Marchand, Dooley relatives speak of loss
GONZALES — A tearful Laureida Dooley told Michael Aikens — the man who helped beat and slash the throats of her husband and in-laws nearly two years ago in a rural corner of Ascension Parish — that she prays daily not to hate Aikens and wish he would “go straight to hell.”
Dooley delivered one of the more emotionally raw and powerful victim-impact statements Tuesday at Aikens’ sentencing hearing.
State District Judge Alvin Turner Jr. gave Aikens three consecutive life terms without probation, parole or suspension of sentence. He was convicted in the 2012 murders of Robert Irwin Marchand, 74; his wife, Shirley Marchand, 72; and his stepson, Douglas Dooley, 50, of Cross Plains, Tenn., who was Laureida’s husband.
The Marchands and Dooley were found with their throats slashed and signs of having been beaten. Robert Marchand and Dooley were dead. Shirley Marchand died March 2, 2012.
The murders shocked the community. Robert Marchand was a lifelong resident of Gonzales, the owner of a then-defunct house-moving business and a regional figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Louisiana.
Shirley Marchand had worked in an area funeral home.
Aikens, 37, had worked for Robert Marchand for more than a decade in his house-moving business, investigators have said.
Aikens pleaded guilty to participating in the murders that arose from a home-invasion robbery about 10:20 p.m. Feb. 17, 2012.
He and three others stole gold and other valuable coins worth thousands of dollars from a safe in Robert Marchand’s house, investigators have said.
A fifth man later helped open the safe at another location.
Aikens, 16460 La. 930, Prairieville, pleaded guilty on Oct. 1 to three counts of first-degree murder in their slayings in exchange for three automatic life sentences without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Robin O’Bannon said prosecutors have made no deals for testimony from Aikens in the four other pending cases.
On Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies maintained an armed presence during the sentencing hearing at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales with as many as nine deputies in the courtroom at one point.
Emotions ran high during testimony and from the audience, particularly when Aikens’ grandmother and later his mother had to be escorted out by family briefly to regain composure.
The mother, Leola Aikens, broke down while she and family waited for Turner’s sentence during a recess following the impact statements.
Leola Aikens could be heard making high-pitched sounds of grief and shouting “That’s my baby” in the courtroom and later as she was being led out and even later saying, “Oh, God, God, God.”
The grief was equally shared as Laureida Dooley and three relatives of the Marchands shared their pain.
Dooley recounted the depression and the days in bed she has suffered since her husband, whom she reconnected with in her mid-40s and married late in life, was murdered.
“I cannot tell you that I honestly can forgive you, and I cannot tell you that I don’t honestly hate you,” Dooley said before Turner handed down the sentence.
“I can tell you that I wake up every day and I pray about it. I have to search my God to help me have strength to not hate you and to not wish that you would die and just go straight to hell.”
Two of Robert Marchand’s long-estranged seven natural children told of his good works later in life to help the needy after bad choices earlier in life and how his death took away any chance of their reconnecting with an older, wiser father that they were proud to learn about in death.
Lorna Marchand Weber, 56, of Houston, recalled how Marchand’s bishop told her during the funeral that Marchand was being counseled to reconnect with his children and was hopeful he had been close to doing that.
“The greatest personal impact to me is that by murdering Irwin, Shirley and Doug, you have permanently removed the opportunity for reconciliation and a renewed relationship between Irwin and me, as well as with all of his children,” said Weber, Robert Marchand’s oldest child.
Aikens would have faced the death penalty if found guilty at trial and if he could not convince the court to rule on his claim he is mentally retarded and not eligible for the death penalty.
Turner had the option Tuesday to decide whether to order the mandatory life sentences to run concurrently or consecutively under the plea deal.
In a motion filed Monday, Aikens’ attorneys argued their client’s three life sentences should be concurrent because the murders arose out of the same plan.
Turner did not buy the argument.
“Three lives were taken as result of Mr. Aikens action, and the court cannot ignore that fact. To run these sentences concurrent would be an insult for taking the lives of these individuals,” Turner said.
After the hearing, District Attorney Ricky Babin said he was pleased with the ruling.
“You can’t serve but one, but it’s a huge victory as far as the judge recognized that fact that three people lost their lives, and not one, so it was sentenced accordingly,” Babin said.
During the hearing, Aikens, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and bound with shackles on his hand and legs, read a brief statement.
“I am truly sorry for what everyone is going through in this courtroom. Everyone has taken a loss, the Marchands, the Dooleys and also my family,” Aikens said, appearing to choke up.
Aikens’ attorneys declined to comment Tuesday after the hearing but told Turner they were planning an appeal.
As for the remaining four defendants, O’Bannon, the assistant district attorney, said prosecutors plan to bring Bernard James, 26, 36344 Lorena Drive, Prairieville, to trial on April 22 on three counts of first-degree murder.
Trial dates have not yet been set for Travis Moore, 21, 4950 Wilot St., Baton Rouge; Devon James, 25, 40140 S. Autumnwood, Prairieville, and Rolando Durrell Stewart, 23, 15379 Roy Rogers Road, Prairieville, all charged on three counts of first-degree murder.