Prosecutor seeks death penalty in St. Rose murder

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2011



HAHNVILLE – St. Charles Parish prosecutors said in court this week that they intend to seek the death penalty for two suspects charged with first-degree murder after they set fire to a St. Rose home from which a disabled, bed-ridden woman could not escape.

Howat Peters and Michael Weinberg, both of the St. Charles District Attorney’s Office, informed St. Charles Parish District Court Judge Lauren Lemmon of the decision during a court appearance Monday in which one of the suspects, Janna Firmin, 34, of Hahnville, pleaded not guilty to the charge. The other suspect, Toby Beasley, 32, also of Hahnville, will enter a plea on May 10, according to the St. Charles District Attorney’s Office.

Beasley and Firmin, who are also charged with aggravated arson, are accused of murder in the death of 88-year-old Ophelia Shepard. Shepard, a double amputee confined to a bed, died after she was unable to escape a fire at her home in the 600 block of Mockingbird Lane that was allegedly set by Beasley and Firmin. Two other residents inside the home, Shepard’s 16-year-old and 20-year-old grandsons, were able to escape with minor injuries.

According to a report from the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office, one of the grandsons awoke around 6:30 a.m. Feb. 11 to find that Beasley had kicked in the front door of the home. He was seen pouring what appeared to be gasoline inside the house. Beasley then ignited the liquid before fleeing the area.

Once the fire was set, the small one-story brick home quickly filled with heavy smoke. Authorities said the two grandsons were able to escape through a window, but they could not re-enter to help and rescue Shepard because the smoke and fire were too fierce.

According to Louisiana law, a jury can impose a death sentence if at least one statutory aggravating circumstance exists. Among the aggravating circumstances defined in the law are aggravated arson and a victim who is 65 or older.

Both Beasley and Firmin remain in custody at Nelson Coleman Correctional Center in Killona. Beasley’s bond is set at $1 million, while Firmin’s bond is set at $750,000.