Eric Heisig / Houma Courier
The "devil" came to Thibodaux Sunday, Jesslyn Lirette said, and he did so in the form of the man she was with for 10 years. The devil, she said, took her "angel" away.
Jori loved his father more than anything, Lirette said.
"He still killed him," she said. "He killed my baby."
A passing motorist alerted police after spotting the boy's head at the curbside. His body was found in a white trash bag nearby.
Jeremiah Wright, booked on a charge of first-degree murder, is accused of decapitating his son in the kitchen sink with a meat cleaver.
Wright is in the Lafourche Parish jail in lieu of a $5 million bond. If convicted, he faces mandatory life in prison and is eligible for the death penalty.
Police said Sunday they could not determine a motive for the killing, but family and friends said tension had been rising between Wright and Jesslyn Lirette for years. Jesslyn Lirette said she had an argument with Wright Saturday night, and those close to her said they had encouraged her to leave him.
"They had been on this rocky road," said Jesslyn's friend Samantha Scioneaux. "I told her ‘You have to end this before he kills you.' "
And while Wright acted as one of the boy's caretakers, Jesslyn said she had planned on ending the relationship for some time.
"I didn't get out fast enough," Jesslyn said.
Friends and family of Lirette and Wright said Wright was mentally instable and had told people he was "hearing voices." Those problems may have gone untreated, those close to the family said.
Wright's friend Mark Chatagnier said problems in Wright and Lirette's relationship were exacerbated by Jesslyn's unwillingness to help to care for Jori, who had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. Wright was unemployed, Chatagnier said, and was often left home alone with Jori, even when Jesslyn was not working.
"She would take off and totally expect Jerry to do everything," Chatagnier said.
Jesslyn denies those claims, saying she was the sole breadwinner in the family, working as a caretaker for a disabled person, and was still present to care for her son. She also said cries for help, such as a visit from Thibodaux Police last month over a domestic dispute, went unheard and unresolved.
Sunday morning, Jesslyn said she took her pickup to get repaired so she could take her son to the ear doctor Tuesday in New Orleans. Before leaving, she said, she gave her son a kiss.
"That's my routine every morning," Jesslyn said, adding that she now regrets not taking her son with her.
When Jori was born, doctors didn't offer a lot of hope that he would live. The 14-ounce baby arrived three months early and stayed at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans for a year.
Doctors "told her to just pull the plug, and she would always say ‘No, that's my baby,' " said Jesslyn's friend, Teri Molaison.
Jesslyn Lirette said when her son was in the hospital, she and her mother would make the hour-long drive daily, sometimes just to see her baby for 15 minutes. For most of Jori's life, he was confined to a wheelchair. His motor function was limited, and forming words was especially difficult. At 7 years old, he was no more than 50 pounds, Jesslyn said.
Family members said he became good at getting people's attention, though, sometimes pulling on someone's arm or banging on a cabinet.
Jori's mother said the boy had been improving over the past two years. Doctor visits were spaced farther apart, and he was able to form words and communicate. His first words were said only in the past of couple years, Jesslyn said. Jori was looking at picture on his aunt's laptop and suddenly uttered "Look." Other words, such as "root beer," followed.
Despite the challenges, Jesslyn said she never felt her son was handicapped.
"I never struggled with my son," Jesslyn said. "He was happy. Everything I could do, I did."
Late Sunday night, Jesslyn's family was gathered at the Thibodaux home of Jesslyn's mother, Delene Himel. Photo albums were taken out, a few retrieved from Jesslyn's home. One photo shows Jori wearing a set of angel wings.
Even at 7 years old, family members described Jori, fondly, as a smart-aleck. He was the one who would make smooching noises and would laugh when somebody was injured on television. He was fed via a tube but still loved cherry lollipops, ice cream and chocolate-chip cookies.
His mental capacity was limited, but Jori always showed affection toward his family and classmates.
"Everybody loved him," Himel said.
West Seventh Street in Thibodaux was dark Sunday night, except for a flickering light coming from a candle placed near the front steps. A stuffed alligator was next to the candle.
Jesslyn said she doesn't know who put the items there but is touched by their presence.
For now, Jesslyn said she is not allowed to go back into her home, though she can't imagine herself living there. Wright was the man she considered marrying at one point, but now she can't fathom starting another family.
Jori, she said, was "her insight, her spirit."
"My child is gone, and I cannot replace him," Jesslyn said. "He didn't deserve to die."