DA: Autopsy report on girl’s death no bar to prosecution

The preliminary findings from an autopsy on a St. James Parish girl’s death — ruled inconclusive — wouldn’t necessarily impede prosecuting the case as a homicide, District Attorney Ricky Babin said Friday.

“I believe a jury can determine there’s a homicide based on a lot of facts, not just an autopsy report,” said Babin, the top prosecutor for the 23rd Judicial District, which includes Ascension, St. James and Assumption parishes.

Babin also said no one should assume more information won’t be forthcoming once the official autopsy report is released. The results of additional autopsy tests are not yet known, he said.

Babin’s comments followed remarks by St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin earlier Friday in which Martin said he didn’t know if an exact cause of death will ever be determined for 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey.

Talaija was reported missing from her home on July 1; her body was found on July 6 near a cane field on La. 3127 in Vacherie, just miles from her home in the community of St. James.

The sheriff said he hasn’t seen an official report on the preliminary autopsy, but from his conversations with the parish’s coroner, he understands more testing will be done.

“The bottom line is, we ruled out some things like the use of a certain kind of weapon,” he said, explaining that the initial findings did determine she had not been shot or stabbed.

“We certainly want to know, but if we never determine it, that’s just the way it’s going to be,” Martin said, adding that even without a cause of death he expects to put together a strong case on the available evidence. “We can move on with this investigation without that information.”

John Celestine, 43, the fiancé of Talaija’s mother, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

“Exact cause of death, we don’t know if that is ever going to be determined, unless he gives it up himself,” Martin said.

Martin said on Thursday that Celestine has not said anything to incriminate himself.

Alan Robert, public defender for the 23rd Judicial District, said Friday that indigent defender attorney Susan Jones has been named lead counsel for Celestine.

Robert said an inconclusive finding on the cause of death in an autopsy report “would certainly be a significant factor” in the defense of an accused.

“The state has to prove the person they arrested caused the death,” he said.

An element of first-degree murder convictions is the proof of “specific intent to kill,” Robert said.

“They have the burden of proof as to how she died,” he said.