A Mother’s Outrage: Prosecutor Agrees to Plea in Daughter’s Tragic Death
Bethany Walters was found dead of a gunshot wound on January 25, 2016. it was eventually determined by law enforcement that it was a suicide. Her death was classified as "undetermined" by the St. Landry Parish Coroner at the time.
But her mom refused to believe that.
“I’m not a mother who couldn’t accept her child’s suicide,” Cindy Walters said to the Advertiser. “I needed to know what happened.”
Cindy, and Bethany's family's persistence, has yielded a guilty plea to the charge of Negligent Homicide by Michael Guillory, Bethany's live-in boyfriend, who was a convicted felon. He ran away from the house where Bethany died before police could arrive, according to court documents. The Advertiser reports Guillory told investigators her death was an accident and that the gun accidentally fired while she was playing with it.
A plea to Negligent Homicide is still a murder and indicates some involvement by Michael Guillory," said District Attorney Chad Pitre in a statement released from the St. Landry Parish District Attorney's Office. "In light of the lack of direct evidence of guilt we feel this was a just result.
This was a cold case that looked dead in the water until Bethany's family sought additional expert opinions regarding evidence found at the crime scene.
After a review of the initial case, new expert opinions and the case as a whole, our prosecution team determined that while this new evidence supported the conclusion that Bethany Walters did not die of a suicide, the evidence also left questions as to the manner of death," said Assistant District Attorney Alisa Gothreaux in the St. Landry Parish DA's press release.
At the family's urging, this legal challenge was going to allow the jury to decide Guillory's fate.
But here is where the mother's outrage comes in.
In a Facebook post released hours after the press release was sent out, Cindy Walters expressed her disappointment "in the manner in which Chad Pitre...handled" the case.
On December 13, a jury had been selected and my family braced ourselves to accept the decision of a jury," pointed out Cindy. "On the morning of the trial, with the jury empaneled, experts prepared to testify, and other witnesses present, Chad Pitre informs us that he is offering a plea for negligent homicide with a 5 year sentence credit for time served and dismissing the jury."
This comes after Bethany's family, at their own expense, hired a retired LA State Police Firearms expert, a former Tangipahoa Parish Coroner, and a crime scene analyst to do an objective investigation to determine whether Bethany could have shot herself.
These independent forensic scientists determined that she was shot from a distance of 24" or greater," said Cindy. "She was shot greater than the distance of her arms. The results, findings, and reports came in they were turned into the sheriff's department. The St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Department held this information for months before making an arrest and turning the file over to the DA for prosecution."
In his statement released via press release, Pitre said he understood the family's disappointment but cautioned that the law requires the state to prove specific intent which he says was missing in this case.
But that statement is of no comfort to Cindy.
The reason he (Pitre) gave us was that his office was unable to prove intent," said Cindy. "I cannot accept this explanation. Part of what the Grand Jury necessarily evaluated when Michael Guillory was indicated was intent. Manslaughter (LA R.S. 14:31) is a responsive verdict to second-degree murder. Manslaughter does not require intent. If the jury had decided that Michael Guillory killed Bethany but the jury could not find intent, the jury could have returned a verdict of manslaughter."
According to Justia, a manslaughter conviction in Louisiana can earn up to a 40-year prison sentence:
Whoever commits manslaughter shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than forty years. However, if the victim killed was under the age of ten years, the offender shall be imprisoned at hard labor, without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, for not less than ten years nor more than forty years.
Cindy went on to show her disgust for the fact that Guillory gets to "maintain (his) innocence."
Michael Guillory was afforded an Alford Plea and by definition that is a guilty plea in which a defendant maintains their innocence but admits that the prosecution's evidence would likely result in a guilty verdict if brought to trial. You (Pitre) allowed him to enter an Alford Plea and he did not even admit he did it. Well sir, while you afforded a convicted felon an Alford Plea our family feels like we should have been afforded a trial. I do not believe I could find one other District Attorney in this state that has done this. You lead a victim's family to believe there would be a trial in this matter and on the morning of the first day of trial you inform them of your reasons which are not valid. I believe your actions are unprecedented."
Unfortunately, the world will not be able to experience the good that this paramedic-turned-law student, Bethany, could have done for it.