Who killed Hilda Mae?

Prime suspect was never indicted

April 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Hilda Mae Warren’s casket was taken through the streets of St. Rose by a horse-drawn carriage. Warren was killed on Aug. 13, 2007.
Hilda Mae Warren’s casket was taken through the streets of St. Rose by a horse-drawn carriage. Warren was killed on Aug. 13, 2007.
Nearly seven years after the 2007 murder of Hilda Mae Warren, family members are still awaiting justice because no one has been convicted in connection with her death.

The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office believes they know who is responsible, but due to a key witness recanting testimony in 2008, the prime suspect in the murder, Donald Harris Jr., was not indicted by a grand jury.

Harris was a distant relative of Warren’s.

The St. Rose community was shocked when Warren was found in a pool of blood in her home on Fourth Street, dead from a gunshot wound to the back of her head in an apparent home invasion in August 2007.

Years later, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office is still looking for new leads in the investigation into Warren’s death.

The 70-year-old Warren was a well-respected community leader and her popularity was apparent when hundreds turned out as a horse-drawn carriage carried her body through the streets of St. Rose to its final resting place.

Maj. Rodney Madere, chief of investigations with the Sheriff’s Office, said the most tragic part of the crime was that Warren was known for her charity and would have likely welcomed her attackers into her home.

“Everybody liked her and she helped everybody. I don’t think there was a person we talked to who said that the person who came into that house had to steal from her. She would have given them what they wanted without them having to shoot her.

“Whatever they wanted in that house, she was going to give to them and they killed her for it.”

Despite the mobilization of several officers who went door-to-door in the old St. Rose neighborhood in the weeks following the murder, a suspect was not immediately identified.

“(Sheriff Greg Champagne) himself, some of his staff members and 20 to 25 other members of the Sheriff’s Office, from detectives, to crime scene, to narcotics, split up and walked the entire St. Rose Freetown area through First Street, Second Street, Third Street, Fourth Street and Preston Hollow and knocked on every single door to speak to every single person,” Madere said.

However, it was not until the murder of 25-year-old Deshawn Davis more than a year later that Donald Harris Jr., also known as Tush, was implicated in both murders according to tips provided through Crimestoppers and a witness located by the Sheriff’s Office. The witness told both the Sheriff’s Office and the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office that Harris had admitted to several people in the area that he committed the Warren murder.

Harris, who was 18 at time of his arrest for the murder in November 2008, had already been implicated in several home burglaries in St. Rose.

“At the time, Donald Harris was being accused of a lot of break-ins. Different people in the community were saying he broke into their house and stole something. He was a juvenile at the time and he was doing a lot of that, so his name was really around the St. Rose area a lot,” Madere said. “Right away people started thinking it was him because it appeared he had come in through the back door, probably thinking she wasn’t home, and encountered her inside and it just turned bad.”

Based on the accusations, investigators thoroughly interrogated those who Harris is said to have told about the crime.

“We told them we are getting information that Donald confessed to you and they all said ‘no.’ All but this one guy and this one guy said, ‘Yeah, he confessed to me.’ We took his statement. We brought him in front of the District Attorney’s Office and they set a grand jury,” Madere said.  

In addition to the witness who came forward, phone records showed several calls had been made from the home where Harris was staying at the time to Warren’s home right before she was killed.

However, when the supposed witness to Harris’ confession took the stand at the grand jury, he recanted his statements and Harris was never indicted for the murder.

“He changed his story the case was mainly resting on. There was some circumstantial evidence that was going to be introduced to the grand jury, but when he went in and recanted or changed his story that was it,” Madere said.

St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson hopes that renewed interest in the case will lead to the unearthing of more information.

“The grand jury that looked at this matter under my predecessor in 2009 concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant an indictment at that time. I appreciate the fact that your news organization is giving this new attention and hopefully that will result in someone coming forward to offer new information. If that happens, I will be happy to present to a new grand jury now that the matter has received this new attention,” Chaisson said.

Harris was also never indicted in the Davis murder, but he was convicted in 2009 of the armed robbery of two Destrehan High School students and sentenced to 10 years in jail. The armed robbery occurred in 2008.

Now Harris is attempting to get released early and is sending letters to the court notifying them that he has been a model prisoner during his incarceration.

Despite the grand jury failing to indict Harris, Madere said he still believes he is the murderer.

“We are confident that Donald Harris is the one who did it,” he said.  

The Sheriff’s Office is looking for any information that may breathe life back into the case.

“Donald had a big mouth, so I know he told more than just this one guy,” Madere said.

For the past seven years, the Sheriff’s Office has brought up the Warrren case every year or so to review it, and occasionally they will have something new to add. For now though, it is a waiting game to see if new information pops up in the case.

“Technically a homicide is never closed, it is almost kind of suspended where you almost run out of anybody to talk to and the things forensically that you can do,” Madere said. “So you just sit back and hope that something forensically breaks, and sometimes you’ll grab somebody for another crime and they are looking to help themselves out or sometimes people will just talk to you...that kind of thing.”

Madere said that Warren’s murder is one of the few in the parish that has not been solved since Sheriff Greg Champagne first took office in 1995.

“Since the sheriff took office there have been 56 murders in the parish and we have solved 48 – that is just about an 86 percent solvability rate,” he said. “That is a good number, but we are concerned about the eight that aren’t solved. This is one of the eight that we want to get.”

Those with information regarding the murder are asked to contact Madere at (985) 783-1135. Those with information may also contact Crimestoppers at 1 (877) 903-STOP. You do not have to give your name or testify and could receive up to $2,500 for information leading to a successful conviction.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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