Gillis' mother takes stand during sentencing phase

Published: Jul. 27, 2008 at 1:42 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2008 at 2:43 PM CDT
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Sean Vincent Gillis
Sean Vincent Gillis

By Jim Shannon - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Sean Vincent Gillis' mother and family members of Gillis' victims took the stand Sunday to give emotional testimonies during the second day of the sentencing process.

Gillis' conviction pleased family members because they get a chance to participate in the trial.

Lauren Williams, daughter of Johnnie Mae Williams, communicated with Gillis during a short break while she was on the stand.

"I looked at him and I had to eyeball him and ask him why," Williams said. "He couldn't answer. He did his shoulder like this and said he was sorry. I don't feel that he's sorry. He's just sorry he's here."

Justin Bennett's voice cracked as he talked about the sorrow of losing his mother, Donna Bennet Johnston, who was strangled to death in 2004.

"I really tried to just not pay attention to him being there," he said. "I wasn't there for him. I was there for my mother, and that's where she wanted me to be so that's where I was."

The defense called Gillis's mother, Yvonne Gillis, as their first witness.

"You try and give the jury a true picture of the person as opposed to the small snap shot of the things that he did," said Kerry Cuccia, defense attorney.

Yvonne Gillis told the jury that she raised her son as a single parent and talked about bringing Sean to her job in the traffic department of WBRZ-TV from the early 1960's to 1977.

"Sean grew up at the television station," she said.

"Mrs. Gillis was interviewed at our request very early on, so I knew what she was going to say," said Prem Burns, prosecutor.

Often during testimony, sad facts emerge about what happens to the victims. Justin Bennett told the jury that his family often meets at the spot off Ben Hur Road where his mother was killed.

They also visit the cemetary but have not been able to get a proper headstone for Donna Bennett Johnston. She was buried four years ago.