Justice Served, Or Justice Denied? Church Point Mother Says Denied
Michael Guillory is a free man after taking a plea in connection with Bethany Walters' death. He was free for Christmas this year. Bethany is gone. This is the sixth Christmas without her for her parents and little sister, Dakota.
A quest for the truth continues to motivate a Church Point woman's mission when it comes to her daughter, Bethany. You might be one of those people who watch true crime stories on the various channels on television or you might subscribe to a podcast about such topics. These types of stories are the stark reality for Cindy Walters as she tirelessly works to determine what led up to her daughter being shot in the head. This is not someone else's story. This is the story of a beautiful young woman whose life was cut short.
When I first spoke to Cindy Walters she seemed extremely passionate, but also terribly wounded by everything she and her family has been through since January of 2016.
I could hear the conviction in her voice, but I could also hear the pain. When you don't know how your child has died it is something that will haunt your soul. That's the impression I got from my conversation with Walters on the phone. Her daughter, Bethany Walters, was shot to death in January of 2016 and Cindy is the one who has spearheaded the effort to determine how her daughter died and to make sure that the person who was responsible is punished. After a colleague of mine wrote about her situation, I had to meet her.
I want any parent reading this right now to imagine yourself driving home from work on the interstate when someone you know calls to offer you condolences on your daughter's death. Imagine you have no idea what the hell they are talking about. Do you feel that feeling right now in the pit of your stomach? That feeling that you might be dying because you can't wrap your brain around what your friend has just told you. That's how Cindy Walters found out her daughter was dead. The journey to find out all the details of what happened on that January night has taken six years, and it is still not over. There is no real closure here. All that is left is more questions than answers. This day was the starting point for an odyssey that Cindy Walters never wanted to embark upon.
After getting the call from her friend, Cindy pulled to the side of the road and began calling law enforcement. She says that when they ask you, "What time will you be home from work?" you know that what they are going to tell you is real, and it's going to change your world forever. Your baby is gone. The friend who told her, and that woman's husband came to pick her up in a parking lot in Carencro where she stopped, and she was brought home where she and her husband Doug waited hours to get the details. But no one has ever really been able to provide the details of what happened that night.
Cindy says her daughter Bethany was a follower, and she had warned her often not to follow people down paths that she might not want to go. She says her daughter was using drugs and so was the person she was dating and living with, Michael Guillory. The two lived in a rental property across from Guillory's parents. Cindy says she tried everything to get her daughter to come home including tough love. Walters tells me even Guillory's mother told Bethany she needed to go home and away from her son. He was a felon and had a record according to Walters.
What really happened the night of January 25 will likely remain unknown as Michael Guillory told prosecutors he did not know what happened. St. Landry Parish District Attorney Chad Pitre says because there was no evidence to prove intent, he ultimately decided to take a plea deal in the case for negligent homicide. The sentence is five years. Pitre says Guillory's defense asked for an Alford plea, which was objected to by the prosecution, but the judge ultimately approved it. The man was sentenced to time served.
Cindy Walters told DA Pitre they wanted this to go to a trial, and they wanted a jury to decide the man's guilt or innocence. Pitre says while prosecutors did try to find evidence of intent, it never materialized. Pitre says without proving intent, prosecutors faced a high probability of an acquittal. He says his prosecutors told him that on the day the trial was set to begin. Pitre says he knows this is not what the Walters family wanted, but in the interest of justice, agreeing to the plea deal ensures that Guillory had to plead guilty to murder. Pitre adds that will always be on the convicted felon's record. Pitre says in the interest of justice, he wanted to be sure that Guillory had something on his record for Bethany's death. If this had gone to trial he said, there was always the chance of him being acquitted.
It does not sit well with Cindy and Doug Walters. They absolutely wanted to see the case go to trial, in part, so that details of the case might be released so they could better understand what happened that night. They were hoping to get details of what happened when their daughter was murdered by a gunshot to the head. A mother needs to know. A father needs to know. Cindy wonders why, after taking office in January 2021 and having a year to investigate the case, Pitre waited until the morning of the trial on Monday, December 13, to take an Alford plea. Cindy wonders is there corruption? Is this about incompetency? They have no answers. One thing is for certain, Cindy and Doug are never going to give up on their search for information, and for more justice. They just can not understand why, when they wanted to go to trial, knowing Guillory might be acquitted, would the DA offer a plea when the trial was moments away from starting and a jury was empaneled? They wanted a trial, they knew what could happen. Everyone was there on Monday, December 13, why not just start the trial?
When I spoke to St. Landry Parish District Attorney Chad Pitre about this, he said it is his job to get a conclusion to this case, even if there was no intent that he thought the prosecution could prove. Cindy wondered if this was about, "a win" on his record. I asked him about this, and he says this was not the case. He says this was about justice, and he could not risk the chance of Guillory being acquitted. But it's painful to the family who only wanted the trial to find out what really happened. They were told by the DA he was offering this plea when the jury is waiting to hear the case and opening arguments were moments away from happening. Cindy wonders why when the family was fully understanding of what the risks were about going to trial, why would Pitre make this decision? It's not justice, Cindy and Doug contend. They say this is justice denied. It's a failure of the system in their minds.
