Joseph Elie represents himself in court for arson case motions, loses

Joseph Michael Elie, III (Source: APD)
Joseph Michael Elie, III (Source: APD)(KALB)
Published: Mar. 6, 2019 at 4:01 PM CST
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Joseph Michael Elie, 41, the man convicted of manslaughter in the 1994 beating and stabbing death of 82-year-old Rita Rabalais, and who was arrested again back in January for allegedly beating his pregnant girlfriend and setting a house on fire, decided to represent himself on Wednesday for a motion for a change of venue and a motion that would determine if investigators had enough probable cause to arrest him.

Rabalais' family was present in court.

These motions pertained to his most recent arrest for the battery and arson case. Before everything got underway, Judge Mary Doggett asked Elie multiple times if he was prepared to take the matter up by himself without the help of an attorney.

"It's personal," Elie told Judge Doggett. "I don't trust nobody to do it right. I'm innocent."

Elie is blaming a KALB report dissecting his lengthy criminal history as the reason why he feels he can't get a fair trial in Rapides Parish. In another matter that has yet to be taken up, he's also trying to get the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office to be removed from the case because he feels District Attorney Phillip Terrell is biased against him.

Elie's first argument began with a factual error.

"It's a report done by Mr. Steven Maxwell...I subpoenaed him," said Elie, when the report was actually done by Brooke Buford.

Elie called a relative, Linda Elie to testify on his behalf. She said that she had a journalism student print the article off for her, but she did not watch the story because "it was painful."

Prosecutor Brian Mosley asked both of them if either had done any scientific research such as polling potential jurors about the case.

"What's the purpose of studying venue? I wasn't aware I had to study a poll," said Joseph Elie.

When it came back to the issue of the subpoena of Maxwell, the court learned Elie never filled out an address to send it.

Elie introduced Facebook comments from KALB viewers underneath the article that he felt hurt his chance at a fair trial.

"I read 67 comments," he said. "Half said I deserve to die. The other half said I deserve to be in prison for life. The others said I should be fed to alligators!"

Mosley pushed back saying that Elie did no research to even determine if the people commenting were even from the parish or out of state.

Ultimately, Judge Doggett denied Elie's motion for a change of venue and said the matter could be revisited during jury selection if it became an issue.

Two fire prevention officers, Sam Allen and Reggie Hebert, testified from the Alexandria Fire Department about the attempted aggravated arson and aggravated arson charges Elie faces.

Allen testified that in the case of the attempted aggravated arson in September 2018 at a home on Madeline Street, the young woman who was involved with Elie discovered a "bed sheet" type of material that ran into a utility room that smelled of gasoline.

Allen said the woman told him, "He threatened to kill her and he told her she would be reincarnated into a better woman."

The woman told investigators that she "had seen a shadow walking around the bedroom" and smelled gas.

Elie spent several moments objecting, but his objections weren't ones that were permissible by law, mainly because they didn't exist. Judge Doggett spent several minutes trying to explain the law to him.

Elie pushed back on Allen during cross examination saying that no DNA was found.

Hebert testified that in the arson case in January 2019, the woman and her father told investigators that during the night of the fire on Madeline Street, "Elie was at the front door banging on the window wanting her to come out. She refused...Elie knocked a window out."

The woman's father told investigators that he became worried that same night when "he noticed a dark, tall shadow. Something came crashing through the window and there was fire."

The father and daughter, as well as some children, made it out safely.

Threatening text messages that allegedly came from Elie were given to investigators. Hebert read some of them in court. One of them said, "I f****** hate you." Another read, "I'd rather see us both dead."

Elie pushed back on Hebert as well, asking about a GPS on the phone.

"Did my GPS put me in Alexandria, Louisiana?" he asked.

"Uh, yes it did," said Hebert. Hebert also testified that a woman gave him information that she let Elie borrow her phone that night. But, Elie tried to say that woman lived nearby and the phone could have pinged from her house.

Ultimately, Judge Doggett found that there was enough probable cause to arrest Elie for the crime.

Elie will next head to court on April 1 for a drug and firearm possession case. He's represented by Chris Lacour in that one. Lacour told the court that he plans to file his own motion for a change of venue.