PENSACOLA, Fla. – The father of a man on trial in the bludgeoning death of a former Pensacola News Journal reporter told jurors on Wednesday of a "horrible" smell that came from the back of a U-Haul his son drove to his home in Georgia from Pensacola in 2012.
"It smelled like a dead dog," the father testified.
Investigators later unearthed the body of former Pensacola News Journal reporter Sean Dugas from the backyard of the father's Winder, Ga., home. Dugas' body was stuffed into a plastic container surrounded by air fresheners and potpourri and covered in concrete.
Prosecutors allege William Cormier III bludgeoned Dugas to death in August 2012 and transported his body from Pensacola to Georgia, leaving the body in the plastic container for more than a week before burying it.
During his occasionally combative testimony, Cormier Jr. told jurors that he later received a call from a Pensacola detective asking about Dugas' disappearance. The father said he woke his twin sons up and told them about the call.
"I said, 'What the hell is going on? There is a detective from Pensacola calling and somebody is missing'," he testified. "They said they were going to remove whatever was in the backyard."
William Joseph Cormier III is charged with first-degree murder in Dugas' death. Prosecutors allege Cormier III killed Dugas and stole his collection of valuable cards for the role-playing game "Magic: The Gathering." Experts have testified that the collection was worth up to $100,000.
Cormier's twin brother, Christopher Cormier, has pleaded no contest to charges of helping his brother transport Dugas' body from Pensacola to Georgia.
Friends and family of Dugas testified on Tuesday that Dugas collected many things including spoons. In his testimony Wednesday, William Cormier Jr. said William Cormier III asked him to throw away some spoons the morning that the detective called and that he threw the spoons in the trash of a nearby restaurant.
William Cormier Jr. told Judge Terry Terrell earlier Wednesday that he was not voluntarily testifying at the trial and that he didn't understand why Florida law would exempt spouses from testifying in cases involving each other, but not parents and children.
"The blood bond between fathers' and sons is stronger," Cormier Jr. said.
Terrell told Cormier Jr. that he must follow the law and testify according to the requirements of his subpoena.
Also Wednesday, Cormier Jr. testified that, of his two identical twins, William was usually the most assertive and the leader. The father said William usually told Christopher what to do.
Cormier Jr. also told jurors that William Cormier III told him that the stench coming from the rented U-Haul was from a dog that had died Pensacola.
On Tuesday, numerous witnesses who are experts in the trading card and memorabilia industry testified that Dugas' collection of thousands of cards from the game "Magic: The Gathering" were worth thousands of dollars. They said Dugas had some extremely rare cards that were signed by the artist who created the game. Memorabilia traders from Chicago, Kentucky and elsewhere testified they had purchased rare cards from William Cormier III for thousands of dollars after Dugas' death.
Friends of Dugas said they would spend hours playing the game late into the night at Dugas' Pensacola home. D.W. Day, who described Dugas as his best friend, said the Cormier twins sometimes played the game with him at Dugas'. He said the twins never appeared to have their own collection of the cards.
A neighbor of Dugas said he noticed William Cormier III with a lawn-cleaning company working in Dugas' home and moving items from the home into a U-Haul around the time of Labor Day 2012. The neighbor said William Cormier III told him that Dugas was moving in with him and would no longer be living in the home.
Family members reported Dugas missing to authorities days after they last heard from him on Aug. 27, 2012.
Prosecutors allege that between that day and when Dugas' body was unearthed in October, William Cormier III used cash to purchase a car and drove around the country selling Dugas' card collection.
Investigators testified that they found blood in Dugas' home and in the U-Haul rented by William Cormier when they used a special chemical designed to test for blood.
Dugas, 30, worked for The Pensacola News Journal from 2005 to 2010 where he did web videos and some crime reporting. He was known for his long dreadlocks, quirky personality and enthusiasm for using technology in his reporting.