Murder on the Rue Dauphine
A Strange Twist
Prosecutors quickly charged Chidester with first-degree murder. Under Louisiana law, the intentional killing of another person during the commission of certain violent felonies qualifies as first-degree murder and allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Chidester had admitted to police that after stabbing Ramon Martinez to death he'd stolen the priest's wallet. Armed robbery is one of the felonies listed in the state's first-degree murder statute. Despite Chidester's claims, the cops and the district attorney saw Ramon's murder as part of an armed robbery, not some sordid arrangement to trade sex for money.
The DA announced he was seeking the death penalty.
In the spring of 1999, however, state district Judge Charles Elloie tossed a wrench into the DA's plans when he granted Chidester a lunacy hearing. After listening to testimony from more than one court-appointed psychiatrist, the judge ruled that Father Ramon Martinez's accused killer was not capable of understanding the proceedings against him or of assisting with his own defense, both legal requirements for standing trial in a criminal case.
On March 9, 1999, the judge ordered Chidester shipped off to the state's psychiatric hospital, a peaceful campus tucked away in the piney woods of East Feliciana Parish, 100 miles north of New Orleans.
After two years in the hospital, and a lot of medication, Chidester's doctors decided he was competent to stand trial. The state had not backed off during the intervening two years and announced it was still seeking the death penalty.
Then, on the Friday before the trial was scheduled to begin, Chidester withdrew his plea of not guilty to the first-degree murder charge and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Almost immediately, Judge Elloie sentenced the then-22-year-old former street hustler to 25 years in prison. The judge wished Chidester luck and thanked him for sparing everyone what had promised to be a remarkably sordid trial.
Under Louisiana law, Chidester cannot be released until he serves at least 85 percent of his sentence, or 21 years. He will be eligible for parole sometime around 2019.