Man accused of threatening Letten once served time in daughter’s death

Man in custody had served time for manslaughter

A Baton Rouge man in federal custody for allegedly threatening to murder former New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, along with Letten’s immediate family, served nearly 20 years in state prisons for the 1988 manslaughter of his 10-year-old daughter.

Federal court records, unsealed Friday, allege that Gerald P. Estrade, 56, admitted to FBI agents at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City this week that he planned on “killing Letten and his family, and then killing himself.”

An affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Kobey McCall reported that Estrade also said the planned murders “would be similar to a ‘bucket list’ or a list of things he wanted to accomplish before he died.”

U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. said Friday that Estrade no longer is in the psychiatric ward at Baton Rouge General. Cazayoux said Estrade remains in federal custody at a different location.

Cazayoux would not discuss other details, but said: “We’re going to prosecute this case carefully. We always strive to make sure our fellow law enforcement officers, working or retired, are kept safe.”

According to McCall’s affidavit, Estrade told McCall and FBI Special Agent Brett D. Skiles on Monday that he once encountered Letten outside Letten’s New Orleans residence in either 1999 or 2001 and talked to the prosecutor for about 10 minutes.

The two FBI agents talked to Letten on Tuesday, and, according to the affidavit, Letten said he recalled meeting Estrade as the prosecutor walked his dog.

“Letten later realized Estrade was the postal worker who was previously convicted of killing his own daughter,” according to the FBI affidavit.

McCall said in that affidavit that Letten “takes this specific threat (against Letten and his family) very seriously.”

In an interview Friday, Letten was as tight-lipped as Cazayoux.

“I don’t want to do anything at all that could potentially prejudice the case or interfere with handling the case in a fair way, except to thank the authorities for being very responsive to my situation,” Letten said.

The FBI affidavit in Estrade’s current case notes that the tip about Estrade’s alleged threat against the Letten family came Monday from former Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff, now head of security at Baton Rouge General.

When McCall and Skiles, the two FBI agents, arrived at Baton Rouge General, according to the affidavit, Estrade told them “he wanted to talk to them and advise them of his intent to kill Letten and Letten’s family.”

Estrade told the agents he wrote a letter to the New Orleans FBI office while he was in state prison in either 2005 or 2006, according to the affidavit. The affidavit also alleges that Estrade told the agents he threatened Letten’s life in that letter.

“Estrade claimed that Letten caused him ‘a lot of problems’ in response to the threat,” the affidavit alleges.

“Estrade stated that he has heard voices in his head repeatedly telling him to kill Letten since October 2012,” the affidavit alleges.

Regarding Letten’s brief conversation with Estrade in 1999 or 2001, “Letten stated that Estrade drove away and he (Letten) has not seen or heard from him (Estrade) since,” the FBI agents reported.

Estrade was in the psychiatric ward at Baton Rouge General because he walked into the center on Jan. 2 and advised the staff he had swallowed pills in an effort to commit suicide, the affidavit alleges.

“This was Estrade’s fourth suicide attempt,” the agents reported.

Past editions of The Advocate, as well as its former sister publication, The Baton Rouge State Times, show Estrade’s 10-year-old daughter, Melissa, was reported missing in August 1988.

Her body was discovered in December 1988 in a wooded area of southern Mississippi.

Estrade was arrested in Jefferson Parish that December and booked for first-degree murder in Melissa’s case. He later was convicted on a charge of manslaughter.

Pam Laborde, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said in an email Friday that Estrade was imprisoned from April 1990 until October 1999 on the manslaughter conviction. Estrade was then paroled, but that parole was revoked in April 2001, and he remained in prison until his release in June 2011.

In an interview with The Advocate in July 2011 at the Bishop Ott homeless shelter, Estrade said teens should study hard and appreciate their families because his own family would not have anything to do with him.

Court records show Estrade later was arrested and convicted for possession of cocaine and sentenced to a prison term of 13 months.

Laborde said Estrade began serving that prison term in May 2012, but was released to supervision in June. His term of supervision was scheduled to expire Feb. 3, Laborde said.

This week, according to the FBI affidavit, Estrade said he remained homeless and spent all “his time and money at area casinos.”