Elmo Patrick Sonnier
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|Elmo Patrick Sonnier|
|Born||February 21, 1950|
|Died||April 5, 1984
Angola, Louisiana, U.S.
|Cause of death||Death by electric chair|
|Resting place||Roselawn Memorial Park|
|Criminal charge||Two counts of first degree murder|
|Partner(s)||Eddie James Sonnier|
|Victims||Loretta Ann Bourque
|Date||November 5, 1977|
|December 5, 1977|
Elmo Patrick "Pat" Sonnier (February 21, 1950 – April 5, 1984) was a convicted American murderer and rapist who was executed by electrocution at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Louisiana on April 5, 1984. Sonnier was sentenced to death and his younger brother Eddie to life on April 25, 1978 for the November 5, 1977 rape and murder of Loretta Ann Bourque, 18, and the murder of David LeBlanc, 17. Sonnier's presence on Louisiana's death row came to the attention of Sister Helen Prejean when she was asked to write to death row inmates as part of her Order's community outreach program.
On November 4, 1977, 17-year-old David LeBlanc and his girlfriend 18-year-old Loretta Ann Bourque attended the Homecoming football game at the Catholic High School in Iberia Parish, Louisiana. After the game, the couple drove to an isolated area in St. Martin Parish frequented by many young couples who used the spot as a lovers' lane. At around 1 a.m., the couple were approached by two men, 27-year-old Elmo Patrick "Pat" Sonnier and his younger brother 20-year-old Eddie James Sonnier. The brothers had been in the area hunting rabbits and were armed with 22-caliber rifles.
The Sonniers identified themselves as police officers and presented a badge that one of the brothers acquired while working as a security guard. The brothers then entered LeBlanc's car. They told the couple that they were trespassing on private property and were under arrest. The brothers took LeBlanc's and Bourque's driver's licenses, handcuffed the couple and moved them to the back seat. They then told the couple that they were going to drive them to the home of land's owner to see if the owner wished to press trespassing charges. The Sonniers then drove the couple to an oilfield in Iberia Parish and parked by the road. David LeBlanc was removed from the car and handcuffed to a tree in a nearby wooded area. Loretta Bourque was also removed from the car and was raped by Elmo Sonnier. After being raped by Elmo, the brothers told her they would release both her and LeBlanc unharmed if she had sex with Eddie James Sonnier. Bourque agreed. Afterwards, the brothers took the couple back to the car still parked by the road and removed the couple's handcuffs. Elmo Sonnier quickly decided against releasing the couple fearing the two might report the incident and he would be reincarcerated at Angola. The brothers then forced the couple to lie face down in a ditch. According to the court testimony of Eddie Sonnier, Loretta Bourque began to cry when Elmo fired his 22-caliber rifle at her but missed. Elmo fired a second time striking Bourque. He then shot David LeBlanc in the back of the head. Elmo shot each victim two more times despite the fact that the first shot had killed LeBlanc and Bourque instantly. During the shootings, Eddie Sonnier claimed he held a flashlight so his brother could see his targets.
After the shootings, the brothers returned David LeBlanc's car to St. Martin Parish. Upon returning to their 1961 Dodge Dart, the brothers discovered they had a flat tire. They used a jack found in LeBlanc's car to change their tire which was later found in Elmo Sonnier's car. The following day, the brothers disposed of LeBlanc's and Bourque's driver's licenses and buried the weapons they used in the killings.
The Sonniers brothers were arrested on December 5, 1977. Elmo Sonnier voluntarily confessed to police that he abducted David LeBlanc and Loretta Bourque, raped Bourque and killed both. He made a second statement admitting his guilt while being transported to jail and made a third confession the following day. Police searched Elmo Sonnier's home where they found the handcuffs used to restrain David LeBlanc and Loretta Bourque in his bedroom. They also found David LeBlanc's car jack in Elmo's car and discovered the guns used in the crime that the brothers had buried. A bullet from one of the victims matched the guns that belonged to the Sonnier brothers as did casings found at the crime scene. Police were also able to locate a witness who saw Elmo Sonnier's car at St. Martin Parish.
