Archive for June, 2010

Laurent Murder Trial

June 30, 2010

After two days of testimony, the state has only one witness remaining in the Leo Lucas Laurent Jr. murder trial.

Prosecutors are expected to call Forensic Pathologist Dr. Paul McGarry to the stand Wednesday morning before yielding to the defense.

The trial began Monday at the Forrest County Courthouse in Hattiesburg.

It was moved to Hattiesburg because of media coverage on the Gulf Coast.

Hancock Sheriff’s Investigator Matthew Carver points out Laurent in court.

Laurent, 33, is accused of killing his wife Brandi Hawkins Laurent, 29, at the couple’s rural Hancock County home on August 3, 2007.

Her body was discovered 100 days later in a shallow grave about a half-mile from the couple’s home, by a Texas-based search group.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Fisher began opening statements by saying Brandi’s husband, Leo Laurent, was the last person to see her alive.

“A search for Brandi would take months,” Fisher said. “At every turn, the investigation was thwarted, and it is because of that man sitting right there,” Fisher said, pointing at the defendant.

The state has indicated that the cause of Brandi’s death was strangulation.

Laurent’s attorney Brian Alexander conceded that Leo was present when Brandi was killed, but said her death was an accident.

Alexander painted a picture of a domestic argument gone wrong, and a struggle for a gun which ended tragically.

“The state’s evidence will show you that they don’t know what they think they know,” Alexander told the jury.

Alexander said Brandi had a drug problem and that she was on a “three-day high” on the evening of August 3, 2007.

“She had a raging dug problem,” Alexander told jurors.

Alexander admitted that Leo Laurent did some “weird” things after Brandi disappeared, but those actions did not have anything to do with how she died.

“Don’t allow what happened after to prejudice you,” Alexander told the jury. “What led up to the time she died is the best indicator.”

Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy James Alphonso testified that he took a missing person’s report on August 5, 2007 from Leo Laurent.

Laurent told deputies his wife had left in the middle of the evening, wearing flip-flops, tan shorts, and a green shirt.

Sheriff’s Investigator Matthew Carver said a post made on the social network MySpace from Brandi’s profile was made after she was reported missing.

The post said that Brandi had allegedly run off to Missouri with another man.

Carver said that after the discovery of the MySpace post, investigators began considering the possibility of foul play.

The post was traced back to the Laurents’ home, Carver said, but Leo Laurent had denied having his wife’s password.

Brandi Laurent’s mother, Anita Stroud, and sister Jessica Fisher hug during court Tuesday.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Investigator Joel Wallace testified that during the next three months, Laurent led law enforcement into many dead ends.

Wallace said he and Laurent got very close during that time, and that Laurent would often call him about a myriad of things.

“Over and over again, we were checking out other people that Mr. Laurent had pointed out to us,” Wallace said. “Things were not adding up.”

Wallace said Laurent made several different statements to him and other law enforcement officers during the course of the investigation.

On January 7, 2008, Leo Laurent finally admitted to being involved in his wife’s death, Wallace said.

Wallace testified that Laurent said after his wife’s death, Laurent told him he had put her body in a trash can, loaded the body in the back of the family’s van, put his two-year-old daughter in the van, and drove off.

“He said he saw a tree throught the moon-light and said “this would be a nice place for Brandi to be.”

Wallace said Laurent then said he kissed her goodbye, showed the body to the baby, covered Brandi with dirt, and then drove away.

Wallace broke down in tears several times during his testimony. Members of the jury also appeared to be in tears when Wallace described how Laurent had disposed of his wife’s body.

On Tuesday, prosecutors called Brandi’s mother Anita Stroud to the stand. Stroud recounted how she searched for her daughter and gotten other people involved.

Stroud said she and other family and friends had searched relentelessly and even went into “high-crime” areas to try to locate Brandi.

Stroud said she was scared because she thought Brandi may have been abducted by someone, so she began carrying a gun.

She said Leo showed her how to use the gun and even took her out for target practice.

The wooded area where they practiced shooting was the same area where Brandi’s body would later be found, Stroud said.

A former girlfriend of Leo Laurent also testified to his bizarre behavior after the disappearance and the discovery of Brandi’s body.

Kim Cooley testified that she had met Leo Laurent shortly before his wife disappeared.

