Money, language barrier delay hearings for 2 double murder suspects
BATON ROUGE – Hearings set for Tuesday in the case of two men accused of a double murder got delayed after one’s defense attorneys withdrew and the other’s said they are at a stand-still because of money and a language barrier.
Ernesto Alonso and Frank Garcia are accused of strangling 71-year-old Denis and 70-year-old Suzanne Duplantier in October 2015. The men got attorneys from different organizations that represent clients facing potential execution.
After discussions with the Duplantiers’ family, District Attorney Hillar Moore decided not to ask for the death penalty.
Alonso, who worked for the couple and lived in a building on their property, and Garcia, his cousin, are accused of killing them and leaving their bodies in their truck at a Hammond gas station.
The Duplantiers’ Highland Road home was found ransacked. Their safe had been opened and what police said was a large amount of money had been taken, along with other items from the house. Police said they found some of those stolen things in Garcia’s Hollywood, Fla. home.
Both men were arrested in Florida, and have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
Mario Guadamud, who was representing Garcia and speaks Spanish, no longer works for the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office. In court Tuesday, David Price, who runs the office, told Ad Hoc Judge Bruce Bennett no one else in his office speaks Spanish. Given the language difficulty and the district attorney’s decision not to pursue a death sentence, Bennett allowed the Capital Conflict Office to withdraw from the case, with no objection from the prosecution.
Garcia will now be represented by the East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender’s Office.
Alonso is represented by lawyers from the New Orleans-based Capital Defense Project of Southeast La. The group cannot pay for a Spanish interpreter in a case that no longer involves a potential death sentence. Alonso’s attorneys have tried to talk with the Public Defender’s Office about covering that cost.
"After repeated attempts to contact the district defender, we just can't get through," attorney Dwight Doskey said.
Doskey said his office had made 15 attempts to reach Mike Mitchell, who runs the Public Defender’s Office. He said phone calls, text messages and even certified letters have gone unanswered.
The victims’ family filled Judge Trudy White's courtroom for the scheduled hearing. White was assigned the case, but is on leave until February. The state Supreme Court asked Bennett, who has been a judge in the another district, to handle White’s cases until she returns.