When the man accused of kidnaping Gary Plauche's son walked off American Airlines Flight 595 from Dallas, Plauche was waiting to settle a score.
Deputies paraded their prisoner into the lobby, TV cameras clicked on. Jeffery Doucet, 25, a bearded karate instructor who had taught Plauche's three sons, was coming home in handcuffs.
Doucet was walking past a sign warning against knives, Mace and guns when Plauche whirled from a bank of pay phones, put a .38 to Doucet's head and fired once, a shot since viewed by millions on the nightly news. Then he slammed down a phone.
"Sonofabitch! Why, Gary, why'd you do it?" shouted Maj. Mike Barnett, the beefy sheriff's deputy who became the first cop to lose a prisoner on TV since Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. He leaped at Plauche (pronounced "Plo-shay"), disarming the old friend whose son he'd helped track to California.
"If somebody did it to your kid, you'd do it, too!" wept Plauche, an amiable, heavy-equipment salesman who was hustled off to jail. Doucet died the next day and Plauche was charged with second-degree murder.
A day later Plauche was out on $100,000 bond, posted by a friend. His lawyer, Foster (Foxy) Sanders, committed Plauche to a psychiatric ward, where he has remained since, portraying him as a distraught father who believed his son had been sexually abused.
"He won't do one day in jail, not when all the details come out," says Sanders. A feisty candidate for district attorney here, he campaigns for Plauche with a copy of the Gay Advocate, the homosexual weekly his client claims Doucet gave to his 12-year-old son, Jody.
Thus, a hero of sorts was born in this city on the Mississippi, where men in caps bearing the legend "My Two Favorite Daniels: Jack and Charlie" have passions that run to crawfish, LSU belles, the fighting Tigers, gator hunts, pickup trucks, red beans and rice, family ties and homophobia. From strangers in the street to the boys at The Cotton Club, where Gary Plauche used to drink Miller Lites, ad hoc juries have acquitted him.
And yesterday, District Attorney Ossie Brown chose not to seek an indictment from the same grand jury that indicted Doucet for kidnaping. He said he had no idea when a new jury would be convened, but assured the media that he'd "speed things up as much as I can." Questions of Justice
"If the man was a homo, he got what he deserved," said Linda Boyd, 25, mother of two boys and a bartender at the airport lounge. She was there to hear the shot seen round the world that Friday night, March 16.
"I'd a shot him, too, if he done what they say he done to my boys. Only I'd a gut-shot him three or four times and he'd a suffered before he died . . . I want my sons to grow up to be men. Something like that could ruin them. Plauche shouldn't do any time."
"Damn right," echoed Murray Curry, 47, a crusty riverboat captain, drinking a triple Jim Beam between flights, and sitting an escalator away from the blood-stained carpeting "He's no killer. He's a father who done it out of love for his child, and for his pride."
Curry plans to donate to the Gary Plauche Defense Fund opened at Bank of the South here, and says he he'll ante up $25 for a ticket to the April 11 jambalaya supper Plauche's friends are throwing to keep the family afloat.
"He got justice," said Curry. "Saved the taxpayers money by blowing Doucet away. Some jury would have turned him loose."
People are righteous with accounts of Doucet's confession to deputies detailing incidents with other children here, along with his own sexual abuse as a child.
"He was a classic pedophile," said Barnett, who works for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Department. "They seek out the type of situation where they can be involved closely on a frequent basis with kids. But they are different from rapists, who hate their victims, in that they love their victims."
Defense lawyer Foxy Sanders calls the shooting "justifiable homicide," and cites a psychiatrist's report describing the 39-year-old Plauche's "deep depression" caused by his belief that Jody was made into a sex object by the backwater Bruce Lee he idolized.
"Gary thought he had a divine mandate to do what he thought had to be done to protect his family," said Sanders. "He had a mirror image of right and wrong. He thought what he was doing was right."
Yet the saga suggests more than simple vengeance. Here is a melange of love, shame and jealousy, some of it swirling about June Plauche, 35, Plauche's soon-to-be ex-wife.
Then, there is the question of southern justice. Will revenge be sanctioned against someone who wasn't tried, if there is cause to believe horrors may have been committed?
"Whether to indict Gary Plauche will be one of the most difficult things a grand jury will ever be asked to decide," said Robert Hester, 38, the gray-haired assistant parish prosecutor.
"The dilemma is this: If we say what he did isn't wrong, do we open the door for the husband of a rape victim, or the mother of a murdered child to do the same thing? Do we declare open season on child molesters, then rapists, then burglars? If the grand jury says, 'Gary, what you did is forgivable,' what do we do about the next victim's revenge? Where do you draw the line?" The Teacher
It was no ordinary kidnaping. Doucet picked up Jody at the Plauche home Sunday morning, Feb. 19, telling June Plauche they would return in 15 minutes. He wanted to show the boy some carpet he was laying, she told police.
She had little cause to doubt him.
He was a frequent visitor, a lean ex-Marine who got the boys into shape with daily regimens of 100 push-ups, 300 sit-ups and five-mile runs. It had been a year since the Plauches, who have three sons and a daughter, had enrolled the boys in Doucet's Hapkido school.
