Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

Endless Appeals

While the heavyweights slugged it out over First Amendment rights and whether or not movies should be judged as a "product," Sarah and Ben preparing to accept their respective fates. Neither one of them would ever go to trial, but a long road had to be traveled before that conclusion would be reached. Their confessions and plea bargaining agreements allowed investigators to wrap up the case, but the scenario grew complicated as byzantine legal issues played against each other at all levels of the Louisiana judiciary system.

A former State District Judge, Edward Brent Dufreche, had ruled that prosecutors could use Sarah's confession statement in the Louisiana case, even though it was made under an immunity agreement with Mississippi. He also refused to provide court money to pay experts in her defense. One of Sarah's defense attorneys, James Boren, appealed both rulings. Boren told the appeals court that immunity in one state is binding in another, so Sarah's statement in Mississippi could not be used against her in a Louisiana trial.

  In June 1997, more than two years after Sarah and Ben's crime spree, the First Circuit Court of Appeal for Eastern Louisiana heard Sarah's appeal. On the other side of the case, Assistant District Attorney Don Wall contended that if her statement was disallowed, prosecutors would be faced with the burden of trying to prove a case from sources independent of Sarah's statement. He argued that her confession offered the best path toward resolution of the Louisiana case.

The circuit court initially ruled against Sarah, then reconsidered and reversed itself in her favor, after prompting by the Louisiana Supreme Court. This prompted the prosecutors to take their case directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court for a ruling.

Louisiana Supreme Court
Louisiana Supreme Court

In November 1997, Patsy Byers died at the age of 38 from complications resulting from cancer. Her death came a day before she was slated to give videotaped testimony against Sarah. Her family, however, continued their lawsuit against all the defendants, including Sarah, Ben, Stone, Time Warner, and all the rest of those named in the court records. Lonnie Byers, at the time, said, "The kids (Sarah and Ben) got their justice, and if Oliver Stone was a part of this, he needs to pay his dues, too. I think Stone was just as wrong as the kids who shot my wife."

The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in February 1998. One justice said she was unable to find any precedent governing immunity in confessions involving two jurisdictions, but Boren cited the precedent of General Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings of the late 1980s. Scott Perrilloux, District Attorney for the 21st Judicial District of Louisiana, argued that Sarah's confession was voluntary and therefore not protected in Louisiana. He also contended that her confession of the Louisiana incident went beyond her obligation to give information to Mississippi authorities.

 

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