Law enforcement makes arrest in 15-year-old priest murder case
Fifteen years ago on Aug. 12, 1992 the priest of the St. John Episcopal Church in Thibodaux was bludgeoned and stabbed to death inside the church rectory.
His injuries, some defensive in nature, indicated he had been assaulted with a blunt metal object consistent with that of a hammer and a sharp object consistent with a knife.
Cash from the church rectory and the priest’s Toyota Camry were missing.
While the Camry was found half a day later, the murderer was not.
The rectory was later named Horgan Hall in memory of the Rev. Hunter Hudson Horgan III.
Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre and Thibodaux Police Chief Craig Melancon announced Tuesday a suspect in Horgan’s murder and armed robbery has finally been charged.
“Fifteen years is a long, long, long journey, but we’re all here today because of all these people biting into that shirt tail and not letting go,” said Jon Horgan Kemp, sister of the deceased priest.
Horgan’s brother, also spoke briefly, but became choked up and couldn’t continue.
“Thank you to law enforcement working together to make this happen,” said Porter Horgan.
Derrick Odomes, 28,
of the Ashland Detention Center at 3211 Grand Caillou Road in Houma was charged with armed robbery and first-degree murder.
“I hope we’re going to see a conviction that sticks and judgment day for [Odomes],” said Kemp.
Melancon and Webre spoke outside Horgan Hall.
“We believe that [Odomes] entered this building and did commit a murder upon Rev. Horgan,” said Melancon.
“He’s a very belligerent individual – a man who lacks conscience,” Webre said of Odomes.
Melancon explained the Thibodaux Police Department and the sheriff’s office began to collaborate on the case a little more than half a year ago.
The police chief was very familiar with the case.
“I was a young detective with the Thibodaux Police Department and remember very clearly walking into this building and seeing Rev. Hunter Horgan lying there,” said Melancon. “I knew at that time you did not have to be a seasoned investigator to know that this case was going to haunt us as a police department.”
He also said the crime was one certainly involving rage, but that there was a clear intent to rob.
“I don’t think you can bring closure to a case like this. You may close a chapter of this case, but you’re not ever going to bring it to a complete close,” said Melancon.
Webre had only been sheriff for a month and 12 days when the murder occurred.
“Every unsolved case, I think from my time as sheriff, haunts you,” said Webre. “The ability to conclude a case with an arrest in some way psychologically helps them [friends and family of the victim] with the healing process.”
Odomes was transferred to the Lafourche Parish Detention Center, right after being released from the Terrebonne Parish Jail after serving for minor crimes. District Judge Bruce Simpson set bond at $100,000 on the armed robbery charge.
No bond was set on the first-degree murder charge.
Sheriff’s office Detective Rick Murphy and Sgt. Kim Favalora were credited for making the break in the 15-year-old murder case.
“Actually, I felt a little guilty, because all the detectives who did all the hard work in the beginning and preserved the evidence for us did a fantastic job And here we came along at the right time in history where forensics actually caught up to the evidence at hand and we were able to put everything together and actually make an arrest.” said Favalora. “I feel a little bit guilty it was us.”
She and Murphy had only been working the case since May.
Other longtime investigators working the case were Thibodaux Police Department Captain Mike Martin and LPSO Lt. J.P. DeGravelles.
Favalora indicated that while investigators are always trying to solve cases, the fact that a priest had been murdered helped to keep the investigation going by generating interest in the community.
Detectives cited a combination of well-preserved and collected forensic evidence from the crime scene and witnesses finally coming forward for Odomes being identified as the suspect.
Investigators got a search warrant to get a print of an area of Odomes’ hand not normally fingerprinted and were able to make a positive match to a print left at the crime scene.
As a juvenile, Odomes’ prints were not entered into the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System.
According to Webre, Odomes had been a suspect for the majority of the time the case had been under investigation.
Investigators had been speaking to the witnesses periodically over the years. Two of them used to visit the church as kids, as Odomes had done, and were acquaintances of the murder suspect.
Odomes was actually one of several juveniles who frequented the church grounds.
Almost a year before the murder occurred, Horgan filed a complaint with police that the children were hanging around too much.
The fact that the priest’s keys were misplaced, perhaps contributed to the complaint being filed.
The priest asked Melancon to speak to the kids.
Melancon said officers addressed the problem with the kids and there were no further problems.
And he also said there was no link between the misplaced keys and the eventual theft of Horgan’s vehicle.
Prosecuting Odomes for the 15-year-old crime comes with its own set of technical problems.
“We could have some issues in prosecuting [Odomes] with this case,” said Melancon. “That’s not our job. What we feel that we’ve done in the law enforcement community by partnering up with the various agencies is to bring this to a satisfactory close from a law enforcement standpoint.”
Odomes allegedly robbed and killed Horgan when he was just 14 years old, before the 1994 passage of a law allowing juvenile to be tried as adults for murder.
Odomes has a lengthy rap sheet that includes being charged with possession of crack cocaine, possession of a stolen vehicle, domestic abuse battery, issuing worthless checks and carjacking.
Despite his history as a career criminal, he could conceivably be prosecuted as a juvenile for Horgan’s murder. He is currently charged as an adult.
Webre said if Odomes had been charged and convicted for the murder the day after it occurred, he would have been released when he turned 21.
This case was one of an estimated 15 unsolved murders in Lafourche Parish.
“It’s bitter-sweet. It’s a good feeling to solve the case, to bring this individual to justice. And at the same time, it’s sad when you think back on the date of Aug 12, 1992, when I was a young investigator and walked in here to see [Horgan],” Melancon said.
The police chief and the priest know each other and would often stop by to say hello.