Man charged in ex-reporter’s killing on trial
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A man charged with first-degree murder in the death of former Pensacola newspaper reporter wiped tears from his eyes and told a jury on Wednesday that he did not kill the man.
William Cormier III told jurors on Wednesday that he was acting under the direction of his twin brother when he moved items from the dead man’s home and sold the dead man’s belongings.
Closing statements and jury deliberations are set for Thursday.
Cormier III told jurors that he did not know Sean Dugas was dead and that he believed his twin brother, Christopher Cormier, was in constant contact with Dugas. William Cormier III said he thought he was helping Dugas move to Georgia and that he and his twin brother were selling Dugas’ items to pay off Dugas’ debts.
“I assumed he was in contact with Sean the whole time. He said Sean wanted to leave Pensacola,” Cormier III testified.
Cormier III also testified that he believed he was helping his father and his brother dig a barbecue pit in the backyard of his father’s Georgia home. Dugas’ body was later found buried in the pit and encased in concrete.
“I love my brother very much and, no matter what he did or may have done, I would have done anything to keep him from going to prison,” William Cormier III testified after attorneys questioned him about a January letter he penned to his father from the Escambia County Jail. He said in the letter that he was considering suicide.
Christopher Cormier, has pleaded no contest to charges of helping his brother transport Dugas’ body from Pensacola to Georgia.
Earlier Wednesday William Cormier Jr., the twins’ father, told jurors of a “horrible” smell that came from the back of a U-Haul that William Cormier III drove to his home in Georgia from Pensacola in 2012.
“It smelled like a dead dog,” the father testified.
Prosecutors allege William Cormier III bludgeoned Dugas to death in August 2012 and, with the help of Christopher Cormier, transported his body from Pensacola to Georgia, leaving the body in the plastic container surrounded by air fresheners and potpourri for more than a week before burying it.
A medical examiner told jurors that Dugas died from multiple blows to his head with a blunt-force instrument, likely a hammer.
Dr. Cassie Boggs, an assistant medical examiner from The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, did an autopsy of Dugas on Oct. 9, 2012.
Boggs said Dugas, 30, sustained 12 strikes to his skull and that each of the blows fractured the bone. Dugas’ skull was so fractured that it fell apart and had to be reconstructed during the autopsy, she said.
She said Dugas was in a fetal position in the storage container surrounded by sheets, a plastic tarp, air fresheners and spray foam used to seal cracks in walls. His body had to be cut from the bottom of the plastic bin because of the layer of concrete on the top, she said.
Jurors were visibly upset by the graphic descriptions and images from the autopsy. One juror wept openly.
Dugas’ father looked down throughout testimony to avoid the graphic images. Dugas’ mother, who clutched a photo of her son, left the courtroom.
Earlier Wednesday, Cormier’s father told jurors that he received a call from a Pensacola detective in October of 2012 asking about Dugas’ disappearance. The father said he woke his twin sons up and told them about the call.
“I said, ‘What the hell is going on? There is a detective from Pensacola calling and somebody is missing’,” he testified.
Prosecutors allege Cormier III killed Dugas and stole his collection of valuable cards for the role-playing game “Magic: The Gathering.” Experts have testified that the collection was worth up to $100,000.
In his testimony, a prosecutor asked William Cormier III why he went to a Wal-Mart with his brother and purchased a plastic storage bin, numerous bags of potpourri, air fresheners and a plastic tarp, items that were found with Dugas’ body.
Cormier III said he went to Wal-Mart because his brother told him to.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a plastic bin, six air fresheners and a plastic tarp would have been used in a crime,” he said.
William Cormier Jr. told Judge Terry Terrell that he was not voluntarily testifying at the trial and didn’t understand why Florida law would exempt spouses from testifying in cases involving each other, but not parents and children.
“The blood bond between fathers and sons is stronger,” Cormier Jr. said.
Terrell told Cormier Jr. that he must follow the law and testify according to the requirements of his subpoena.
Cormier Jr. also testified that William was usually the more assertive of the twins and usually told Christopher what to do.