Man killed for Magic cards

Last updated 12:03 14/02/2014

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A man has been convicted of beating a former newspaper reporter to death with a hammer and burying his body in a concrete-covered pit.

William Cormier III was so desperate for money that he killed Sean Dugas in the US city of Pensacola, Florida, in 2012, so he could steal his US$100,000 (NZ$120k) collection of fantasy role-playing cards, prosecutors said. The body was later transported to the state of Georgia where it was buried in the pit.

On Thursday afternoon, (NZT Friday), 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. He now faced up to life in prison.  

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.

Defence 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 as Dugas' family members gave testimony to the judge.

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' parents will never know the joy of grandchildren, she said.

Prosecutors said the Cormier twins stole Dugas' valuable collection of cards for the game Magic: The Gathering.

Dugas' body was unearthed more than a month after his death, located in the backyard of Cormier's father's home in Winder, Georgia, which is about 480km northeast of Pensacola.

Cormier III was the only witness to testify for the defence. He told jurors Wednesday (NZT Thursday) he was acting under the direction of his twin and that he did not know Dugas was dead when he sold more than US$12,000 (NZ$14,500) 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,'' defence attorney Richard Currey said.

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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 Dugas' neighbour that Dugas was moving with him to Georgia. He told another man that he owned Dugas' home and that Dugas was a tenant who moved out and he told investigators that he helped 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 blows to Sean's head say otherwise,'' Jensen said.

A medical examiner told jurors during the trial that Dugas died from multiple blows to his head with a blunt-force instrument, likely a hammer.

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 testimony to avoid the graphic images. Dugas' mother, who clutched a photo of her son, left the courtroom.

Also on Wednesday (NZT Thursday), 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 in the backyard, the father said.

- AP

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