William Cousinardage

Lake County Man Shot by Mother's Boyfriend

William Cousinardage was shot on March 13, 2009. He was reported to be from Lake County, and was 21 years old. No other information could be found. Any help is appreciated in adding to this memorial for dear William.

Jennifer A. Stafford

Jennifer A. Stafford

Jennifer Stafford (29) was beaten to death over her ex-boyfriend's debt

March 19, 2009

A 29-year-old Muncie woman was murdered this week over a debt that wasn't even hers, according to the victim's mother.

Jennifer A. Stafford, 29, 708 N. Eastwood Ave., was found beaten to death inside her mobile home about 8:30 a.m. Friday by her mother, Debbie Stafford.

Debbie Stafford told The Star Press on Friday afternoon that Muncie police were looking for a man who had lent money to her daughter's ex-boyfriend.City police on Friday night identified the suspect as Robert A.C. Murphy, a 40-year-old convicted felon from Muncie.

Debbie Stafford suspected her daughter's slaying was related to the debt because her daughter's car, Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation were missing from the home Friday."Jennifer had no enemies," Debbie Stafford said. "She was a good, loving girl."

Police on Friday morning issued a be-on-the-lookout for Stafford's missing silver 2004 Grand Am. Murphy was not publicly identified as a suspect until several hours later.  "We have some things we are following," Muncie police Capt. Mark Vollmar said Friday afternoon. "But nothing I can release at this point."

Family and co-workers became suspicious that Jennifer Stafford was in trouble after she failed to show up for work Thursday at the Ball Memorial Hospital Pain Clinic, where she was a medical assistant. Debbie Stafford last spoke to her daughter by phone Wednesday evening.  In that conversation, Jennifer told her mother that Murphy had stopped by her home that evening asking for her ex-boyfriend's new cell phone number.

The suspect, according to Debbie Stafford, had been friends with Jennifer and her ex-boyfriend.Debbie Stafford said she spoke with Jennifer's ex-boyfriend by phone Friday and he was cooperating with the investigation. "He was very upset," she said.

The couple had met online last year. He moved to Muncie from Ohio to be with Jennifer, her mother said.The pair lived together at Jennifer's home on Eastwood from December until they broke up in February, Debbie Stafford said.Stafford said she believed the ex-boyfriend might have borrowed money to move back home.She did not know how much he owed.

Jennifer Stafford was believed to have been about three months pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, Debbie Stafford said.  Jennifer Stafford also leaves behind a 7-year-old son, who lives with his father. Neighbors didn't report seeing or hearing anything suspicious recently.

The home is at the end of a dead-end street in an isolated neighborhood bordered by cornfields to the north.  Jerry Walker said Stafford was quiet and once returned his dog when it got loose."She was a real nice lady," Walker said. Stafford's death is the first homicide inside Muncie city limits since Daiwaun Walton, 15, was killed by a stray bullet in a shootout on South Ebright Street on May 30, 2007.

Fredericka J. Smith

Man Receives 55 years in Shooting Death of Ex-wife

March 12, 2009

ANDERSON — A 77-year-old Anderson man who pleaded guilty last month to killing his ex-wife has received what amounts to a life sentence, 55 years in prison.

Donald P. Johnson was sentenced in Madison Circuit Court Thursday morning before Judge Fredrick Spencer. On Feb. 18, Johnson pleaded guilty to murder in the shooting death of Fredericka J. Smith on May 21, 2008.  The charge carries 45 to 65 years in prison.

Madison County Deputy Prosecutor Pat Ragains argued aggravating circumstances, including Smith’s age (67) and the presence of two young children in the house at the time of the crime, and asked for the maximum. Defense attorney Angela Warner Sims, meanwhile, said Johnson’s lack of criminal history, his age and his guilty plea should be considered mitigating circumstances and asked for the minimum.

“Everyone knows the reality is that it doesn’t matter what the court decides,” Sims said. “Given Mr. Johnson’s age and health, any sentence is a life sentence.”

Sims said her client has not expressed a desire to appeal the sentence.

