An Orleans Parish jury found a man guilty Wednesday of aggravated oral sexual battery on a 14-year-old girl in 1991, exactly 27 years and one day after the incident.
LaToya Gaines, 41, said Gerard Ladmirault, 55, forced her at knifepoint to give him oral sex on Oct. 16, 1991, when she was 14 and he was 28.
The jury of five women and one man deliberated for just over four and half hours before reaching a guilty verdict late Wednesday evening.
The long deliberations made it seem like the case could be headed to its third hung jury. But when Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson read the unanimous verdict of guilty as charged, Gaines sobbed and collapsed into the arms of a social worker sitting beside her.
"It was relieving. It let me know that there is justice. And there are people who needed to see that," Gaines said at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, after a second full day of trial and just moments after watching Ladmirault placed in handcuffs and taken off to jail.
He is set for sentencing Nov. 27. Although aggravated oral sexual battery is now considered aggravated rape, it was not in 1991. So, Ladmirault will be sentenced under the 1991 guidelines and not the current ones, which would have called for life without parole.
Gaines angrily denounced her attacker from the witness stand Wednesday morning, crying, yelling and pointing at the defendant as she vowed to fight to make sure he is never around children, “not even his own.”
Her frustration was palpable. Her original criminal complaint against Ladmirault was dropped at her mother’s urging in 1991. Another teen who accused Ladmirault of raping her at gunpoint in 1991 had watched in disbelief as a jury in 1992 acquitted him based on his contention that the sex had been consensual. Gaines revived her case against Ladmirault in 2014, testified in trials in 2015 and 2016 that ended in hung juries and was not even sure if the District Attorney’s Office would be willing to pursue a third trial.
But WWL-TV investigated the case last summer and the DA’s office did pursue it. And during the second day of trial Wednesday, prosecutors presented a piece of evidence and testimony that had been missing from the previous trials and likely played a key role in the guilty verdict.
In 1991, Harry O’Neal, then a criminalist in the New Orleans Police Crime Lab, tested items police had seized from Ladmirault’s residence. Gaines reported the incident right away to police and told them Ladmirault ejaculated on her face and chest, then wiped the semen off with a white towel.
O’Neal testified Wednesday, saying he tested the white towel police found at the house, which he noted was improperly placed in the same bag as a pair of Ladmirault’s underwear. He said both the towel and the underwear tested positive for large amounts of semen. He said there was a remote possibility of “transference,” meaning the semen could have gotten on the towel from the underwear or vice-versa, but he said it was such a large amount that it was highly unlikely.
Defense attorney David Belfield pointed out that no DNA test was ever done to tie that semen stain to Ladmirault. But Assistant DA Jason Napoli told jurors that was irrelevant because only if Gaines was telling the truth could she have directed police to a semen-stained towel in Ladmirault’s house and to a brown-handled buck knife she said he had used in the attack.
“She has done enough,” Napoli said during an impassioned closing argument. “She led police to the towel with the semen on it, to the buck-knife he held to her throat. She has done enough. Give her the justice she deserves."
Napoli urged the jury to finally stand with Gaines after her original case against Ladmirault in 1991 was dropped by her drug-addicted mother, two previous trials ended in hung juries and after a separate jury acquitted Ladmirault of raping another woman by accepting his claim that the sex was consensual.
The prosecution presented testimony from six witnesses. The defense rested without calling any.
Belfield said he didn't think the prosecutors had met their burden of proof, so he decided against having Ladmirault take the stand as he had in 2015 and 2016.
"We made the call in this case not to put him on the stand. In the previous two cases we put him on the stand, it came back hung," Belfield said after the verdict. "I believe the jury was hung tonight. I believe someone changed their verdict at the last minute to get out of here, and that's just the way it goes."
Ladmirault was caught off-guard by the verdict and Belfield tried to get the judge to let him go free for a few days to get his business affairs in order. Landrum-Johnson noted Ladmirault had been free without any bond the whole time and said he should have planned for the possibility of a guilty verdict beforehand.
Belfield said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Gaines cried and rocked back and forth throughout her testimony Wednesday morning. She told about how her mother, Sharon Gaines, was a drug addict at the time who could not support her and her two younger brothers. She said Sharon Gaines, who died in 2013, had her sign an affidavit dropping the charges in October 1991, but as a 14-year-old, she didn’t know what she was signing.
She said the incident ruined her life, but it took seeing Ladmirault dropping a teenage girl off at Warren Easton High School in 2012 to reawaken her desire to have him prosecuted.
“I managed to lock this away in Pandora’s box and grew a thicker skin,” she testified. “But when I saw that little girl jump out of the truck, it made me realize he didn’t stop. And I thought, if he would do this to somebody else, it would be my fault.”
In his closing arguments, Belfield told the jury not to be swayed by histrionics.
“You’re not here to decide on who shouts and points fingers,” Belfield said. “We’re not at the Academy Awards. We’re not here to judge acting. It’s not about theatrics, who can shout the loudest, who can cry the biggest tears.”
During cross-examination, Belfield homed in on some inconsistencies in Gaines’ testimony. Gaines testified that Ladmirault drove her back to Carrier’s house after the incident and showed her a gun in his truck, threatening to kill her if she said anything. But she never mentioned that in her interview with police the next morning.
“Why didn’t you tell the police about the gun?” Belfield asked Gaines.
“Because it wasn’t in the house,” she replied. “I guess I didn’t think it was relevant. I just knew he pulled it out from under the seat (in the truck).”
Gaines seemed confused when Belfield pressed her about whether she was wearing a blouse at the time of oral sexual battery or if she had taken it off. He said she had previously testified that the semen got on her blouse, but then she said he had made her take the blouse off and it was lying on the floor.
“I don’t remember every single detail,” she said, crying and getting more agitated.
“How do you testify that you had your blouse on and then that it was on the floor?” Belfield pressed.
“I don’t know,” she said.
In his closing argument, Belfield said, “This case isn’t about the big things, it’s about the little things.”
Ladmirault was also accused of raping another teenager 60 days prior to the incident with Gaines, but was acquitted at a 1992 trial in that case. But prosecutors were allowed to present facts from that case to establish a pattern of behavior for Ladmirault.
So, they flew in the alleged victim, Ta-Tanisha Smith, from Atlanta to testify on Tuesday, along with the retired NOPD detective who investigated her case in 1991. Both testified they were shocked that Ladmirault was found not guilty in that case.
After the verdict Wednesday, Gaines said her first phone call would be to Smith. She said the one positive from the difficult legal battle had been that she met Smith and “gained a sister.” And although Ladmirault was acquitted in her rape case, Smith found relief in the result of Gaines’ case.
“After 27 years we are free… burdens lifted… time to fly,” Smith wrote in a text message.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Harry O'Neal as former commander of the NOPD Crime Lab. He was a criminalist in the NOPD Crime Lab and later became commander of the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office Crime Lab.