Attorney says Theriot drove to Virginia to kiss his family goodbye; more details in shooting spree revealed
WARSAW, Va. (AP) — A man charged with killing his parents and three others in Louisiana before fleeing to Virginia had made the drive north to try to hug and kiss two aunts and a grandmother goodbye, the man’s court-appointed attorney in Virginia said Friday.
“He basically wanted to say ‘I love you, I’m sorry,’” attorney Steve Barnette said. “He knows he’s probably never going to see the outside of a jail again.”
Barnette had represented Dakota Theriot during a brief court hearing at which he declined to fight extradition back to Louisiana. Authorities in Virginia said they expected Theriot to return to Louisiana by plane that day.
Theriot faces five charges of murder there in the deaths of his girlfriend, her father and her brother as well as his own parents. The 21-year-old could face the death penalty.
Authorities in Louisiana have said Theriot confessed to the killings to investigators who had traveled to Virginia, although they said his motives remain unclear.
Friday’s hearing in Virginia was Theriot’s first court appearance since being arrested outside his grandmother’s house Sunday in Warsaw, a small town in a rural area that’s about an hour northeast of Richmond.
The brief appearance offered no new details on the alleged murders.
Theriot showed little emotion and offered polite yes and no responses to the judge, who explained that Theriot had the right to fight extradition. Bound in handcuffs, Theriot awkwardly signed forms at a table. He appeared chained in a blue jail jumpsuit. A deputy kept a hand on the chain throughout the hearing.
Barnette, the court-appointed attorney, said Theriot told him he had recently tried to join the U.S. Army but had some sort of falling out with the service during the recruitment process.
“He knows he could face the death penalty,” Barnette added. “I think he’s resigned and understands his fate.”
Elliott Brown, a staff attorney at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, had also traveled to Virginia and met with Theriot. The attorney did not speak during the hearing and declined to comment. His organization represents low-income defendants charged with capital crimes.
Richmond County Sheriff Stephan Smith said shortly after the hearing that a plane was already on its way to Virginia take Theriot back to Louisiana.
Authorities in Louisiana have said Theriot provided a lot of information to investigators who traveled to Virginia about how the killings unfolded, although a motive remained elusive.
“We don’t really know what the motive is. We just know what he did,” Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said at a news conference Tuesday.
Authorities said Theriot had been taken in by his girlfriend’s family a few weeks earlier, after he was kicked out of his own house. Summer Ernest, 20, had been dating Theriot for only a couple of weeks.
Ard said Theriot told investigators he used a gun he stole from his father to kill her. The other victims were identified as her father, Billy Ernest, 43; brother, Tanner Ernest, 17; and his parents, Keith Theriot and Elizabeth Theriot, both 50.
The sheriff said that just a short time before the shootings, Theriot had tagged along with Billy Ernest as he drove his wife to work early Saturday morning.
Summer Ernest and her father and brother were each shot once in the head, Ard said. Two children were in the Ernest home in Livingston Parish — a 7-year-old and a 1-year-old — Ard said. They went to a neighbor’s house and the neighbor called law enforcement.
Keith Theriot survived long enough to call 911. When deputies arrived he told them, just before he died, that his son had shot him, authorities said.
Theriot’s grandmother in Virginia had checked into a hotel Saturday night, fearing he might show up there, authorities said. She asked police to check her house Sunday morning to ensure it was safe.
Authorities said deputies were there Sunday when Theriot drove up in Billy Ernest’s pickup truck, a gun pointed out the window.
Smith, the sheriff for Richmond County, said Friday that the gun was not pointed at the deputies. But they took cover behind their vehicles and told Theriot to stop the truck and drop the gun, which he did, Smith said.
“It’s a shame it happened,” Smith said. “I’m just glad it turned out the way it did here.”
Smith said Warsaw is a small town in a county of less than 10,000 people. It’s rarely involved in cases of this magnitude. He said Theriot has several relatives who live in the area.
People who lived with Keith and Elizabeth Theriot said their son had struggled with drugs and had violent outbursts. His relationship with Summer Ernest also raised red flags with her family and friends.
In Louisiana, Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre has said he would not oppose the death penalty if prosecutors ask for it.
“We know what happened here,” Webre said. “He killed five people. So, this is a monster.”