St. Charles Parish DA denies preferential treatment for Dufresne

Says victim’s family agreed to the plea agreement

Saying “someone tipped them off,” a New Orleans watchdog group says it obtained courts documents showing St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson II may have violated the law showing preferential treatment to a former Destrehan High School teacher who accepted a plea deal that allowed her to avoid prison and not register as a sex offender.

The Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC) has asked the state Attorney General to investigate the case.

Chaisson denied the allegations, saying Shelley Dufresne, a 32-year-old Montz resident, got no preferential treatment. The terms of Dufresne’s plea agreement will not change, including her three-year felony probation.

MCC President Raphael Goyneche said Dufresne had two sentencing hearings – the publicly announced April 9 one where she pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obscenity in open court that got her a plea deal with three years probation, mental health treatment and $1,000 fine in return for admitting to having sex with a 16-year-old student and then court documents confirm a resentencing hearing was held the next day “in chamber” or privately where she pled guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity offense.

“I’ve never seen a more blatant or more sloppy attempt to cover up and mislead the public, which could only be described as a sweetheart deal and special treatment for the offender,” said Goyneche, a former prosecutor.

Goyneche argued Chaisson failed to follow state law when he amended a bill of information on the April 10 resentencing hearing. MCC maintains the defendant’s attorney, not Chaisson, should have initiated the change for post conviction relief.

Denying there was any effort to deceive the public, Chaisson said Dufresne will be cited with the felony obscenity charge on Sept. 1 when she returns to court for her probation review. He said she must still comply with the terms of her plea deal.

If Dufresne violates probation, he said she still faces further prosecution on a carnal knowledge charge and incarceration, as well as mandatory registration as a sex offender.

But Goyneche maintained otherwise.

“The actions and omissions of D.A. Joel Chaisson, who was present during both guilty pleas, creates the appearance that preferential treatment and political considerations took precedence over the law,” he states in his AG letter.Goyneche further questioned Dufresne’s plea deal when compared to a recent case involving Ashley Dowden, 42, a former Baton Rouge teacher at Riverdale Christian Academy who pleaded guilty to having sex with two male students and got a deal with a suspended 15-year prison sentence, seven years of probation and five years of supervised probation. Unlike Dowden, Dufresne does not have to register as a sex offender. Without this record, he said, it is possible she could work with children again.

“One of the conditions imposed on probation is she couldn’t hold a position of authority over any person under the age of 18 for the next three years. The judge felt she posed enough of a risk,” Goyneche said. “After the probation, she can go anywhere she wants to with anyone who will to give her a job. Without sex offender registration, how are you going to find out about it?”

Chaisson said the victim’s family supported the plea deal. He also said cases can vary greatly per case and parish.But Goyneche argued there are other concerns.

He said Chaisson also should have recused himself from the case just as three district judges had done because Dufresne is Judge Emile St. Pierre’s daughter.

Dufresne and Rachel Respess, 24, are accused of having group sex with the student at Respess’ Kenner apartment on Sept. 12, Dufresne’s birthday. The case is pending in Jefferson Parish, where the district attorney’s office has not made a decision on charging the two women.

According to Goyneche, “This case, in many respects, is a cautionary tale about political connections taking precedence over public safety and the law.”

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