Woman charged in St. Rose fire death sentenced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2011



HAHNVILLE – A Hahnville woman pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to manslaughter in connection with the death of an elderly St. Rose woman, who was killed after she was trapped inside her burning home.

Janna Firmin, 34, was originally charged with first-degree murder in the Feb. 11 death of 88-year-old Ophelia Shepard, a bed-ridden amputee who died when she was unable to escape a fire set at her home in the 600 block of Mockingbird Lane.

Firmin agreed to a plea deal before the case was scheduled to go to trial. St. Charles Parish District Court Judge M. Lauren Lemmon sentenced Firmin to five years with the Department of Corrections, with credit for time served, and with all but one year suspended. For the remaining four years, Firmin will be placed on home incarceration at her grandparents’ home in Picayune, Miss., with an electronic monitoring device attached at all times. Lemmon also ordered Firmin to obtain employment and to be assessed for substance abuse and follow recommendations for treatment.

Shepard was at home with her 16- and 20-year-old grandsons when 32-year-old Toby Beasley kicked in the door of the home around 6:30 a.m.

Authorities said the grandsons saw Beasley pour an accelerant on the floor of the home. 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. The two grandsons escaped through a window, suffering minor injuries but were prevented by heavy smoke from re-entering the home to help Shepard.

According to court records, Firmin said she and Beasley gave a man $93 to purchase narcotics, but the man never met them with the drugs. The next day, according to the affidavit, they went to the Mockingbird Lane home looking for the man. Firmin said she drove around, and when she returned the house was on fire, according to the affidavit. She later picked Beasley up by the levee, she told detectives.

Authorities arrested Beasley and Firmin the day after the fire, when they were stopped at the intersection of Louisiana 18 and Interstate 310 in a car that matched a description of one seen driving around the neighborhood at the time of the fire.

Beasley pleaded guilty to manslaughter in August and was sentenced to 40 years in prison with credit for time served.