RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - It's been eight days since 1,900 inmates were released early in Louisiana for good behavior. That November 1 date coming just days after Matthew and Ebony Sonnier were arrested for the murders of three people in Rapides Parish.
As we learned later, it was neither of their first run-ins with the law. In fact, Mr. Sonnier should've been serving a 10 year sentence, but was let out for good behavior.
Here's what Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc had to say when we asked him about an inmate let out for good behavior who later allegedly murdered three people.
"We have 107,000 people who are on probation, parole, or in prison,” said Sec. LeBlanc. “We discharge 17,000 people a year, roughly 1,500 a month is what that amounts to. So it's not a perfect world, and obviously we feel for the families and everyone involved in that, but I can't cast a net out and grab everybody for one bad apple."
Mr. Sonnier has a criminal history that dates back to the mid-2000s with convictions in both Rapides and Madison Parishes.
His most recent conviction came from a 2012 arrest in Rapides parish. He was charged by the Alexandria Police Department with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, illegal use of a weapon, home invasion, and attempted second degree murder.
In 2014, he took a deal offered by the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office and pleaded guilty to the firearm by a convicted felon charge. The other three charges were dismissed.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with credit for the two years he already served.
But, on October 17, 2016, Sonnier was let out of prison.
Fast forward a year and a day later, the bodies of Kendrick Horn and Jeremy Norris were found burning in a ditch on Old Boyce Road, and Latish White was found stabbed multiple times on Melrose Street in Pineville. A few days later, police arrest the Sonnier siblings.
Three murders, two suspects, one big question:
Why was Matthew Sonnier out of prison less than three years into his 10 year sentence?
It turns out he was paroled. Here's how the Department of Corrections explained it.
"When you're convicted of a crime, based on that particular statute and the laws, determines what kind of good time you may have,” said Ken Pastorick, Communications Director of the Department of Safety and Corrections.
Pastorick referred to Act 110, which lays out the guidelines for what qualifies good time parole. Different crimes have different percentages that must be served in a sentence.
"In this particular case he could get 40 percent good time,” said Pastorick. “And he gets 40 percent of the sentence of 10 years, which is roughly four years."
Furthermore, good behavior behind bars makes a difference.
"He was doing what he was supposed to in prison,” explained Pastorick. “Didn't have any write-ups or issues that would dictate taking away the good time."
But what about Mr. Sonnier’s prior convictions? Well there's an answer for that too.
"The law states that you have to look at that particular conviction that the person is serving time for,” said Pastorick. “That's how the good time parole is looked at. It doesn't take into account previous convictions."
Pastorick also pointed out that Mr. Sonnier’s conviction was for a nonviolent crime, even though he was originally arrested for a violent crime. While he was not the district attorney at the time, current DA Phillip Terrell explained that plea deals are very useful in the judicial system.
"Every year we have more than 10,000 arrests in Rapides Parish,” explained Terrell. “I think the number was 12,000 last year. Plea bargains are a necessary thing or else criminal court systems would implode upon themselves. We've got a limited number of judges, a limited number of lawyers, limited DAs, and a limited number of days."
He also said the charges set during plea deals aren't always what they would like.
"Although we feel a defendant may be guilty of more severe crimes, we might have problems with proof, we might have problems with witnesses for various reasons, might have evidentiary problems, or we might have problems proving our case," said Terrell.
Still, he said it's a gamble.
"Any time you give someone a second chance, you're taking a risk.” Said Terrell. “But unfortunately we don't have the ability to put everybody in jail. And to be fair to the DOC, they don't have the ability to keep everybody in jail forever. It's an imperfect system, but certainly looking at his record, I would've hoped that somebody would've looked closer at him."
At the end of day, Pastorick said they were just following the law.
"We're not in the business of releasing people based on what we feel,” said Pastorick. “We release people on what the law stipulates. And in this case with Mr. Sonnier, the law prescribed that he's supposed to serve 40 percent of that 10 year sentence. And he did that."