For the first time since his wife went missing in August 2007–and was subsequently found buried in a shallow grave three months later–Leo Lucas Laurent Jr., finally showed some emotion publicly.
He cried, however, after he had just been found guilty of murder Wednesday afternoon at the Forrest County Courthouse.
Judge Roger Clark sentenced Laurent to life in prison, and as deputies led Laurent away, a few tears were visible as he sunk his head and walked out of the courtroom.
Emotion was also high in the audience as the verdict was read.
About two dozen friends and family members of Leo’s wife, Brandi Hawkins Laurent, were present and wept, hugged, kissed, and exchanged tearful embraces.
“This means my daughter can finally rest in peace,” Brandi’s mother Anita Stroud said. “It is a relief. Justice has been done on earth, but Leo will be judged and punished again when he has to face the Lord.”
|Brandi’s mother, Anita Stroud, bursts into tears Wednesday as the verdict is read.|
It only took the jury about an hour to reach a guilty verdict.
Earlier in the day, the state called it’s final witness in the case, forensic pathologist Dr. Paul McGarry.
McGarry said Brandi’s death was caused by strangulation and that there were no signs of any gunshot wounds on her body.
The defense had based its case on the theory that Brandi was accidentally killed when she and Leo struggled over a pistol during a domestic argument on the evening of August 3, 2007.
McGary said although her body was badly decomposed when it was discovered in a shallow grave on November 10, 2007, most of the torso, head, and neck were intact.
Her body was identified by dental records and tattoos, McGarry said.
He said tattoos of the names of Brandi’s daughters and a butterfly were still visible on the body.
McGarry said Brandi’s hyoid bone was broken and there was bruising and hemorrhaging around the tissue surrounding the bone.
“It is a classic case of strangulation,” McGarry said.
McGarry said the bruising and hemorrhaging around the hyoid bone was a tell-tale sign that the injury occurred while Brandi was still alive.
He said the skin on Brandi’s back was still intact and there was no exit wound visible.
“I saw no evidence of a gunshot wound,” he said.
After McGarry stepped down, the state rested its case.
The defense called no witnesses to the stand and Laurent did not testify on his own behalf.
During closing arguments, Defense Attorney Brian Alexander chastised his clients behavior after Brandi was killed, but asked the jury not to judge him on that.
“I recognize that my client’s slime factor is off the charts,” Alexander said. “I cannot explain the trauma he put her friends and family through. This is not fake outrage, I get it.”
Alexander said the evidence, however, was not conclusive.
He pointed to the possible blood stains found on the bedroom wall, and the fact that Laurent has handcuffed while explaining the shooting to investigators as reasons for reasonable doubt.
“Please consider what happened before the incident instead of afterward. What type of weirdo would put his wife in a trash can? But on everything else, there are good arguments. The evidence shows it was an accident. Lying is not a crime.”
Assistant District Attorney Chris Fisher said the reason why Laurent never truthfully explained Brandi’s death is because “he is guilty.”
“He threw her out like yesterday’s trash,” Fisher said. “Brandi Hawkins Laurent– mother, sister, friend–had the life choked out of her by her husband.”
Assistant District Attorney Chris Schmidt said Leo just “could not deal with it.”
“We know what a lie he has lived since August 3, 2007 until today,” Schmidt said. “He could not bring himself to tell the truth at any time and he still cannot deal with it. Fortunately, we submit we have brought the truths in the form of scientific evidence. We don’t rely on deceptions.”
Alexander said after the trial that he respected the jury’s verdict.
“I understand why they decided what they did,” Alexander said. “We just felt like the state did not prove all of the facts.”
Fisher said afterward that justice had been served.
“It has been a long case,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, this can bring some closure to the family. Law enforcement did an outstanding job on collecting all of the evidence and we are happy with the verdict.”
BY: Dwayne Bremer
The Sea Coast Echo