Both sides give reaction to Gillis sentencing

Published: Aug. 1, 2008 at 3:46 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 16, 2009 at 11:57 PM CST
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Sean Vincent Gillis
Sean Vincent Gillis

By Jim Shannon - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After weeks of jury selection in the Sean Vincent Gillis case and more than a week-long trial, it came down to a final decision for the jury, and it's one they couldn't agree on. Jurors told the judge just before 6:00 Thursday that they were "hopelessly deadlocked."

In other words, they could not reach a unanimous decision to sentence Sean Vincent Gillis to death, which means Gillis will spend the rest of his life in isolation at Angola. That same jury convicted Gillis last week in the 2004 murder of Donna Bennett Johnston. The stunning non-decision surprised prosecutors who say they would not have changed anything about the presentation of the case. The defense team was relieved.

"What finally happened in the penalty phase of this case is the jury was introduced to Sean Gillis, not the things that Sean Gillis did," says defense attorney Kerry Cuccia. Prosecutor Prem Burns says it's unlikely any other murders Gillis has confessed to will go to trial. She says her office put the best it had into this murder trial.

As you can imagine, the verdict was especially emotional for family members who sat in court every day, not just those of the victims, but also Gillis's family and friends. "He's taken too many lives to just walk free. And to us, this is still freedom because he'll get to visit his family, he'll get to sit and talk and laugh. Our family members are gone. We won't have that opportunity to laugh, cry with them, and visit with them again," says Pat Dawson, the sister of an alleged victim. "I was happy about it. And I was relieved for his mother," says Gillis's long-time girlfriend, Terri Lemoine.

Last year, Gillis was also sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the second-degree murder of 36-year-old Joyce Williams in West Baton Rouge Parish.