Two hours into testimony during murder trial, Ebony Sonnier changes plea
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Two hours into testimony of the first full day of her trial, Ebony Sonnier, 36 of Alexandria, decided to change her plea.
Sonnier, who had been charged in an amended indictment with two counts of first-degree murder and a count of accessory after the fact, entered an Alford plea to two counts of manslaughter and a count of accessory after the fact. Essentially, the plea meant that she was not admitting guilt, but accepting the offer because it was in her best interest.
Prosecutors alleged that on Oct. 18, 2017, Sonnier aided her brother, Matthew Sonnier, in the killings of Kenrick Horn and Latish White, who prosecutors said witnessed Matthew kill Jeremy Norris, a third victim that day. White’s body was found in the road at the intersection of East Shamrock and Melrose Streets in Pineville. She had been stabbed multiple times. Later, Norris and Horn’s bodies were found shot and wrapped in a pool liner, burning in a ditch on the side of Old Boyce Road in Alexandria. Prosecutors said White was dating Matthew.
Matthew, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in February after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder for his role in the case.
Before the Ebony’s plea happened, her case was underway. It began with the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s Office and Sonnier’s defense attorneys giving their opening arguments to the jury.
Christopher Warren, an special assistant district attorney based out of Bossier and Webster parishes who was helping Rapides Parish with its case, began his opening arguments by asking the mothers of Norris, Horn and White to stand. Each held a photo of their child.
Warren told the jury that the three were killed while riding with Matthew and Ebony in a blue truck that Matthew owned. Norris was the first who was killed, the reason why wasn’t immediately known.
“Matthew Sonnier would take a pistol and shoot Jeremy Norris twice in the back of the head,” said Warren.
Warren said, with Ebony driving and Norris’ body still in the truck, Horn began to panic about what he just witnessed.
“Matthew Sonnier sees this and realizes he’s got a witness to a murder,” he said.
That’s when Warren said Matthew, who was out of bullets, grabbed a knife and began to stab Horn. But, the knife broke. Warren said Matthew told Ebony to stop at a house and told her to go inside to get another weapon. Warren said Ebony didn’t call 911, but said she instead brought a kitchen knife out to the truck.
“He (Matthew) would finish killing Kendrick Horn with the knife Ebony Sonnier brought him,” said Warren.
At this point, Latish was still alive in the truck. Warren said Matthew stabbed her next.
“Latish gets out of the car, falls out and gets run over,” said Warren.
With now Norris and Horn’s bodies in the truck, Warren said Matthew and Ebony headed to a gas station to get a container of gas.
“She’s walking deeper into this fire,” Warren said of Ebony’s involvement. At some point, the pair picked up a pool liner, then travelled to Old Boyce Road where Matthew wrapped the bodies in the liner, placed them in a ditch, and lit them on fire.
Afterward, the pair headed to a carwash to clean up.
But, how did prosecutors know so many details? They said Ebony told them during questioning.
“We know what happened because Ebony Sonnier told us. She has already told police what she did.”
But, Ebony’s defense attorney, Kerry Cuccia with the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, told the jury Ebony didn’t have a choice. She was scared of her brother.
“When the first argument comes up between Matthew and Jeremy Norris and shots are fired, it whizzes right past Ebony’s ear,” Cuccia said. “She became very much afraid of her brother - a brother who was on mojo.” That’s a term for synthetic marijuana.
He said this case was all about intent, and he believed that it wasn’t Ebony’s intent to kill.
“You have to understand the circumstances, the relationship she had with her brother,” said Cuccia, describing to the jury that Ebony helped raise Matthew growing up.
He also said she was afraid of what might happened to her own family while talking to police.
“What you will hear, when Ebony is questioned by the Pineville Police Department, they believe she knows something. She’s denying it. But, they say we have the power to take you children away,” he told the jury.
Cuccia said there’s also no evidence of a kitchen knife, because one was never found.
