channel 5. “As a family, we don’t want someone else harmed like our aunt was.”
Elie’s convictions pre-date his sentencing in 2001 for Rabalais’ death. He was convicted twice of aggravated battery and once of simple battery between 1995 and 1996. His 13 year sentence for Rabalais’ death ran concurrent with those convictions and his time was backdated to March 1995.
After he got out of prison, Elie’s crimes continued. In 2007, he was convicted of simple battery. And, in 2010, he was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon.
That firearm charge was lumped in with an effort to classify Elie as a habitual offender. He received time for the weapons charges and life behind bars as a habitual offender. As he started serving his time, he appealed, and the convictions were vacated.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeal said the trial court made an error when it allowed the jury to examine written statements during deliberations. And, Elie’s lawyer was deemed ineffective when he agreed to letting the statements go to the jury. So, Elie was let out in March 2017.
Flash forward to March 2018 where Elie was indicted once again on a drug possession charge and another firearm possession charge. He was set to head to trial last November, but he didn’t show up and a bench warrant was issued. According to court records, he wasn’t captured again until last week after the fire.
The Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office said its committed to keeping him behind bars for good.
“We have only seen the narrative report so we don’t know what the evidence is,” said District Attorney Phillip Terrell. “We can’t really comment on that until then. But, what we can tell you is that we are very cognizant of Mr. Elie’s history and we’ll do everything that is available to us to protect the public.”
Rabalais’ family is hoping Elie will finally stay off the streets.
“I am getting older every day so I have to depend on my children to help me out with fighting the system,” said Yarbrough. “I just hope that it doesn’t come down to the point where my grandchildren have to begin the fight.”
Elie is currently being held in the parish jail without bond for not showing up to his trial. That trial is now scheduled for April 8. We left a message for comment for Chris LaCour, his attorney on that case, but we’ve haven’t heard back.
We also did speak to a family member of the victim who was allegedly beat by Elie. That relative just wanted to clarify that the woman was never in an official relationship with him.
Daveon Deshan McCullough, who was convicted of bludgeoning and stabbing to death Rita Rabalais in her Rapides Parish home in 1994 when he was 17, is asking for a new sentence.
April 9, 2019
A motion filed by a man convicted in an infamous Rapides Parish murder as a teen has had been continued indefinitely as his new attorney gets up to speed.
Daveon Deshan McCullough, now just days from turning 42, was 17 when Rita Rabalais was bludgeoned and stabbed to death in her Kelly Street home in October 1994. He and eight others were charged in the case, which received intense media coverage.
In October 1999, a Rapides Parish jury found him guilty on the lesser charge of second-degree murder. He had been facing a first-degree murder charge.
McCullough was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor with no chance at parole.
But in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that teen murderers no longer could be sentenced to [mandatory] life in prison. And then, in 2016, the high court ruled that decision applied retroactively.
McCullough was one of many who have sought to be resentenced, but Rabalais’ family has pushed back. They have insisted on a hearing to determine if he is among “the worst of the worst” offenders who should not get a chance to be resentenced.
That process has been slow. At one point, 9th Judicial District Court Judge Patricia Koch talked about how the case could set legal precedent.
“This needs to be done right. It has to be done right,” she said in July 2018. “If we’re gonna make a record, let’s make a good record.”
On Tuesday, she granted a continuance to McCullough’s new attorney to allow her to review his case file and the motion for resentencing that he filed on Feb. 11.
New Orleans attorney Mummi Ibrahim, the attorney who had been handling the cases of McCullough and two other Rapides Parish defendants, filed a motion to withdraw on March 25.
Koch granted that motion on Tuesday, as well as an oral motion from Carol Kolinchak of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights to enroll as McCullough’s new attorney.
McCullough’s motion asked Koch to reconsider an earlier ruling that denied his resentencing. Before that, she had ruled that the teen killers would have to look to the state’s pardon board for relief.
McCullough asked to be resentenced on a manslaughter charge, something Ibrahim had argued for in previous court hearings.
The two other Rapides Parish defendants Ibrahim represented, Thea Johnson and Dwaine Young, already have been resentenced.
Johnson pleaded guilty in January 2001 to first-degree murder in the death of her mother, while Young was found guilty of second-degree murder in August 1994 in the shooting death of an Alexandria resident.
Both were resentenced in July 2018 to life with the possibility of parole.