Doucet taught Korean-style karate, featuring high kicks, fighting swords and nunchaku sticks, and taking a team of five boys on the road to tournaments from Long Beach to Miami. After Jody won a trophy at the Fort Worth Pro-Am, a major national karate meet, his mother was pleased.
"You wouldn't believe what this has done for my children, especially the youngest, who is a slow learner," she told a reporter last July. "His balance was unbelievably off. He couldn't throw a punch without falling down and his coordination was not very good. Now he jumps rope like a boxer. He's got good balance. And he remembers things when he couldn't before."
"We learn discipline," one student was quoted in a local newspaper last summer. "We have better manners. We look up to Jeff a lot. He tells us to treat adults with respect, so we do. He tells us not to fight with our parents. He's my best friend."
"He's all of our best friend," Jody said at the time. "And we don't get into trouble at school."
For a time, Gary Plauche, a popular salesman about town who coached Little League baseball, was among Doucet's biggest fans. An ex-cameraman for WBRZ-TV (which filmed Doucet in life and in death), Plauche used his connections to get Doucet on the air with the team.
After Gary moved out last August, Doucet began hanging out more at the house, lavishing attention on the family, especially Jody, say authorities. As June told her lawyer early this year, "The kids like being with Jeff. He's kind and considerate." She called him a "good friend who provided emotional support."
One official familiar with the investigation says that later, when her divorce looked imminent, she became intimately involved with Doucet. Yet she felt Jody was spending too much time with him. "He stopped playing football and basketball. All he wanted to do was karate."
Her friends say they can understand how she came to lean on the younger man, especially during a tense separation. They say she felt stifled in her marriage after having abandoned a budding career as a nightclub singer (noted for her rendition of "Ode to Billy Joe" at the Chez When).
Meanwhile, Doucet dreamed of launching his boys on the national karate circuit. A few parents wondered how he was able to devote so much time to karate and still earn enough money to survive at his trade of laying carpet with a brother.
But Doucet, a ninth grade dropout with big ideas, schemed to bankroll the team. He used his students to promote the sale of LSU mugs and "Tiger Rags" to football devotees. When buyers griped about no mugs in the mail, Doucet began dodging angry creditors and charges of fraud.
When Doucet went to California with Jody, he left behind a trail of bad checks. One store manager claimed Doucet cashed a $7,500 check made out to a supplier. There was a warrant out for his arrest. "He was afraid he might not get to see Jody and the Plauches if he went to jail," says Barnett. The Disappearance
Several hours after Doucet left with her son, June Plauche became alarmed. She phoned her brother, a deputy sheriff, then Barnett, a family friend, and drove to Port Arthur, Doucet's hometown, to find her son.
June had visited the town with Doucet. Sometimes she and Doucet dropped her children with his relatives in Gonzales about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge, so they could go off dancing in Port Arthur and visit his mother.
Indeed, Jeff and Jody had been at the family home, Elia Doucet told June, say police, but by the time June drove the four hours to Port Arthur, they were gone.
Doucet later told his lawyer he was involved with June and that she planned to join him in California. She was unavailable for comment, but her friends say it is unlikely.
They say she was a devoted mother. The divorce lawyer she employed said her husband was prone to jealous rages.
"After a party, if someone winked at her or put their hand on her a--, he accused her of provoking it," says the lawyer, Mark Menezes. "I think the Doucet killing was more provoked by jealous outrage . . . than any alleged kidnaping." The Defense Attorney
Foxy Sanders says otherwise.
"I've handled hundreds of divorce cases where estranged spouses directed threats at alleged paramours, but Doucet was different," he says. "Gary could drop by and find Doucet there and order him to stay away from his family because he'd heard about another father who'd had problems with Doucet and his kid. "
Over crawfish at a Cajun restaurant, he pitches for compassion from two burly contractors.
"I've had a half dozen parents call me with similar stories," says Sanders. "One had a child in the karate class and he started acting strange, so they jerked him out. One said he was glad he had a girl."
Sanders leans forward, whispers. "You think people are getting the message that Gary's child was abused?"
"Yessir!" says Grady Crawford, 41, one of the contractors. "Tell Gary I asked about him."
"Rumors were going around. Gary had heard about 'em," says Sanders, smarting over charges that he is trying the case in the press. "I want people to understand the pressure Gary was under so he can live in this town.
"Gary was sobbing to me in jail, 'I don't want him to do it to other kids.' He was hearing a voice--not the voice you'd hear in some horror movie. He felt it was Christ. He felt mandated. He asked himself, 'What should I do? Kill him?' I'm not going to say he was talking to Him, but he did go regularly to St. Georges' Catholic Church. This isn't some wacko.
"Imagine some pervert holding your child in his arms, taking advantage of him," says Sanders. "You want proof? Anyone can sue me. Truth is an absolute defense . . . What would you do, Grady?"
"It'd just eat you up, like a cancer," says the builder. "You can knock a man to his knees. You can ruin him in business. But you better not mess with his wife and kids."
