Billiot prosecutor says Billiot would be ‘hardship’ for Whitfield

Published 1:35 pm Thursday, December 10, 2009

The district attorney who prosecuted the James E. Billiot murder case in 1982, Albert Necaise, who now practices law in Gulfport, said that placing Billiot in the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield will “place a hardship on the metal institution required to house him.”

“I don’t think they have the manpower or the security people there to watch a man who has killed three people with a sledgehammer. The murders were truly horrible, unbelievably brutal.”

As it now stands, it appears that under a federal judge’s order, the convicted murderer will have to be either transferred to the hospital or freed on Jan. 3, 2010.

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Necaise served 18 years in the district attorney’s office, 12 as district attorney. He was the DA when the Billiot murder case was tried in Gulfport and he prosecuted the case.

The murder happened in the northwest corner of Hancock County, one of three counties his district covered. The other two were Stone and Harrison.

The case was tried in Gulfport after a judge granted a change of venue from Bay St. Louis to Gulfport because of pretrial publicity.

“When we prosecuted him I thought he was sane. Of course, the courts then held that he was sane,” said Necaise. “He had to be declared mentally competent to stand trial.”

Necaise served as DA from 1972 to 1984. The Billiot trial took place in December 1982. It lasted almost five days.

Billiot, now 48, was accused of murdering his stepfather, Wallace Croll, 53, his mother Audrey Croll, 47, and his half-sister Cheryl Ann Croll, 14, on Thanksgiving Day of 1981 in the Leetown Community about six miles east of Picayune just across the Pearl River-Hancock County line.

Authorities said Billiot bludgeoned the three family members to death. He was charged with all three murders but was tried for the murder of Wallace Croll, whom he also robbed, making it a capital offense and allowing for the application of the death penalty.

After the 1982 trial, at which a bevy of psychiatrists testified that he knew what he was doing when he murdered his family, Billiot was sentenced to death. However, ever since then he has sat on death row at Parchman, lapsing in and out of delusions and awaiting appeals by attorneys who have been fighting his case for 27 years.

In the latest twist, U.S. District Judge Tom Lee on Nov. 3 told state authorities to transfer Billiot to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield for treatment or release him. Lee suspended Billiot’s death sentence and gave state officials 60 days to transfer him or release him.

However, State Attorney General Jim Hood said Whitfield does not have the facilities or security to house a death row inmate indefinitely and asked that Lee amend his order to release Billiot.

In addition, MSH director James G. Chastain told The Associated Press that the facility does not have “sufficient security capacity to safely confine a death row inmate.”

One of Billiot’s attorneys, John Henegan, said that the attorney general’s assessment is wrong and there is no reason why MSH could not handle Billiot and treat him. That 60-day period appears to end on Jan. 3, 2010.