HOUMA, La. – Victims' relatives sobbed in court Tuesday as a serial killer pleaded guilty to eight slayings and was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison.
Ronald Dominique, 44, shackled at the waist and feet, stood hunched over with his head bowed as state District Judge Randy Bethancourt read the sentences and names of the eight young men he raped and killed in the quiet bayou country of Terrebonne Parish during a decade-long spree.
"The lives of eight young men were taken from these families by the actions of the defendant," Assistant District Attorney Mark Rhodes said before sentencing. "He knew nothing about them or their families and he callously killed the victims and left a lifetime of pain as their legacy."
Dominique — from Bayou Blue, a small Cajun settlement about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans — was arrested in December 2006. At the time, authorities said he confessed to raping about two dozen young men in four Louisiana parishes, then strangling or suffocating them.
"I'll miss him to the day I die," a sobbing Chris Cunningham testified about his brother, Kurt Cunningham, one of Dominique's victims. "I hope hell finds you fast."
Dominique, with sparse, gray hair clipped close to the scalp and dressed in a white jumpsuit, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a deal to avoid the death penalty.
"I told the families of the victims I was confident we could get a guilty verdict on all eight counts," Rhodes said. "I was confident we could get the death penalty on all eight counts. I was also confident it would be tied up in appeals for 12 to 15 years or more."
The families wanted a quicker sentence that would allow them to begin the healing process, Rhodes said.
Dominique held a variety of low-paying jobs and police said he lured his victims with the promise of sex in exchange for money, or by showing them a picture of an attractive woman, supposedly his wife, and saying he wanted them to have sex with her.
Once he got them to his house, he would ask to tie them up. If they agreed, he then raped and eventually killed them to avoid arrest. Men who refused to be tied up were allowed to leave unharmed, Dominique said in his statement to police after he was arrested.
Many of the bodies were found dumped in sugar cane fields and near bayous. Many did not have shoes, a connection that helped police tie cases together.
Almost 30 relatives of Dominique's Terrebonne victims attended Tuesday's hearing, crying and wrapping arms around one another for support.
The 5-foot-5 defendant sat with his head down and turned away from the relatives as some of them testified about the effect the slayings had on their families. He answered "Yes, sir," and "No sir," to the judge's questions and refused to make a statement.
Some of the relatives described how difficult it was to identify the bodies.
"He left my brother in a cane field for rodents to eat off him," said Chris Barabin, sister of victim Chris Deville. "He was nothing but bones. We had to bury bones."
"It's been three years and I haven't seen my baby yet," Wayne Smith's mother, Angela, wrote in a letter read in court. "I put something in the ground, and I really don't know if my child is dead or not, because I did not get a chance to see my baby."
Dominique had a devastating affect on this mostly rural community, said Terrebonne Parish District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr.
"We don't have this many homicides in a year," Waitz said.
Dominique has not yet been indicted in three other bayou parishes — Jefferson, Lafourche, St. Charles — where victims were found. If those parishes choose to prosecute him, Terrebonne will make all its evidence gathered available to them, Waitz said.
"I'm hopeful they will see that he has eight consecutive life sentences and not waste taxpayer money to try him," said Richard Goorley of the Capital Assistance Project of Louisiana, who represented Dominique.