Both brothers were indicted on two counts of first degree murder. Elmo Sonnier entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
Trial and conviction
During the trial, the brothers traded accusations on who did the actual killing (under Louisiana law, only a person who actively killed another can receive the death penalty). In April 1978, Elmo was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Eddie Sonnier was also found guilty and sentenced to death. After their first appeal, the death sentences were reversed due to procedural mishaps and new sentencing hearings were issued. Now free from the threat of death, Eddie James Sonnier recanted his testimony during his brother's second penalty hearing. He had then claimed that it was he who did the actual killings and not Elmo. He also sent a letter to Governor Edwin W. Edwards explaining that he was responsible for the crimes. However, the prosecution successfully attacked Eddie James' credibility and therefore was able to establish that Elmo was the most in charge of the criminal situation. The state of Louisiana imposed a second sentence of death on Elmo, this one to remain. Eddie Sonnier's sentence was changed to life without the possibility of parole.
While on death row at Louisiana State Prison, Sonnier began corresponding with Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun. The two struck up a friendship and Sonnier became the first of many death row inmates to receive her counsel. Sr. Prejean subsequently became a prominent anti-death penalty activist.
Sister Helen Prejean later said Eddie Sonnier was guilty of killing LeBlanc and Bourque. She claimed that Elmo was innocent but he still felt guilt over his criminal past and for participating in the rape of not only the murdered girl, but also many other teenage girls who had come down "lover's lane" with their boyfriends. She said the two brothers had frequently stopped teenage couples posing as police officers, accused the teens of trespassing and offered to let the teens go if the girl had sex with both brothers. Elmo claimed he and his brother pulled the same ruse the night they encountered LeBlanc and Bourque but his brother lost control and killed the teens.
Execution and burial
Sonnier's execution date was set for April 5, 1984. On April 4, Sonnier's lawyer attempted to get a stay of execution from the Supreme Court claiming that a former cellmate of Eddie Sonnier's had overheard him confess to the murders. The Supreme Court rejected the request.
Sister Helen Prejean, Elmo Sonnier's spiritual adviser, was permitted to visit with Sonnier during his final hours and to witness his execution. Godfrey Bourque and Lloyd LeBlanc, the respective fathers of Loretta Bourque and David LeBlanc, were also granted permission to witness the execution. Once in the execution chamber, Sonnier directed his last statement to Lloyd LeBlanc, saying "I can understand the way you feel. I have no hatred in my heart. As I leave this world, I ask God to forgive...me for what I did. I also ask your forgiveness for what I did." LeBlanc nodded, and then Bourque remarked quietly "He didn't ask me." Sonnier was then strapped in what was known as "Gruesome Gertie", the state's oak electric chair. After electrical currents were administered, Elmo Patrick Sonnier was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m. Sonnier's execution took place six hours before the execution of convicted child murderer, Arthur Frederick Goode III, in Florida. It was the first time since 1976 that two convicts were executed on the same day in the United States.
Sr. Prejean and other Catholic nuns took responsibility in ensuring a proper Catholic burial for Elmo Sonnier. The service, which was presided over by the bishop of Baton Rouge, Stanley Joseph Ott, was held at a Baton Rouge area funeral home. Sonnier was buried in Roselawn Memorial Park, in a burial plot normally reserved for nuns. Eddie James Sonnier died after a short illness in December 2013 at Louisiana State Prison at the age of 57. He is buried at the prison in the Louisiana State Prison Cemetery.
In popular culture
Sister Helen Prejean later wrote a book, Dead Man Walking, about her relationship with Elmo Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie, another inmate for whom Sister Helen Prejean was spiritual advisor. The book was adapted into a 1995 film of the same name directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Prejean and Sean Penn as Matthew Poncelett. The Poncelett character was based on an amalgam of both Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie. Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance while Penn was nominated for a Best Actor and Robbins for Best Director. The film's main song "Dead Man Walkin'" by Bruce Springsteen was also nominated for Best Original Song.
- "Court refuses to block child killers execution". Lakeland Ledger. April 5, 1984. p. B. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Grissom, Ken (January 7, 2014). "Sonnier Brother Dies At Angola". techetoday.com.
- "Last Minute Appeals Fail; Executions Still On Schedule". Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal. April 5, 1984. p. 2A. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
- Hodge, James (April 6, 1984). "Sonnier Brother Dies At Angola". pbs.org.
- Elder, Robert K. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. University of Chicago Press. p. 160. ISBN 0-226-20269-0.
- "Killers contrite before executions". Lakeland Ledger. April 6, 1984. p. 1A. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- "Pair of killers dies in state executions". The Bulletin. April 5, 1984. p. 1. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- "La. Convict Dies In Electric Chair, Florida Execution Set For Today". The News and Courier. April 5, 1984. p. 6C. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- "LOUISIANA: A MURDER, A MOVIE AND A WINK". PBS. Retrieved 2008-06-16.