NEW ROADS — Judge James Best of 18th Judicial District Court set bail of $1 million Friday for a 24-year-old man booked with first-degree murder in the fatal beating of his 91-year-old grandmother.
Deputies arrested Brandon Battley, of New Roads, on Thursday night at a hospital in Lafayette in connection with the death of his grandmother, Beulah Morris, whose body was found Tuesday afternoon on the kitchen floor of her home, 8623 Pecan Drive, New Roads.
Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Bud Torres said Morris died from blunt-force trauma to the head. Detectives ruled out the possibility she had been killed during a robbery attempt because nothing was taken from the house.
Investigators said Thursday they think the victim was killed sometime Monday or Tuesday.
The slaying took place in what Morris’ neighbors described as a tight-knit community of retirees living on a dead-end street who all looked out for one another.
Morris’ body was discovered by Battley’s mother, Connie Morris, 53, who said Wednesday she went to check on her mother after learning from her brother, who is Beulah Morris’ son, that Beulah Morris hadn’t answered the door when he knocked.
“She was in the kitchen, wrapped up in a quilt or blanket,” Connie Morris said. “The bed was untouched. I didn’t see anything out of place.”
Connie Morris said Wednesday her last contact with her mother came Saturday, when they had a telephone conversation. But Connie Morris declined to answer questions Friday regarding her son’s arrest in her mother’s slaying.
Sheriff’s Capt. Bret Robillard said Friday that Battley had no prior criminal convictions.
Homicide investigators arrested Battley at the Acadia Vermilion Hospital in Lafayette.
Sheriff Torres said Battley admitted himself to the hospital, citing mental issues.
According to Vermilion Hospital’s website, the 54-bed facility provides care to patients suffering from mental illness and chemical dependency.
Torres said Friday the Sheriff’s Office is awaiting the results of a medical evaluation of Battley to help determine the future course of its investigation.
“He’s talking to us (but) we don’t know the value of his statements, given his possible mental conditions,” Torres said. “In cases like this, we let the shrinks evaluate them and then they give us their opinion.”
Annette Battley, who lived across the street from Beulah Morris for more than 40 years, said Brandon Battley has struggled with mental issues all his life. Annette Battley added that Brandon Battley is her father’s third cousin.
“He used to go in and out of a mental hospital in Denham Springs,” Annette Battley said. “I feel so sorry for him, too. He used to play with my children. When he was younger, he was OK. He got worse when he was older.”
Peter Purpera, an investigator with the Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner’s Office, declined to comment Friday on whether his office was ever asked to take Brandon Battley into protective custody for mental evaluations.
Under Louisiana law, family members may file protective custody applications with any parish coroner’s office for someone they suspect may be suffering from mental illness or substance abuse.
Annette Battley said she hadn’t seen Brandon Battley in several weeks, but his alleged involvement in Beulah Morris’ death wasn’t a “complete shock” to her: “The way people were saying she was found in that house, I suspected it might have been him.”
However, Harold Terrance, Morris’ 63-year-old next-door neighbor, said the grandson’s arrest did surprise him.
“I couldn’t see him doing that,” Terrance said Friday. “He cared for her. He had great respect for her. But you just never know, I guess.
“I didn’t see him there on a regular basis — just a few times when he was over there cutting her grass,” Terrance said. “But I always believed it had to be somebody she knew because it wasn’t forced entry.”