Booked with one of Jefferson Parish’s most heinous child slayings, Matthew Flugence allegedly confessed to a detective that 6-year-old Ahlittia North seduced him behind a row of Harvey apartment buildings, spreading out a blanket on the ground and enticing him into having intercourse.
“In his words, the little girl, she wanted to have sex with him,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Travis Eserman testified Wednesday during a preliminary examination.
The detective said Flugence told him he had sex with the girl on July 14, the day she was killed. “That’s when he snapped,” Eserman testified. Flugence stabbed her four times and watched her fall to the blanket writhing in pain, Eserman testified.
“He said he just watched her die,” Eserman testified, adding that Flugence carried on with his day. “He goes to a family birthday party,” the detective testified.
Two days later, following a wide search of Harvey’s Woodmere subdivision, deputies found her body. She had been wrapped in a blanket and put inside a garbage bag, then dumped in a residential trash bin that was rolled out to the curb on Destrehan Avenue near where she lived.
The autopsy revealed that North had been stabbed twice in the lower abdomen and twice in the neck, Eserman testified.
After hearing the testimony, Magistrate Commissioner Patricia Joyce of the 24th Judicial District Court ruled that the Sheriff’s Office has sufficient evidence to continue holding Flugence in jail on a charge of first-degree murder. She also denied a request by Flugence’s attorneys for a bond for their client.
Flugence also is held on a charge of sexual battery, for allegedly touching a 10-year-old girl’s genitals in April or May of 2012. Sheriff’s Office Detective Ronald David Ray testified Wednesday that the girl, who is related to Flugence, disclosed the incident on July 14. Ahlittia also had family ties to Flugence: His uncle was her stepfather, authorities have said.
Jefferson Parish public defenders Paul Fleming Jr. and Cesar Vasquez, both qualified to defend suspects charged with capital offenses, sought the hearing last month, to determine whether the Sheriff’s Office had probable cause to arrest Flugence.
The Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office has not filed charges in the case. Assistant District Attorney Sunny Funk, who is screening the case, gave no indication of whether prosecutors would seek a first-degree murder indictment and death penalty.
It’s unclear whether the defense attorneys will seek a mental evaluation for Flugence in an attempt to head off a capital prosecution. Under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, mentally retarded people are exempt from the death penalty under the Constitution’s 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Flugence gave four recorded statements, the last of which was his admission to stabbing Ahlittia, Eserman testified. In the statements, Flugence appeared to concede to an array of details. For instance, explaining why bullet casings were found near Ahlittia’s blood, Flugence allegedly claimed he shot the girl, Eserman testified. However there’s no evidence she was shot.
“In his first statement, he says he shot her,” Eserman testified. “Then he goes into, ‘I don’t know how she was hurt. There was just blood.'”
Of the weapon he allegedly used to stab the child, “He described it as a sword at one point. And he advised it was a pocket knife,” Eserman testified.
Flugence’s brother, Russell Flugence, 21, was charged Tuesday with failing to report a felony. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment hearing Wednesday, and Joyce ordered the public defenders office to appoint a lawyer to the case.
Eserman testified that Russell Flugence admitted on July 14, the day of the homicide, that his brother told him he killed Ahlittia. That led the Sheriff’s Office to obtain an arrest warrant for Matthew Flugence, Eserman said.
Deputies arrested Matthew Flugence on July 16, after he was spotted walking on Victory Drive in Westwego. He was carrying a pocket knife that he allegedly said he used to kill Ahlittia.
Eserman said the Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab was still processing the knife for evidence. The blanket in which Ahlittia’s body was found also was still being processed for evidence, he said. The autopsy, meanwhile, revealed no evidence of sexual activity.
Questioned by Fleming, Eserman said the state Office of Child Services had investigated Ahlittia’s family for allegations they sexually abused her. “Other family members were accused at one point,” Eserman testified. He provided no details of those allegations but said those relatives were cleared of involvement in the homicide.
If prosecutors seek the death penalty, it would be the first first-degree murder indictment since November 2005, when Isaiah Doyle of Marrero was charged with killing a store clerk during an armed robbery. Doyle has since been convicted and sentenced to die. Currently, no one in Jefferson Parish is charged with a capital offense.
Prosecutors could also pursue a second-degree murder indictment, which carries a mandatory life sentence in prison upon conviction. A finding of a mental defect would have no effect on a second-degree murder case.