Leo Laurent’s former girlfriend Kim Cooley said she was “terrified” of Laurent after Brandi’s body was found.

A few days after the disappearance, Cooley said Leo called her wanting to begin a romantic relationship.

“I felt sorry for him and his kids,” Cooley said. “He told me his wife had left him and he was all alone.”

Cooley said she and Leo were planning to go on a cruise before Brandi Laurent’s body was discovered in a shallow grave on November 10, 2007.

Cooley also testified that she witnessed Laurent — in a fit of rage on Halloween night –throw away all of Brandi’s belongings, rip up photos, and destroy items from their marriage.

“He was very aggravated by her,” Cooley said. “He said he was mad at her for going away.”

Hancock County Sheriff’s Investigator André Fizer testified that on January 7, 2008, he and Wallace obtained a video statement from Laurent about his wife’s death.

Laurent also gave investigators a reenactment of his version of the shooting.

Former Mississippi Crime Scene Investigator Grant Graham testified that a small bullet hole was located in Laurent’s bedroom, but that the trajectery of the bullet did not match with the video reenactment which Laurent gave law enforcement.

Graham said he had investigated the home on two occasions and did not see the bullet hole on the first occasion.

Defense attorney Jim McGuire objected to he findings, saying that Laurent could not produce the proper angle because he was in handcuffs during the video.

Graham said with the angle he was shown, Laurent would have fired into the floor and not the wall.

Graham said lumina tests indcated there was a possible blood stain on the west wall of the bedroom, but that was the opposite wall which Laurent claimed to have shot into.

The case will continue today with McGarry taking the stand. McGarry is expected to reveal that Brandi was killed by strangulation.

It is unclear if the defense plans to call Laurent to the stand.

 
 
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‘Curtains’ for the Bay of St. Louis

June 30, 2010

In a significant lack of solidarity, Bay St. Louis and Hancock County disagreed sharply this week on a decision to build an oil-protection barrier stretching two miles across the Bay of St. Louis.

City officials have fought for nearly five weeks to have the structure built, in efforts to protect interior waters and marshes from any oil that may encroach from the BP Deepwater Horizon gusher. But after state and federal approval was finally gained to begin the project, the president of the county Board of Supervisors strenuously disagreed with the idea on grounds that it will constitute a boating safety hazard.

“The Board of Supervisors does not want to invest in something that’s going to be a bigger hazard than oil,” President Rocky Pullman said at an emergency meeting called over the issue Monday night. He said his board had already voted 4-1 to oppose the plan.

After discussion at the Monday meeting among city and county officials, as well as others from Harrison County, Waveland and Pass Christian, the Bay City Council voted unanimously in favor of the barrier, known as the “Coventry Plan.” It will be constructed at an estimated $3 million cost, although it remained unclear how the project will be funded.

The state Department of Marine Resources and the Corps of Engineers have agreed to allow a 200-foot section to be built as a test of the system. If successful, it will be completed to reach all the way across the mouth of the bay.

The system will consist of pilings placed in a V-shape, stretching from Henderson Point to near the Washington Street pier. Mickey Lagasse, of Compton Engineering, said each piling would stand six feet above the water line at low tide, and would be lighted and carry reflective tape.

Vinyl curtains would stretch between the pilings, attached at the top with hangers and hooks, and running to a depth of three feet from the bottom of the bay
Pullman, a professional tugboat captain, said he fears the system will endanger marine traffic as unknowledgeable pleasure boaters speed in and out of the bay. A simple error on the part of a boat operator could cause casualties, he said.

“It can happen and it will happen,” Pullman said. “We need to think clearly.”

But his protests were overridden by anxious city officials, who are distressed over the imminent approach of oil. This week, oil entered the Mississippi Sound and washed ashore at mainland locations including Pascagoula and Biloxi.

“We’ve got to manage that risk, to protect the Bay,” said Doug Seal, president of the City Council.

Councilwoman Wendy McDonald said the city had no choice but protect citizens by constructing the system.

“This is a moral obligation … to protect them with something that might work,” she said.

Permits for the project had already been issued to the county. The city’s approval vote included a decision to switch permits from the county into the names of the city and Harrison County government.

Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, whose district includes Pass Christian and Henderson Point, also urged that the barrier be built and the bill sent to BP.

“Build it. Do it,” he said. “If they don’t want to voluntarily give us the money, we’ll go after it one way or another.”

