The Pensacola News Journal, Ben Twingley / AP
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 | 1:34 p.m.
PENSACOLA, Fla. — A fantasy game enthusiast was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for beating a former Pensacola newspaper reporter to death with a hammer and burying his body in a concrete-covered pit in Georgia.
William Cormier III was so desperate for money that he killed Sean Dugas in the fall of 2012 so he could steal his $100,000 collection of fantasy role-playing cards for the game "Magic: The Gathering," prosecutors said.
Jurors convicted Cormier of first-degree murder after a little more than an hour of deliberations. Cormier III showed no reaction as the verdict was read.
Dugas' parents broke down in sobs as the verdict was read. His mother clutched a picture of her son.
Prosecutor Bridgette Jensen told jurors during closing arguments that Cormier III used profits from selling the cards to pay for the plastic storage container that became Dugas' concrete-encased coffin.
"He sold Seans' own cards to buy that cheap, plastic coffin to put his body in," Jensen said.
Defense attorneys said prosecutors didn't prove that Cormier III killed Dugas, and instead suggested his twin was responsible. Cormier's twin brother pleaded no contest to charges of helping his brother move Dugas' body from Florida to Georgia.
Court deputies escorted Christopher Cormier into the courtroom immediately after the verdict was read. The two brothers sat in the courtroom, but did not look at each other as Dugas' family members gave testimony to the judge.
They asked the judge to give both twins the maximum, and he did. Christopher Cormier was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Dugas' parents described their son to the judge.
"Bohemian, eclectic, unique, free spirit, all these words were used to describe Sean. The most important word to me was son. He was my only son," Christopher Dugas said.
Lois Jones, Dugas' mother, sobbed as she told the judge about her grief.
"I despise the fact that his supposed friends could hurt him like this. You must make sure they never hurt anyone else," she said.
Dugas' aunt told the judge that Dugas was a philosopher, talented journalist and someone who wanted to know "what makes people tick." Dugas was a reporter with the Pensacola News Journal from 2005 to 2010.
Dugas' body was unearthed more than a month after his death, located in the backyard of Cormier's father's home in Winder, Ga., which is about 300 miles northeast of Pensacola.
Cormier III was the only witness to testify for the defense. He told jurors Wednesday he was acting under the direction of his twin and that he did not know Dugas' was dead when he sold more than $12,000 of his cards and cleaned out his home.
"His brother said, 'Here's a note from Sean wanting us to help him move'. His brother said 'Sean wants us to help him get some money and sell his Magic cards'. He didn't think anything of it, he trusted his brother," defense attorney Richard Currey said.
Witnesses, including the twins' father, testified Cormier III has always been the more-dominate twin and the leader. But Currey said that dynamic had changed before the killing.
Currey pointed to testimony from the twins' father, who said he thought Christopher Cormier was questioning his sexuality.
Currey said Dugas' death could have been a "crime of passion" by Christopher Cormier, but he didn't go into more details. Currey said the fact that Dugas' body was wrapped in a bed sheet could be a further indication that Christopher Cormier killed Dugas.
Currey also told jurors the conflicting testimony between his client and other witnesses could be because the witnesses didn't remember things accurately.
The prosecutor said Cormier III's conflicting statements helped prove he killed Dugas.
Cormier III told a Dugas' neighbor that Dugas was moving with him to Georgia, he told another man that he owned Dugas' home and that Dugas was tenant who moved out and he told investigators that he helped to Dugas move to an unknown address in another city in Florida.
"He told you yesterday that he didn't do it. Every one of those 14 blow's to Sean's head say otherwise," Jensen said.
Dr. Cassie Boggs, an assistant medical examiner from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said Dugas was in a fetal position in the storage container surrounded by sheets, a plastic tarp, air fresheners and spray foam used to seal cracks in walls. His body had to be cut from the bottom of the plastic bin because of the layer of concrete on the top, she said.
Jurors were visibly upset by the graphic descriptions and images from the autopsy. One wept openly.
Dugas' father looked down throughout that testimony. Dugas' mother, still clutching a photo of her son, left the courtroom.
Also Wednesday, Cormier's father told jurors that he received a call from a Pensacola detective in October of 2012 asking about Dugas' disappearance. The father said he woke his twin sons up and told them about the call.
"I said, 'What the hell is going on? There is a detective from Pensacola calling and somebody is missing'," he testified.
Cormier III responded that he needed to move what was buried the backyard, the father said.