DA: Evidence points to murder in Talaija Dorsey case

Published 12:44 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014

DONALDSONVILLE — The man accused of killing 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey and dumping her body in a St. James Parish cane field should be facing arraignment in the next two months, authorities said.

District Attorney Ricky Babin said he feels there is enough evidence to convict John D. Celestine in connection to the case.

A grand jury agreed, deciding today to charge Celestine with first degree murder in connection to the case.

“We’ve been getting evidence in real time from the sheriff’s office during the investigation, so we thought we had enough for a conviction for first degree so we went ahead and brought it to a grand jury,” Babin said, adding he did not want to comment on specific pieces of evidence.

Babin, whose 23rd Judicial District includes St. James Parish, said any case involving life imprisonment or the potential death penalty must go before the grand jury, adding the D.A. can’t file a bill of information that involves life or death.

“The next thing is (Celestine) is going to be arraigned, maybe in the next 60 days,” Babin said. “We have special prosecutors that handle our most egregious cases. It will probably be Robin O’Bannon, but she will have some help.”

Community response

A plate food fundraiser Thursday to raise money for funeral expenses is an example of the River Region’s response to the news of Talaija Dorsey’s death.

The St. James Parish 12-year-old was found dead, police believe the victim of foul play, Sunday morning at the edge of a cane field.

She had been missing since July 1.

St. James Parish Councilman Ken Brass said organizers are serving chicken and fish lunches for $8 between noon and 8 p.m. Thursday at the Fifth District mutli-purpose building in Vacherie.

All proceeds are going to a fund for Talaija’s family, Brass said, with the money earmarked for burial and funeral services.

“I’ve been really impressed with the residents of St. James Parish and the neighboring parishes as far as the support they have given to the family with efforts for the search and being there to comfort the family and praying for the family,” Brass said. “I’ve been truly impressed and grateful to call St. James Parish my home after seeing how we have embraced the family.”

St. James Parish Council Chairman Charles Ketchens, who represents District 5, said he previously met and talked with Talaija at the Fifth District Summer Camp.

“It’s a sad situation in this community and St. James Parish,” he said. “This is the first time I have known of anything like this happening in St. James Parish with a child missing. Everywhere you go, from church to everybody you talk to, this situation comes up about how tragic it is. Everybody is feeling for the family.”

Ketchens said he visited with family members at their home twice last week.

“It is a sad situation,” he said. “They are all sad. It is something that hit them hard.”

Police response

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said Talaija’s body was found at 10:20 a.m. Sunday on Louisiana 3127, the same road authorities said was the focus of their investigation last week.

Martin previously told L’OBSERVATEUR authorities were focusing on Louisiana 3127 because it was believed to be the route John D. Celestine took from the home he shared with Talaija and her mother to his work.

Celestine, 42, is in jail, charged July 2 with obstruction because Martin said he has not been cooperating with authorities.

“We’re still holding that person,” Martin said about Celestine during a news conference Sunday. “We’re hoping that we will find evidence at the scene that will help us.”

A massive search for Talaija had been under way since July 1.

Police said Celestine is engaged to Talaija’s mother and the three lived at 8303 Pecan St. in St. James Parish.

Responding to reports that Talaija had complained to her mother previously about unwanted contact from Celestine, Martin said the Sheriff’s Office had received no such complaint.

Martin was complimentary of neighbors on Pecan Street and St. James community members in general, saying numerous people volunteered to help with the search and most had been welcoming when authorities searched near-by homes.

On Friday authorities said they were looking for a 2001 white Chrysler Concord, four- door, in connection with the case.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 1-855-TIPS-247, text a tip to 888777 or call 1-877-903-STOP. There may be a $2,500 reward.

Major Sid Berthelot said authorities were alerted to Talaija’s disappearance when her mother reported her missing after waking up and discovering her daughter was not in their home.

Law enforcement agencies that searched for Talaija included the sheriff’s offices in St. James, Livingston, Assumption, Jefferson, Ascension and St. Charles parishes, the Kenner Police Department, Louisiana State Police and an F.B.I. Task Force.

ATVs and two helicopters were utilized to aid in searching areas that were difficult to access.

Berthelot said St. James detectives developed Celestine as a person of interest on July 1.