Mayor Les Fillingame, who has negotiated with DMR to have the system built, agreed. “I would say, ‘do it,”‘ he said.

“I think us not doing anything is the worst thing we can do,” said Supervisor Steve Seymour, who was the only one of the five county supervisors to favor plan.

But Pullman remain adamant.

“The Board of Supervisors has voted 4-1 not to support it,” he said. “That means we’re not going to fund it.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Bay couple arrested in stabbing

June 30, 2010

A Bay St. Louis couple was arrested on Sunday in the stabbing death of a Gulfport man.

According to a statement issued by Gulfport Police Chief Alan Weatherford, the Gulfport Police Department arrested 44 year old Carl Vincent Tucker of Bay St. Louis and charged him with one count of murder; Police also arrested Valerie Rose Frost of Bay St. Louis and charged her with one count of accessory after the fact.

“The arrests stem from a stabbing complaint at approximately 12:53 a.m. in the 2400 block of 28th Street, Buddy’s Inn,” Weatherford said. “Upon officers’ arrival they located the victim, 31 year old white male of Gulfport with multiple stabs wounds. The victim was transported to Memorial Hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.”

The victim was later identified as Charles Kirschenheuter Jr. of Gulfport.

“ During the course of the investigation Tucker was developed as a suspect,” Weatherford said. “The investigation revealed that Tucker and victim got into an altercation at which time Tucker stabbed victim. Tucker then gave the weapon to Frost, who disposed of the weapon.”

Both Tucker and Frost were arrested and incarcerated at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center. Taylor’s bond was set at $1,500,000.00 and Frost’s bond was set at $250,000.00. Both bonds were set by Harrison County Justice Court Judge Gene Dedeaux.

The Sea Coast Echo

State says Bay marina a ‘done deal,’ but Bay City Council says ‘no it isn’t’

June 30, 2010

The Mississippi Development Authority has told a concerned Bay St. Louis resident that while her worries over building a $15.6 million, city-owned million marina are important, the project is a fait accompli, so far as the state is concerned.

Jon Mabry, CEO of the state agency’s Disaster Recovery Division, also told local resident Camille Tate that costs of upkeep and operation on the 162-slip marina are a local problem, and not the state’s concern.

MDA is the funneling agency for federal funds that will be used to build the marina. In May, the City of Bay St. Louis asked MDA to release funds for the project, which has been favored by many Bay business interests but questioned by some other residents.

Tate, a retired teacher and Realtor, had written to the state expressing her concern over the way the proposal has been handled. She and others have also questioned the city’s ability to pay insurance, operating overhead and other costs once the facility is built. As planned, it will be constructed on the bay front just south of the CSX Railroad bridge.

In his June 7 reply to her letter, Mabry said the city “has held the required public hearing regarding the project. Subsequently, the Bay St. Louis Council has approve the marina proposal’s application for submission, which, from our perspective, is tantamount to the municipality’s affirmation for the project as envisioned.”

Mabry also wrote: “The debate about the issues you raise and the long-term upkeep of the project appropriately are local issues that must be resolved locally.”

However, Bay St. Louis City Council members have repeatedly insisted they have never given any formal approval for the waterfront improvements project, and are still waiting for a formal business plan to be performed, evaluating chances of success for a marina.

Marina critics have questioned how much money the endeavor could generate.

In addition, Tate said, a single public hearing that occurred in connection with the marina was held not by the city, but by the state Department of Marine Resources as part of the permitting process. Although citizens were allowed to speak for or against the project, questions from the public were not allowed during the hearing.

Tate said the City Council’s involvement was primarily to approve submitting an application for funding. As for Mabry’s claim that the council has given overall approval or held a public hearing, “somebody’s wrong,” she said.
“The city has never said, ‘okay, we’re going to have a conversation about this,'” Tate said.

City Councilmen Joey Boudin and Bill Taylor agreed the council neither held a public hearing nor given blanker approval for the project. “There were things he said in that letter that were wrong,” Taylor said.

Boudin, who has watched the marina issue closely, also said Mabry’s letter was inaccurate. “I think they’ve been grossly informed by somebody,” he said, adding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil crisis throws other shadows across the issue.

