Ascension to ask death penalty for 4

Prosecutors in Ascension Parish will seek the death penalty for four men accused of killing three members of a Gonzales family earlier this year.

Terri Sonnier, a legal assistant who works with lead prosecutor Robin O’Bannon, said a notice of intent has been issued to seek the death penalty for Michael Aikens, Travis Moore, Bernard James and Rolondo Stewart — the four men accused of slashing the throats of three Gonzales residents in a February robbery attempt.

Assistant District Attorney O’Bannon and 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Robert Irwin Marchand, 74, and his stepson, Douglas Alan Dooley, 50, were found dead in Marchand’s home at 39122 Babin Road in Gonzales on Feb. 18. Shirley Ann Marchand, 72, was found clinging to life, but she died on March 2. All three had their throats slashed.

Robert Marchand was an avid coin collector and had a collection that authorities initially believed to be worth approximately $500,000. However, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley later said the gold and silver coins believed to be in the safe the men targeted were worth slightly more than $100,000.

Aikens, 35; James, 25; and Stewart, 22, all of Prairieville, and Moore, 19, of Baton Rouge, are accused taking the safe to the Prairieville home of Devon James, 24, a relative of Bernard James. There, they broke open the safe and removed its contents, authorities said.

Aikens worked for Robert Marchand a decade ago in Marchand’s then-house moving business, knew about Marchand’s collection of gold and silver coins and was allowed by Marchand inside his office the night of the slayings on Feb. 17, authorities said.

The safe was recovered from a site where it was dumped in Livingston Parish, sheriff’s officials said. One silver coin was found inside.

Some of the gold coins thought missing in the robbery were later found in Robert Marchand’s safety deposit box, sheriff’s officials said, but other coins and possibly cash are believed still missing.

All five men were indicted on first-degree murder charges, though prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for Devon James, who, authorities said, received $200 and a tank of gasoline for his assistance. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Sonnier said prosecutors don’t have a firm date yet for a trial or know if the defendants will be tried together or separately. A hearing has been set on Feb. 19 to hear motions, and she said prosecutors will have a better timetable for the trial following that hearing.