Says Sanders: "If he hadn't done what he did, he'd never have had a peaceful night's sleep for the rest of his life." The Doucets
This is war for the hearts and minds of Baton Rouge, the jury pool, and Foxy Sanders appears to be winning.
But the Doucets are fighting back. They have asked a young political consultant and family friend, Ralph Whatley, to publicize affidavits portraying Doucet as a victim of smear tactics.
"It's a great relief for the family to have this in hand," he says, passing out copies on the Capitol steps. In one, Doucet denies molesting Jody, or any child. He pleads frame-up, citing Plauche's friendship with police. A press release issued by the family suggests that June and Jeff's relationship went beyond friendship.
"They've tried, convicted and murdered my brother in the press," fumes Haywood Doucet.
Jeff was raised on the wrong side of the tracks in Port Arthur, one of seven children born to a service station owner. A sister died from a rattlesnake bite.
He was molested numerous times as a child, he told police, though his family will only confirm one incident.
Nippy Melancon, 48, labels the charges against Doucet "a bunch of b-------!" The Doucets are neighbors, and Jeff took his children out for burgers. "You think if I'd had any doubts, I would have let my kids go off with him? He dated a girl at the trailer park. If Jeff was gay or funny he wouldn't have been going out with no women."
Winks Whatley: "He was a ladies' man." The Arrest
"You want to go to California?" Doucet asked the boy, according to investigators.
"Yes," said Jody.
"Good," said Doucet. "I don't want people to think I'm taking you."
They rode a bus to Los Angeles. On the way, Doucet shaved his beard. They checked into a motel. They watched the filming of "Hill Street Blues," Jody later told police.
June expected them to return, but four days after they disappeared, she paged Gary on the racquetball court to say Jody was gone. He sought a kidnaping warrant; the FBI was alerted.
One week after Jody vanished, the phone rang. It was Doucet. He warned June against telling anyone he'd called and ordered her to bring the other children and their school transcripts. "Meet me where they film 'Hill Street Blues' if you want to see Jody again," he said.
"Gary might use this to get custody of all the children if you don't bring Jody back," she said, using a ruse concocted by police.
"If the court gives Gary the kids, I'll get them from him," Doucet exploded in rage. "I'm tired of people saying I'm insane, and if you say I am, you'll never hear from me again."
Suddenly, June Plauche lost her illusions, say friends. "She realized Doucet was crazy," says one. "She never planned to go with him. She would never have split up her children that way."
Was she perhaps buckling under to pressure from a jealous husband and Barnett to "railroad" Doucet, as he suggested to a lawyer before he was shot.
"Absolutely not," says a friend. "There's no way she could have faked the agony. She lost eight pounds that week. She was a walking zombie. She never realized that guy Doucet didn't know truth from a lie until he took Jody."
June played along, as police taped the calls. A phone tap traced them to the Samoa Motel in Anaheim, Calif., Room 38, $20 a day cash, in advance, just blocks from Disneyland. On Feb. 29, FBI agents made the arrest. Jody pleaded to stay with Doucet. His blond hair was dyed black. Doucet told him he aimed to pass him off as his son, investigators said.
Jody flew home. Doucet was indicted for aggravated kidnaping. He waived extradition, and phoned a friend to say he was only guilty of "bad judgment. I should have gone back, rather than use Jody to pressure June into joining me."
Later, outside the Orange County, California, jail, flanked by an FBI agent and two Baton Rouge deputies, Doucet told another story.
According to Barnett, he said, "I want to tell you all about it," and confessed "to having had sex with Jody in all the gory details," along with other children in Baton Rouge whose parents have been advised. Lab tests from the boy's physical exam confirm the account, say officials. 'No Hero'
It was up to Barnett to break the news to the Plauches. Gary "had the same reaction most parents do when they find out their children have been raped or molested," says Barnett, 39, father of two. "He was horrified."
It was the first time friends had ever seen Plauche without a smile.
At The Cotton Club, police say he sat at the bar three seats away from a WBRZ news executive. Doucet's name was brought up. "I think he's coming in tonight," said the executive.
"I think he's already in Baton Rouge," said Plauche. The executive phoned the station, confirmed the arrival and announced the time to the bartender. Station officials say Plauche "overheard" the remark: "Yeah, he's coming in at 9:08."
And Plauche was off to the airport, where he drank a cup of coffee in the restaurant, recalls manager Joe DePrato, 57. He moved to the bar. He drank a Stroh's. He paced the lobby. He checked flight times. From the pay phone, he called a friend, who tried to warn police. But it was too late. He heard the shot. Then Plauche slammed down the phone.
"There's no hero or heroine in this case," says Barnett, "and no living sonofabitch." CAPTION: Picture 1, Gary Plauche whirls with a gun pointed toward Jeffery Doucet, Copyright (c) 1984 WBRZ-TV. By Abrahm McGill; Picture 2, Plauche, who was arrested in the shooting; By Tim Van Riper The Morning Advocate, Baton Rouge; Picture 3, Jeffery Doucet; by Stan Alost The State Times, Baton Rouge