Louisiana’s highest court has upheld a ruling that lets prosecutors tell a jury about the unsolved disappearances of two women when an accused murderer goes on trial for the 1962 death of his first wife.
Prosecutors say Felix Vail was the last known person to be with his common-law wife Sharon Hensley, who disappeared in 1973; and his wife, Annette Vail, who disappeared in 1984, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.
Vail, 76, goes on trial Nov. 17 in Louisiana state court accused of killing Mary Horton Vail, whose death was originally ruled an accidental drowning in the Calcasieu River.
It’s the nation’s oldest prosecution of a suspected serial killer, and the victim’s brother told the paper he is happy that justice is finally being served.
"I had a wonderful sister,” Will Vail said. “She made everything shine. She was just such a bright spot in everybody's life.”
Prosecutors can introduce evidence about the disappearances at Vail’s murder trial after the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the matter, the paper said.
Prosecutors took another look at Mary Vail's death after a 2012 investigation by the Clarion-Ledger in which a pathologist concluded she was murdered.
Vail, arrested 7 months later, has insisted on his innocence, the paper said. He said his first wife’s death was accidental and he had nothing to do with the disappearances of Hensley and Annette Vail.
Courts generally bar evidence of other “bad acts” except in rare instances.
Prosecutors contended the jury should hear about the disappearances because they were not coincidences.
Defense lawyer Ben Cormier countered that if the evidence got in, he would be required to prove they were still alive — something he said he can't do, the paper said.