Johnson entered the courtroom at 10 a.m. in a green-and-white jumpsuit, the same type he wore for his plea hearing, although he looked less disheveled, his white hair and beard neatly trimmed. He clutched a brown paper bag containing personal effects and was seated in the jury box until the hearing began at 10:15 a.m.

After she and Johnson divorced, Smith had a long-term domestic relationship with James Walton, who asked to address the court.

“We were together two weeks past 21 years,” Walton said. “During those 21 years, not a day went by that she didn’t help someone.”

He said Smith offered Johnson a place to live, the house at 808 Nichol Ave. where the shooting took place, when he was near homelessness.

“When he committed this crime, when he shot and killed her, he did it for no reason,” Walton said. “I can’t understand why he did it. He was in no danger from her. She was the kindest, most considerate person I ever met. I ask that the court show him no lenience.”

Johnson, who is hard of hearing and admitted he could not understand Walton, offered an apology in which talked of an incident involving a bed more than 20 years ago and compared his situation to that of Gerald O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind.” People close to Smith referred to her by her middle name, Johanna, or just Hanna.

“As far as Hanna’s concerned, I’m real sorry,” Johnson said. “It’s like ‘Gone With the Wind’ when Mr. O’Hara lost his mind and went chasing a carpetbagger and he said he had to ask Mrs. O’Hara, who was a corpse at that time.”

Spencer previously denied a request by Johnson’s original defense attorney, Robert Cowles, for a psychological evaluation. Ragains said Johnson appeared “lucid” and mentally sound when questioned by investigators.

Ragains said Smith’s age and the violence of the crime were both aggravating circumstances under state statute. The presence of the children, ages 12 and 7 and already “mentally disturbed,” and the “heinous” nature of the crime were not statutory.

“This act is particularly heinous,” Ragains said. “There was no reason whatsoever for this woman to be shot. Despite the fact that this is an old man, the aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating factors and the state would ask for the maximum sentence.”

Judge Spencer dealt the recommended sentence of 55 years. He said Johnson’s apology to the family was his first such gesture in the 10 months of court proceedings.

“I think the maximum is reserved for particularly ugly crimes permitted by particularly ugly people,” Spencer said. “You don’t have a bad record and I don’t believe you deserve the maximum sentence.

“I want you to go to a facility where you can get ongoing medical attention. You’ll still be inside a prison, you’ll still be inside the walls, but you don’t need to be in Michigan City or Westville or Wabash Valley.”

That decision will be at the discretion of the Indiana Department of Correction.

Pamela Payne-Bennett

Coroner Rules Deaths a Murder-Suicide

Police found revolver in Hummer

March 4, 2009

HAMMOND | Hammond police said they continued Tuesday to piece together events leading up to a murder-suicide at the Hammond Marina.

Pamela Payne-Bennett, 55, of Parkland, Fla., and Calvin Douchee, 39, of Cary, Miss., died Monday after a gun was fired and an SUV submerged in the water, Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said.

Payne-Bennett was shot multiple times in the torso, and Douchee was shot twice in the chest, Lake County Coroner David J. Pastrick said.

Pastrick said the coroner's office ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.

The two had a "long-term friendship," Miller said. He declined further comment.

Reached at a south suburban Chicago phone number Tuesday, Douchee's daughter, Shaqeia Johnson, described her father as "a loving person" but had no further comment.

Miller said both Douchee and Payne-Bennett had family in the Chicago area.

Payne-Bennett's family could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Payne-Bennett and Douchee pulled into the marina Monday afternoon, telling a security guard they wanted to drive around, Miller said.

The pair were sitting in a black Hummer H2 with a Florida license plate about 12:45 p.m. Monday when a security guard told them they couldn't park on the marina's boat ramp, Miller said.

The guard said Douchee told him, "It will just take a minute."

Shortly after that, shots were fired, Miller said. The woman fell or was pushed out of the Hummer, and the vehicle rolled into the water, he said.

The vehicle submerged into the frigid water, and dive crews later retrieved it. Douchee's body was slumped in the driver's seat, police said.

Police also found a revolver in the Hummer, Miller said.

Miller said evidence technicians went into the water Tuesday and recovered clothing that was in the vehicle. The case remained under investigation Tuesday afternoon.