Since the plea agreement on Monday, December 13, Doug Walters has been moving between the front of the St. Landry Parish District Attorney's Office and the St. Landry Parish Courthouse holding a sign protesting prosecutors taking the plea deal. Doug is going to spend 22 days doing this. He says he must do this. Each day is one day for each year that Bethany was alive. Cindy says someone with knowledge of the case called her when Doug first started his protest, asking her to come and talk to him, presumably to get him to go away. Cindy says this is Doug's way of dealing with the plea deal. He feels justice has been denied, and Cindy adds he will not go away and never will she.
In the six years since this terrible odyssey began with her daughter's death, there have been so many twists and turns that it will make your mind spin. There were other charges that Guillory faced from his time in jail. He was arrested after Bethany's death after fleeing in her car, he wrecked it, and he stole a vehicle and then was arrested in Pointe Coupee Parish later that night. He was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm for having the gun that night. There were other things as well. She was told by someone close to the case that on the day of trial, Monday, December 13, when Guillory was being brought to the courtroom, "a homemade shank fell out of his person"! After all of the things that happened during the six years he was incarcerated, the shank, the allegations of introducing drugs into a penal institution, the allegations of assaulting a member of the jail staff, all of that was rolled into one, and it was all sentences to run concurrent, and some charges were dropped.
Michael Guillory is a free man.
Cindy and Doug will likely NEVER get the answers they are seeking, and has justice been served? Why not let this go to trial when that is all that the family wanted? I can tell you I would feel exactly the same as Cindy and Doug Walters. I would want this to have gone to trial no matter what. They completely understood all of the risks. They knew it was a gamble, but it was a gamble they were willing to take to find even one more scintilla of information about the circumstances surrounding their baby's demise. They are furious with Chad Pitre's decision, and can you blame them? They adamantly told everyone in the prosecutor's office (through two administrations) they were fully aware and understanding of the gamble with this, but THEY NEED TO KNOW.
Chad Pitre has a job to do, and he was very forthcoming with me about the decision he made in reference to this case. He says he is also devastated by the details of the case, what happened to Bethany, and he understands that what he decided is undeniably terribly painful for the Walters family, but he stands by his decision.
So, where does that leave the family? They still only have a glimpse into what Guillory told investigators originally about what happened that awful January night. Guillory alleges he was in the bathtub and Bethany was sitting on the floor next to the tub. There was a gun, and it somehow went off. That is all Cindy and Doug know. Guillory maintains he knows nothing else about the circumstances of that night.
Could you live with "this justice" as Miss Cindy puts it? She tells me in our face-to-face interview, she is not a mother who can't accept her daughter's death, she understands down to the depths of her soul. What she can't understand is why a prosecutor would deny a mother and father the chance to know all they could about what really happened. She also rails at a justice system that allows charges to be dropped, some to be pled to, and for the sentences to run concurrently for the charges that were allowed to go forward! Guillory's defense asked the judge for an Alford plea, and the judge agreed. Click here for information about what an Alford plea is and why this plea is even more painful for the Walters family.
Cindy also can not understand how on the morning the trial is beginning, a deal is cut! Literally, as she and her husband are in the courtroom, an expert from Atlanta, one who was going to testify for this trial was getting off a plane in Lafayette when the deal was cut. Someone from the staff was waiting to drive him to the courthouse. Could you believe this either? Would you be incensed? Would you think this was justice?
Cindy says she also spoke to the three experts that were going to testify in her daughter's case, and while all three had been subpoenaed, only one, Cindy says, had been contacted by prosecutors to talk about their findings. One expert was going to testify that the shooting couldn't have been suicide because the shot came from a distance of more than two feet away, so in other words, she did not commit suicide, she did not kill herself. Furthermore, Bethany was right-handed and she was shot in the left temple area of her head. Cindy and Doug can not understand why this didn't go to trial. Yes, Guillory has a murder charge on his record now because he agreed to a plea deal. But he's only spent six years in jail since this all started, and their daughter is dead. Cindy believes the jury could have connected the dots to understand that if the shot was more than two feet away, at minimum, and only two people were there that night, Bethany and Michael, they would have come to the conclusion that Guillory shot her.
All these questions about the deal, how it came to be, the trial, and why it didn't go forward, our justice system, and how it fails miserably, Cindy says, are questions that will continue to roll in their minds, and they won't stop until they get more answers.
It was six months before they even got a death certificate from the coroner's office. Cindy says she was fully expecting a determination of suicide or homicide, but it was ruled "undetermined. Without any further evidence, she was told, there was nothing the police could do. Cindy sought out and paid for experts. She is the one that sought out an expert to review the case, a retired state police official, who determined she didn't kill herself. This prompted movement in the investigation. Cindy had to find more experts, and in order to preserve the chain of evidence in her daughter's case, she had to obtain an attorney and file a civil suit; SOMETHING SHE NEVER WANTED TO HAVE TO DO. She says she can't explain that enough. She didn't want to have to do it, but it was the only way she would have a shot at getting the answers her family needs.
This mother and father have gone through hell and back. Her quest for the truth is the reason the investigation ever really moved forward and moved, eventually, to what they thought would be a trial. They got a trial day, but then a plea was offered as the opening arguments were set to begin. Can you even imagine the sheer hell that must be? At the threshold of getting answers, only to have it whisked away at the last moment for a plea and time served? Why weren't the wishes of a mother and father honored, even if prosecutors were worried the defendant would be acquitted?
This is our justice system at work, but if you ask Cindy and Doug, there is no justice in this case.
You can hear Cindy Walters share her family's story below: