Prosecutors Plan To Use Letters & Video Against Gillis

Published: Oct. 12, 2004 at 11:40 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 14, 2004 at 1:55 PM CDT
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The woman who received letters from accused serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis tells 9 News she will testify at his trial. Tuesday, in a 9 News exclusive report, you saw those letters signed by Gillis speaking about his sorrow for killing Donna Bennett Johnston.

Tammie Purpera says she knew Donna Bennett Johnston for 10 years. Despite making some mistakes, Purpera says Johnston was a good person who loved her family and cared about strangers. Purpera broke down into tears when speaking to WAFB's Avery Davidson about the memories of Donna. She says she did write to Gillis first, but says she never expected him to write her back.

Purpera says as soon as she received the letters, she gave it to prosecutors. But the letters are not the only way prosecutor Prem Burns plans to use Gillis' own words against him. In court filings, Burns says she has videotaped statements by Gillis to detectives from between April 28th and May 5th of this year. In total, there are more than 34 hours of Gillis speaking in front of the camera.

The court filings include the autopsy reports for three of Gillis' alleged victims. The report for Donna Bennett Johnston says the killer strangled her. It also states Johnston's killer mutilated her chest after her death, as well as a tattoo on her right thigh. It goes on to say her killer amputated her left arm at the elbow.

The filing says experts found DNA matching Gillis under a fingernail. The autopsy report for Katherine Ann Hall says the killer cut her jugular vein and stabbed her 16 times while she was alive. The report then says the killer cut her body another 21 times after she died. Court filings say experts found d--a matching Gillis in a hair lodged between her teeth.

The autopsy report for Johnnie Mae Williams says she died from blunt force trauma: that the killer beat her to death. The report goes on to say there were multiple sharp force post-mortem injuries below the waist and the killer amputated both hands. Filings say experts found DNA matching Gillis in a hair recovered from one of her wounds.

Neither Burns nor Gillis' attorney, Kerry Cuccia, would comment about this evidence. Gillis next appears in court November 29th.

Gillis Apologizes For Killings In Letters

A series of three letters have been entered into public record in the case of Sean Vincent Gillis. He's charged in the murders of five women in the Baton Rouge area. In the letters, bearing Gillis' signature, the accused serial killer apologizes for killing eight women.

The letters are written to a woman named Tammie Purpera says quote, "I cannot express how beyond sorry I am for murdering Donna, Johnnie Mae, Lillian, Marilyn, Joyce, Hardee, Katherine and Anne. For your own sake Tammie, you must forgive the sinner but you may hate the sin forever."

Gillis then goes into great detail about the murder of Donna Bennett Johnston. About how he used a nylon tie wrap to strangle her, quote "She was so drunk it only took about a minute and a half to succumb to unconsciousness and then death. Honestly, her last words were I can't breathe."

"I still puzzle over the post mortem dismemberment and cutting. There must be something deep in my subconscious that really needs that kind of macabre action."

Gillis then writes Tammie that it was in the area of Geranimo and Prescott Streets, where he found Johnston. He writes, "We did not talk much. Just about price and for what; you know... There were no advances, sex was not my intent... I was pure evil that night."

Gillis goes on to write, "I really don't know what the hell is wrong with me. Until 10 years ago I never so much as imagined harm to anyone."

It's toward the end of one of the letters where Gillis sounds most remorseful. Gillis writes, " I don't want to die, but that is up to the almighty to decide." "I love my wife and step children. I now know that I really love them, that God loves me and I love Him."

A friend of Donna Bennett Johnston says Purpera spent time in jail with Johnston's sister. Other documents show detectives swabbed 25 other suspects for DNA before arresting Gillis. Prosecutors say in the cases of Katherine Hall and Johnnie Mae Williams, DNA from hair matched Gillis' DNA. Prosecutors also say Gillis' DNA was found in samples from under Johnston's fingernails.