LAFAYETTE, LA (WAFB) - Michael Aikens, one of five men accused in the murder of three people during a home invasion, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday.
Aikens, 36, of Gonzales, agreed to plead guilty to three counts of first degree murder in exchange for three life sentences with no possibility of probation or parole. Aikens is the first of the five suspects to go on trial.
He was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the February 2012 deaths of Robert Marchand, 74; his wife, Shirley, 72; and her son, Douglas Dooley, 50.
Judge Alvin Turner agreed to select the jury in Lafayette, but on the second day of the process, Aikens made a plea agreement with the prosecution. The trial was scheduled to continue in Ascension Parish.
District Attorney Ricky Babin says he didn't see it coming. "We honestly thought we were ready for trial. Never thought that he would change his plea but he did."
Relatives of the three victims left court in silence. Babin says while they agreed to the terms, it was not easy. "They feel emotionally drained from hearing what they heard today and the emerging of the facts before them. They were just emotionally drained."
Investigators said he and the other four suspects were trying to steal gold and valuable coins from the Marchand's home in Ascension Parish. Aikens worked for the couple.
Deputies with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office went to the Marchands' home on Babin Road on Feb. 18, 2012 after family members were unable to get in touch with them. Robert Marchand and Dooley were already dead when deputies arrived on the scene. Shirley Marchand was clinging to life. Investigators said they were all found with their throats slashed. Shirley Marchand died almost two weeks after the attack.
Authorities said there was no forced entry into the home. A safe containing about $500,000 in gold coins was taken from the house. The safe was found two days later at a park in Livingston Parish. It had been torched open and most of the contents removed. The coins are still missing.
Prior to this crime, he already had an extensive criminal record with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office. Aikens was arrested in 1996 for armed robbery and possession of cocaine, in 1997 for possession of drugs and in 2000 for illegal use of a weapon.
The nightmare is far from over for the family and friends of the Marchands. They must now face four more men accused in the horrific plot to steal from their loved ones.
Rolondo Stewart, Travis Moore and Bernard James are also charged with murder, armed robbery and burglary. Devon James is charged with three counts of accessory after-the-fact to first-degree murder, accessory after-the-fact to armed robbery and accessory after-the-fact to aggravated burglary.