More than 40 years later, Charles Wilson reflects on the horrific case of two men who raped, tortured and killed an 11-year-old Luling girl that sent one man to prison for life while the other was executed for committing the same crime.
For Wilson, who was St. Charles Parish sheriff at the time (1980 – 84), the case became even more disturbing when Victor “Bruce” Perritt went to prison for life while his accomplice John Brogdon, who was diagnosed as “retarded,” was executed.
What separated their sentencing was a jury that felt Perritt, 17 at the time, was too young for the death penalty and got life imprisonment. Brogdon, who was 19 at the time of the murder, was sentenced to death. He admitted that he and Perritt were both drunk when they picked up Barbara Jo Brown at a convenience store and took her behind a levee in Luling where they raped her repeatedly, punched and stabbed her with sticks and broken bottles. Brogdon further told police Perritt hit Brown in the head with a brick.
Brogdon was electrocuted at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola in 1987 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused in a 6 – 2 vote his stay of execution. Perritt is incarcerated in Angola.
The case left Wilson questioning the fairness of the death penalty.
“We felt the 17-year-old was more responsible for the crime, primarily because the 19-year-old was a borderline imbecile,” Wilson said. “Mental experts said he was not the type of person to have anybody follow him. This is one of the cases that somewhat turned me off to the death penalty.”
Wilson served one term as St. Charles Parish sheriff, but his law career had started as an FBI agent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He returned to Baton Rouge to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice where he worked about 1-1/2 years.
He returned to the parish to practice law. By 1980, Wilson was elected sheriff. Later, he worked in quality concerns investigation with Waterford 3, and went on to the Tennessee Valley Authority in security, as well as worked in the Strategic Oil Reserve and later private security work.
As sheriff, Wilson saw an opportunity to grow the department and especially in training. He praised Sheriff Greg Champagne’s emphasis on training, too.
But he also recalled “a highly dramatic affair” during his term in the parish involving a bank robbery in St. Rose.
In 1982, a man walked into a bank in St. Rose on Highway 61.
“The bank robber goes in there with a long gun, a six-inch .45 revolver,” Wilson said. “It appears just like a big cannon in somebody’s hand.”
The man takes the money and he takes a hostage – a woman teller – with deputies in pursuit. The robber, using the woman as a shield, gets into a police car and heads down Airline Highway toward LaPlace and then takes I-55. He’s shooting at deputies in pursuit and is stopped around Norco by parish deputies, but Wilson said they backed off because of the hostage.
Wilson sat in the courthouse listening to the radio where he recalls the man as being quite vocal, but he later learns he was on drugs.
“Tangipohoa Parish had an Olympic sharpshooter and set him at the end of I-55 when it reaches Pontchatoula,” he said. “They manage to have a temporary roadblock with police cars and deputies, and he goes around it. They had the smarts to have a secondary roadblock and it was a dump truck. He tried to go around it, and the truck rammed him. He gets out with the hostage by the neck and the gun in the air.”
The sharpshooter had been instructed to keep his scope on the man’s hand with the gun and if if he were to aim it at the hostage.
“The sharpshooter shoots him through the gun hand in the right,” he said. “He drops the gun and relinquishes hold of the hostage. The robber wouldn’t give up. He stands up and the sharpshooter put a bullet in his neck that went through his head.”
Wilson called it a high drama situation that “reminded me of a Western movie where a gun is shot out of a hand, which actually happened.”