Family members killed during theft
GONZALES — Bernard James, one of five men accused in the February 2012 slayings of Robert Irwin Marchand, his wife and stepson, told investigators he saw a bloodied Michael Aikens standing near the entrance of the Marchands’ home with a box cutter in his hand and three dead bodies lying on the floor behind him.
James, 27, then of 36344 Lorena Drive, Prairieville, had turned back toward the Marchand home after he and two other men loaded Marchand’s house safe into a Chevrolet Suburban.
Aikens had stayed behind in the Marchand home off Babin Road north of Gonzales, James told Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Toney.
Aikens, James and the other men wanted to steal the safe, which they thought contained thousands of dollars in valuable coins, though investigators have said far less money was inside.
In a hearing Tuesday, Toney went over the statement as prosecutors and defense attorneys argued before Chief Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District, whether James understood his Miranda rights when he surrendered to investigators without a lawyer present in early March 2012.
James’ defense attorneys argued his statement should be suppressed because it was not voluntarily given.
Turner has not yet ruled on that request.
Aikens, formerly of Prairieville, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to three counts of first-degree murder in the home invasion robbery on Feb. 17, 2012.
Aikens, who was facing the death penalty before the plea, was sentenced Oct. 29 to three life terms.
James is the next of the four remaining defendants headed to trial. Turner set James’ capital murder trial for Aug. 19 in Ascension Parish. He also faces three counts of first-degree murder. Turner rejected a defense motion Tuesday seeking to preclude the death penalty.
Toney’s recounting of James’ statement Tuesday provides new details about what may have happened the night Robert Marchand, 74; his wife, Shirley Marchand, 72; and her son, Douglas Dooley, 50, of Cross Plains, Tenn., had their throats slashed.
Aikens’ plea agreement and other documents remain under seal to limit pre-trial publicity.
Assistant District Attorney Robin O’Bannon cautioned some defendants gave initial statements to deputies that tended to downplay their own roles in the slayings and point toward the culpability of other men.
Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Dupaty, Capt. Toney described how James, during the March 7, 2012, interview, portrayed Aikens as having a lead role in planning and committing the robbery and slayings.
Toney also described how James had himself and others involved in the lead-up to the robbery, the robbery itself and attempts to dispose of the safe in rural Livingston Parish.
Toney told Dupaty how James claimed Aikens, who once worked for Robert Marchand when he had a house-moving business, knocked on his door but James and another man rushed in and James knocked Marchand down.
James also said Shirley Marchand was hit after she heard the scuffle and appeared, telling the men to take the money once she was struck, Toney testified.
Soon, Dooley showed up. He and Aikens fought and Dooley briefly had Aikens in a headlock before another man got him off, James reportedly told Toney.
Toney testified James signed a standard waiver form, was read his rights and was talkative during his March 2012 interview. But Toney also said James smelled of alcohol, though he did not appear to be impaired.