“We don’t even know what effect the oil spill is going to have on this area,” Boudin said. “We’ve got a lot of variables here.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Pass man dies in motorcycle crash

June 30, 2010

A Pass Christian man was killed Saturday evening in a motorcycle crash near Highway 90 and old Highway 90.

Hancock County Coroner Norma Stiglett said Sunday that Garry Price, 47, of Pass Christian was pronounced dead shortly after the crash.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Cpl. Johnny Poulos said Sunday that Price and another man were traveling east bound on Highway 90 Saturday evening when Price’s bike veered off the roadway adn collieded with the guard rail near the Pearlington exit on Highway 90. Price was thrown from his bike and suffered “massive bodily injuries,” Stigltt said.

The Bayside and West Hancock Fire Departments responed to the scene and Price was transported to the hospital, but was pronounced dead a short time later, officials said.

The driver of the other motorcycle was taken to Slidell Memorial hospital, Poulos said.

There was no other information about the other driver, but he did survive the crash, officials said.

BY: Dwayne Bremer

The Sea Coast Echo

Most-wanted story nets 2 more suspects

June 30, 2010
By MARGARET BAKER – mbbaker@sunherald.com

JACKSON COUNTY

Two more of South Mississippi’s most-wanted criminal suspects have been taken into custody.

With the latest arrests, five of South Mississippi’s most-wanted are now in custody as a result of their stories featured in Sunday’s Sun Herald.

“As soon as the story came out Sunday, informants and the public started calling in with tips,” said Curtis Spiers, commander of the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County. “We even had a couple (suspects) call in and say they were going to turn themselves in.”

Harrison County deputies arrested Nicholas “Nicky” Earl Hay, 23, shortly before noon Sunday after a report of his whereabouts at Interstate 10 and Canal Road. Deputy Carl Rhodes said Hay, on the run since November, was turned over to Jackson County to face a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Hay, Spiers said, hadn’t been seen since he fled Singing River Hospital in November, where he was being treated for allegedly ingesting a large quantity of cocaine just as authorities went to arrest him. Hay has an extensive arrest record, with other drug-related charges documented in Harrison and Jackson counties.

Christopher McKee, 34, called narcotics agents shortly after he saw himself profiled in the most-wanted series. He turned himself in Monday after a visit with his children, Spiers said. He and another most-wanted suspect, Daniel Vashon Cantino, 27, are accused in a June 16 meth-lab explosion in St. Martin.

Two others — Jason Fortenberry, 36, and Marjorie Diane Williams, 52 — called Jackson County narcotics agents, Spiers said, saying they planned to turn themselves in.

Fortenberry was out of jail on bond on two previous meth-manufacturing charges when he suffered burns in an alleged meth-lab explosion in December. He fled an Alabama hospital shortly after he was hospitalized there in December.

Fortenberry, Spiers said, called to give authorities his address and told them he wanted to surrender after he completed skin-graft treatments related to the meth explosion.

Williams, also wanted on meth-related charges, called authorities to say she planned to surrender, Spiers said.

Three other most-wanted suspects featured Sunday — two wanted in Harrison County and one in Long Beach, were arrested Sunday and Monday.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/06/29/2298190/most-wanted-story-nets-2-more.html#ixzz0sLyYJCQN

Oil, Alex won’t mix; rain and wind heading this way

June 30, 2010
By MARY PEREZ – meperez@sunherald.com

Tropical Storm Alex has stayed south, away from the Deepwater Horizon site, but could bring flooding rains to South Mississippi today and Thursday.

The National Weather Service in New Orleans has issued a flood watch through Thursday morning for Southeast Louisiana and the three coastal counties in Mississippi. Alex and a frontal boundary could combine to produce 2-4 inches of rain with 6 inches in some locations, causing street flooding and a threat to homes and businesses in flood prone areas.

“Tide levels will be 1 to 2 feet above normal,” said Mike Pigott, AccuWeather meteorologist at State College, Pa. He said Louisiana will slightly buffer the Mississippi Coast from the effects of Alex, keeping waves at 3 to 6 feet.

Winds of 10-20 mph could increase to 50 mph during thunderstorms, which he said could move surface oil in the Gulf toward the Mississippi Coast.

Alex was nearing hurricane strength Tuesday afternoon and is likely to become a hurricane. The Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters out of Biloxi reported a partial eyewall formation on Tuesday.

The storm turned more than forecast, prompting the National Hurricane Center to shift the forecast track slightly south. The cone is almost entirely in northern Mexico with landfall expected early Thursday.

