Suspected killer of St. Rose woman pleads to manslaughter

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011



HAHNVILLE – A Hahnville man pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter in the death of an elderly St. Rose woman who was killed in a fire at her home allegedly started by the suspect in February.

Toby Beasley, 32, was facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of 88-year-old Ophelia Shepard, but the St. Charles District Attorney’s Office lowered the charge in exchange for the guilty plea. The District Attorney’s Office also agreed to refuse the aggravated arson charge Beasley was booked with in the initial arrest. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty in the case.

Following the guilty plea, 29th Judicial District Court Judge Lauren Lemmon sentenced Beasley to 40 years in prison with credit for time served. Beasley had been held at the Nelson Coleman Correctional Facility in Killona since his arrest in February.

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 Feb. 11 that was allegedly set by Beasley and Janna Firmin, 34, of Hahnville. 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 sheriff’s investigators, the residents awoke around 6:30 a.m. that morning to find Beasley had kicked the front door in and saw him pouring what appeared to be gasoline inside the house.

Authorities said the grandsons got into an argument with Beasley, and as they confronted him Beasley ignited the liquid and fled the home. The small one-story brick home was quickly engulfed in flames and heavy smoke, making it difficult for anyone inside to escape, according to State Fire Marshal Butch Browning at the time of the fire.

Authorities said Firmin was the driver of a vehicle that drove Beasley away from the scene after the fire began.

She is set to go to trial Sept. 19.