Hager found guilty on one count of seizing and confining elderly man, then abandoning him during Katrina

Published 12:28 am Sunday, April 8, 2007

Richard Hager, one of two people charged with illegally confining a man in a mobile home in Carriere, then abandoning him as Hurricane Katrina approached, has been found guilty on one charge of kidnaping.

Hager was convicted of forcibly seizing James Parker, believed by authorities to be in his mid to late 70s, and confining him against his will in the trailer.

Hager was found not guilty of one of the two counts of kidnaping that had been leveled against him. He will be sentenced by Circuit Judge R.I. Prichard, who presided over the hearing, on Wednesday, April 18, because the jury could not reach a decision on the sentence, said Circuit Clerk Vickie Hariel.

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The second person charged in the case, Bonnie Mefford, will be tried at a later date.

Parker, who is blind and otherwise disabled, was trapped in a single wide trailer in Carriere during the worst natural disaster in Gulf Coast history after the couple abandoned him there and Hager placed obstacles around the trailer to prevent Parker from leaving it.

Prior to their move to Carriere, there had been an agreement for about two years for rent and care between Hager, Mefford, and James Parker, according to testimony at the trial, which took place Wednesday and Thursday. The three people had lived together in New Orleans for two years prior to moving to Carriere a couple of months before Hurricane Katrina.

The defendant, Hager, never took the stand to testify but a statement he recorded with Joe Sanderson and Leland McDivitt, investigators with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, was used as evidence.

The relationship between Parker and the couple had deteriorated during the time they lived together, according to testimony by Parker and confirmed by the recorded statement from Hager.

In the recorded statement to the Attorney General’s investigators, Hager admitted to placing obstacles to prevent Parker from leaving the trailer during and after Hurricane Katrina. Those obstacles included two plywood boards imbedded with nails facing up in the hallway, a screw in the window lock of Parker’s bedroom and a barricade made of lumber tied to a rocking chair in the hallway.

The nail-imbedded boards and the window lock had been used on and off for about a month before the hurricane came ashore to keep Parker in his room and from tearing up the other parts of the trailer, Hager said in the recording. Hager said that in the months before the storm, Parker had jumped out the window. Parker said it was in an attempt to escape. Hager said on another occasion, he believed Parker would get out the front door and wander out in the road when they came home to find the front door open. To keep Parker safe, Hager said, he put the screw in the window, the boards in the hallway and put an eye-and-hook latch on the outside of the front door.

“It was miserable. I was a nervous wreck because I knew my fate was sealed. The same thing as being in jail,” Parker testified.

When the couple left Parker in the trailer for the storm, they used the obstacles and tied a nylon rope from the front door knob to the railing on the front steps to keep Parker inside, which Hager said was for Parker’s own good.

Parker’s testimony described the relationship leading up to the storm as “a living H-E-doulbe L.” Parker said he was in fear of what Hager had done and may do to him if he attempted to leave the small room in which he was confined. Hager used to beat on him all the time, Parker testified.

“I’m not near as stout as I used to be when I was younger,” Parker said. “Several times (Hager) did beat me up.”

The only good thing Parker could see from moving with Hager and Mefford to Carriere was that he may have drowned during Hurricane Katrina had he stayed in New Orleans.

Twice before the storm Parker said he tried to escape.

When the storm was approaching, Hager and Mefford left Parker in the home with a bag a sandwiches, water and a bucket to use as a bathroom.

In Hager’s statement, the bucket was described as being used prior to the storm because Parker would tear up the bathroom and leave the water running. Hager said the couple denied Parker access to the bathroom when they were not in the trailer, giving him only the bucket.

Before they left him there for the storm, Parker said he begged and pleaded for the couple to take him with them, even offering them $100. Hager said in his statement that Parker was undecided as to whether he wanted to leave for the storm. He said Parker had stayed in New Orleans when Hurricane Ivan threatened.

“They went off and left me,” Parker said.

Parker said the day after the storm passed, he broke out a window, picked out each piece of glass and tied a sheet to the bed to climb out. After escaping from the trailer, Parker said he spent the night in the woods and was found the next day by neighbors, who took him to a shelter and then a personal care home. Parker was still in front of the trailer when they found him, the neighbors testified.

When they left Parker, Hager and Mefford took the camper trailer to Columbia where they camped. Hager said that they mentioned nothing of leaving Parker at the Carriere residence to any official, nor did they attempt to make their way back to check on Parker until Sept. 10, 2005, two days after the Attorney General’s office had served a search warrant on the residence to survey the scene. After the couple came back to discover Parker was not at the residence and that a search warrant had been served, they went back to Columbia and still said kept quiet.

When the Attorney General’s office served arrest warrants on Hager and Mefford, investigators found the couple asleep with coolers of beer inside the trailer, according to the transcript of the conversation with Hager.

Hager admitted the decisions he and Mefford made were wrong and he would not want to be treated that way.

“I would not want nobody treating me like that, you know. It was a bad judgment, a bad decision to make, you know. And all I could do is put it out my heart and say that I am sorry, you know,” Hager said.