Thunderstorms associated with the tropical moisture from Alex will start to clear out from South Mississippi Thursday, said Pigott. The chance of spotty showers and thunderstorms continues through the Independence Day weekend.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/06/29/2298274/oil-alex-wont-mix-rain-and-wind.html#ixzz0sLy0k6gB

Suspect in handcuffs takes off , then turns himself in

June 30, 2010
By ROBIN FITZGERALD – rfitzgerald@sunherald.com

Moore

GULFPORT

A handcuffed suspect who fled police called them several hours later to turn himself in, Police Sgt. Chris Ryle said.

James J. Moore, 17, was still in handcuffs when officers arrived at his residence, Ryle said.

Moore, charged as an adult, was wanted on an auto-burglary charge. Ryle said detectives linked him to a burglary reported June 9 in the 100 block of James Drive.

Police found Moore walking Tuesday in the 12100 block of U.S. 49. An officer handcuffed him and was trying to retrieve items from the hood of his car when Moore fled, Ryle said.

“Hours later, he called us to come get him,” Ryle said.

Police retrieved Moore from his home on South Parkwood Drive just east of U.S. 49.

Justice Court Judge Gene Dedeaux had set a $5,000 bond on the burglary warrant. The judge added a $25,000 bond for a felony escape charge.

Moore was held at the Harrison County jail.

If convicted, he faces maximum penalties of seven years for auto burglary and five years for escape.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/06/29/2298194/suspect-in-handcuffs-takes-off.html#ixzz0sLxRwWFK

$24M of BP’s $25M already is budgeted for Coast oil cleanup

June 30, 2010
By MICHAEL NEWSOM – mmnewsom@sunherald.com

South Mississippi governments are buying heavy equipment, boats and booms, and paying employees overtime using $25 million BP gave the state for Coast cities’ oil-protection measures, but most of that original amount has already been allocated.

About $24 million has already been budgeted, according to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, which oversees the grant program.

Attorney General Jim Hood has offered to make a pitch to BP on local governments’ behalf as needed to get funding for projects not covered by the $25 million. There has also been talk of more BP funding being made available.

Pass Christian

Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott said his city wants to get fencing to protect waterways near the Timber Ridge area and the northern parts of town, but those protective measures have to be approved by the Unified Command in Mobile, which greatly slows the process.

McDermott also said almost every expense has to be approved beforehand because a city could be on the hook for the cost if a grant isn’t approved. Many Coast cities faced tight budgets before the oil came ashore.

“We want to make sure we don’t bite off something we can’t eat,” McDermott.

DMR said $2 million is budgeted for Pass Christian in the program.

Harrison County

Although most Coast city and county governments are budgeted $2 million, DMR said Harrison County has been budgeted $663,211.36.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/06/29/2298323/24m-of-bps-25m-already-is-budgeted.html#ixzz0sLwZwIod

Oil hitting beaches by the ton

June 30, 2010
By DONNA MELTON – dmelton@sunherald.com

BILOXI

Out of curiosity, James and Cathy Adams drove 380 miles from Pontotoc to see the oil coming ashore in Harrison County.

At the water’s edge behind Snapper’s Seafood Restaurant, Cathy Adams peeled a pancake of oily material from the beach and held it in her hands. It was like soft caramel, she said.

“This is the first tar balls we’ve seen,” she said.

The Adamses are saddened to find the deposits along what should be clean, white sand.

“It’s just ruined,” she said. “This is one of the best vacation places Mississippi has.”

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team workers scoured the beaches in Harrison County, scooping more than a ton of contaminated sand mixed with tar patties, mats and balls into clear-plastic garbage bags.

Tar balls are weathered oil; patties are just like balls, but newer and with a more liquid consistency. Tar mats can be a combination of the two mixed with debris such as sediment or plant matter.

Advisories extended

The state departments of Marine Resources, Environmental Quality and Health extended the beach advisory in Harrison County from the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor east to Azalea Avenue in Biloxi.

According to a jointly issued news release, the beach in this area had significant amounts of tar mats and tar patties. The heaviest concentrations were between White Avenue in Biloxi and Cowan Road in Gulfport.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/06/29/2298348/oil-hitting-beaches-by-the-ton.html#ixzz0sLvimR2p