The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against attorneys for 42-year-old Amy Hebert, who was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the 2007 stabbing deaths of her 9-year-old daughter, Camille, and 7-year-old son, Braxton. She was spared the death penalty sought by prosecutors because jurors could not agree on the matter. But state District Judge Jerome Barbera sentenced her to two consecutive terms of life in prison.
Her attorneys have until mid-March to seek a review by the Louisiana Supreme Court, but no notice of such a request has yet been received.
Lafourche District Attorney Cam Morvant II said the 25-page opinion of Chief Judge Burrell Carter, and judges Edward J. Gaidry and Jewel E. “Duke” Welch reflects how important letters written by Hebert on the day of the murders were in guiding the jury toward its verdict. Jurors could have found Hebert not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
“They took a lot of time on this case and honed in on the letters,” Morvant said. “That’s what they questioned her attorney on — what about the letters? They were the big issue at the trial.”
New Orleans attorney Jane Beebe, who filed the appeal for Hebert, argued that the evidence presented during the trial was insufficient to convict the former teacher’s aide of murder because defense witnesses established that she was insane at the time of the killings. Two prosecution doctors were unable to rebuff that evidence, Beebe argued.
The 25-page opinion notes that two doctors presented by defense attorneys spoke of Hebert’s delusional and psychotic behavior, including claims that the voices of God and Satan had instructed her to kill the children.
It also recounts how a prosecution doctor, Rafael Salcedo, testified that Hebert had the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Inability to make such distinctions is the standard for insanity in Louisiana. The jury, the appeals judges ruled, had the freedom to consider that opinion above the others.
Two letters written by Hebert, one to her ex-husband, Chad, and the other to her mother-in-law, Judy Hebert, discovered by police at the crime scene, clearly showed Hebert’s motive for the killings, which was anger at the potential that the children would be taken from her.
“We are convinced any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant failed to rebut her presumed sanity at the time of the offense,” the appeals court says in its decision. “The jury was free to accept or reject, in whole or in part, the testimony of any witness.”
The judges note that their job is not to determine credibility of the witnesses from a trial that has already taken place.
Hebert’s attorney also argued that Barbera erred by refusing to allow testimony from a forensic expert who said the knife patterns on the bodies of the children and family dog, which was also killed, was evidence of insanity.
But the appeals court ruled that the defense attorney’s argument lacks merit.
The appeals judges also rejected an argument by Hebert’s attorney that the trial should have been moved elsewhere because publicity made it impossible to pick an unbiased jury.
The appeals court also rejected Hebert’s attorney’s argument that consecutive sentences — meaning the two life terms will run one after another — amounts to excessive punishment.
The appeals judges ruled that Hebert’s status as a first-time felon and thus worthy of mercy in sentencing was not supported by the facts of the case.
“The defendant brutally killed her two helpless, young children,” the judgment states. “She is the worst kind of offender.”
Senior Staff Writer John DeSantis can be reached at 850-1150 or firstname.lastname@example.org