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Man guilty of capital murder in church killing

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published April 12, 2012 at 9:38 a.m. Updated April 12, 2012 at 4:45 p.m.

— A man accused of bludgeoning an elderly woman to death at a small-town Cross County church has been found guilty of capital murder.

A jury returned the guilty verdict just before 4:30 p.m. in the trial of Rene Bourassa. Jurors will return to court Friday morning to begin the sentencing phase, during which they will determine if Bourassa will face the death penalty.

In addition to the capital murder charge, Bourassa was found guilty of commercial burglary, theft of property, aggravated robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card. He showed little emotion as the verdicts were read.

Bourassa had confessed to killing 80-year-old Lillian Wilson on June 6, 2010, though his defense attorneys contended during trial that his intention was only to knock Wilson out and that he suffers from mental illness.

Prosecutors painted a different picture, describing him as a killer who acted with premeditation in the course of robbing Wilson of her car and credit cards.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there is something in this world called pure evil," First Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long told the jury at one point Thursday. "And it was rampant at Central Methodist Church that Sunday morning."

The jury left the courtroom about 12:35 p.m. after hearing lengthy instructions and then closing arguments from the two sides.

Deputy prosecuting attorney Michael Ladd said in his address to the jurors that Bourassa knew he wouldn't make it far from the church outside Wynne if he left Wilson alive.

"He decided he could only get away by killing her," Ladd said, saying that meets the legal definition of premeditation.

Ladd walked jurors through the details of the crime, showing photos of Wilson's body lying on the floor of the church and during the autopsy, where numerous large gashes were visible on her head. At times, he held the same brass cross Bourassa used to strike Wilson, urging jurors to remember the victim.

"Keep Ms. Lillian Wilson in your mind while you're considering that," Ladd said at one point. "Don't forget that even though she's not here, she would be here if not for the actions of Rene Bourassa."

Defense attorney Danny Glover acknowledged the crime fits first- and second-degree murder statutes, but asked jurors to stop short of finding Bourassa guilty of capital murder.

"The law recognizes there are other levels of homicides," he said, noting capital charges are filed for assassins, terrorists and serial killers.

Glover said Bourassa has mental illness and is genetically predisposed to violence, factors that played a role in the killing. He said something snapped in him when Wilson, injured but still alive, brought up Bourassa's mother.

"You can see the rage that took over at that moment," Glover said. "... Is that someone really thinking straight to do that?"

He also pointed to Bourassa's cooperation. After being arrested in Seattle, he waived extradition back to Arkansas and spoke with investigators. He even reenacted part of the crime in a video shown to the jury earlier this week.

Prosecutors countered that cooperation is not a defense to capital murder.

Bourassa didn't speak and showed little emotion during the trial Thursday. He sat behind his attorneys, his arms folded across his chest or his hands clasped in front of him. He looked down when the crime scene and autopsy photos were projected onto a large screen.

After jury selection last week, testimony began in the trial Monday before Judge Richard L. Proctor.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Comments on: Man guilty of capital murder in church killing

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Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 total comments

Jfish says... April 12, 2012 at 2:06 p.m.

Another animal that needs to be removed from society.

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NONSHEEPLE says... April 12, 2012 at 2:09 p.m.

There's NO denying that the guy killer that woman... the penalty SHOULD be harsh and swift.... unless she was wearing a hoodie and eating skittles then THAT would be a different case all together.

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