“This is a case about if Ebony Sonnier had the specific intent to kill, or was she someone acting in survival mode?”
Prosecutors had only called their second witness before the plea developed. The most testimony came from Det. Will Smith with the Pineville Police Department.
Smith told the jury that he received a call out to the East Shamrock and Melrose Street intersection around 3:45 a.m. the morning White’s body was found. A passing driver had spotted her. She was already dead.
“She was face down in the street,” said Smith. White was unclothed and there was also a large pool of blood.
The police department found a trail of blood droplets.
“It looked as though the lower part of her leg has been crushed by a vehicle tire,” said Smith of White’s injuries.
At this point, no one knew who the victim was. Fingerprints were taken and White’s name came up.
Officers helping with the case managed to get surveillance video from a nearby convenience store. The video showed a blue truck passing by.
Smith said he was able to locate White’s home. He spoke with her daughter who said that the night before she heard her mother in the house with Matthew and pointed out that his bicycle was still in her bedroom.
The investigation led detectives to a home on Monroe Street in Alexandria, where Matthew and Ebony lived. While Smith was on his way, he spotted the blue truck and Matthew behind the wheel. A chase ensued, reaching speeds of around 70 mph through Alexandria neighborhoods.
Matthew crashed the truck and ran off on foot. Smith said he stayed with the truck so it could be processed for evidence. Inside they spotted blood stains. There was a bullet hole in the windshield.
An explanation about how officers were able to catch Matthew was not given yet to the jury before the plea ended proceedings. But, Smith said the Pineville Police Department got a search warrant for the Monroe Street house. Inside, they smelled a strong scent of bleach and found a 9 mm shell casing in the front yard. It was at this time Smith said the Pineville Police Department got a call from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, who were working a crime scene on Old Boyce Road that ended up involving Norris and Horn. The sheriff’s office believed the cases were related.
Special Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland called for a recess.
About 30 minutes after the recess, Holland announced that Sonnier’s attorneys informed him that she wished to change her plea. They agreed upon a sentence of 40 years for each plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter and five years for a plea to accessory after the fact. The sentence would run concurrent for a total of 40 years.
After Ebony entered her Alford plea to the charges, again not admitting guilt, the mothers of the three victims had the chance to speak to her.
“To have to bury a child, it’s something you never want to do,” said Elizabeth James, White’s mother. “She had 10 children. They lost it. To this day they are alone and lost.”
James said White’s death has “left a hole in my heart.”
“She is gone forever, James told Ebony. “I don’t understand how you could go along with that.”
Brenda Horn, Kendrick’s mother, spoke next.
“I know you have kids too. How would you feel if they were stabbed, rolled up in a ditch, and lit on fire?” she asked.
Horn said Kendrick was her only child.
“I wish it would have been me,” said said of the pain of losing her son. “You’re going to see my child. You have to forgive people for what they do, but you have to pay the consequences.”
Bonita Carmouche, Norris’ mother, said Ebony took her “first love.”
“He had his rights and wrongs, but he was still mine,” Carmouche said of their relationship.
Carmouche spoke about the pain of visiting her son in the cemetery, “I can hear my son say, ‘Please don’t leave me.’” And, how she received positive identification that the remains found in the ditch were his, “The dental records identified my son thanks to you and your brother.”
Carmouche told Ebony that she has “hurt enough” people.
“You drug me through this mud for five years, Ebony. You could have done it from the get go,” she said of the plea.
Ebony told the court she wished to apologize to the families.
“I never meant for this to happen,” she said while sitting next to another defense attorney, Franz Borghardt. “It spiraled out of control. I put myself in your shoes, your children, I truly do apologize. I never woke up and thought I would be where I am today. I truly do apologize.”
Judge Mary Doggett, who presided over the case, gave her condolences to the families before court recessed.
“Nothing today can ease your pain,” she said. “I do hope you get some closure and peace.”
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