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Antoinette Frank: Facing Execution While the Crime’s Mastermind Serves Life

In a letter delivered to the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Paroles on October 4, 2023, 50 prominent anti-gender violence organizations and individuals from Louisiana and across the U.S. called on the Board and Governor John Bel Edwards to commute the death sentence of Antoinette Frank, the only woman on Louisiana’s death row. That letter is available here.

“Antoinette Frank is a survivor of child abuse and serial rape by her own father,” the experts on violence against women write. This kind of abuse leads to “profound and lasting changes in the way [survivors] perceive and interact with the world and others.” Noting that two jurors have signed statements saying that “information about Antoinette’s history of abuse would have led them to vote for a life sentence,” the signatories stress that “[a] fully informed jury would never have sentenced Antoinette Frank to death.”

The Board is scheduled to conduct a hearing on Ms. Frank’s clemency request on October 13, 2023.

The Alice Project of the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide (CCDPW), which engages in research, advocacy, and litigation on behalf of survivors facing the death penalty around the world, was one of the signatories to the letter. CCDPW joins with anti-violence advocates from sixteen states in calling on the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Ms. Frank’s death sentence to life imprisonment.  Her male co-defendant is currently serving a life sentence.

Additional case background from Ms. Frank’s legal team appears below. For more information or to speak to an attorney for Antoinette Frank, please contact Letty Di Giulio ([email protected]).

Antoinette Frank:

Facing Execution While the Crime’s Mastermind Serves Life; Her Jury Never Heard About Her Father’s Relentless Sexual and Physical Abuse

For nearly three decades, Antoinette Frank has been viewed through a false lens. Because her trial lawyers failed to do the most basic investigation into her tragic history of sexual, physical, and emotional victimization, neither the jury that sentenced her to death nor the people of Louisiana knew the truth about Antoinette.  She is now hoping that her story will be heard.

Antoinette was a gentle and timid person whose horrific abuse by her own father left her vulnerable to being manipulated and coerced by Rogers LaCaze. And although LaCaze has confessed to a friend that he orchestrated the murders of Antoinette’s colleagues and friends and forced Antoinette at gunpoint to participate, she alone faces execution after LaCaze’s death sentence was reversed based on ineffective assistance of counsel. At least two jurors on Antoinette’s case have said they would not have voted for death if they knew about Antoinette’s trauma history and resulting mental illness.

Antoinette is profoundly remorseful for the loss of three lives at the Kim Anh restaurant in 1995. Even though she never intended any harm to come to Officer Williams and the Vu siblings, she believes that they never would have been put in harm’s way if she had had the mental capacity to stand up to Rogers LaCaze. She has devoted her time in prison to helping others, walking with God, and coming to terms with the pain and mistakes of her past.

Antoinette’s Father Victimized Her Throughout Her Young Life With Violence and Sexual Abuse

Antoinette’s father, a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD from his combat experience, created an atmosphere of terror for his whole family. He was prone to violent rages, he boobytrapped the family home, and he killed family pets in front of his children. He regularly threatened to kill the whole family, packing them into the car and stopping for hours in the middle of train tracks or filling the kitchen with gas. His abuse of  Antoinette in particular was documented by the Veterans Administration (VA) where he was being treated with anti-psychotics for his PTSD, and he admitted to choking her and throwing her across the room when she was only two years old. The VA recommended that she be removed from his custody, but instead his abuse got worse.

Antoinette’s father began molesting her when she was nine years old and started raping her at age 11 or 12. The rapes continued even after she became a police officer at 22 years old. Three times, the first when she was 16 years old, Antoinette became pregnant as a result of her father’s rapes; each time, her father forced her to have an abortion.

Antoinette’s mother eventually took three of her four children and escaped the violence, but she left Antoinette behind. The father cut Antoinette off from her mother, continued to rape her regularly and controlled every aspect of her life, forcing her to ask permission even to use the bathroom. Antoinette’s father held her out as his wife to neighbors and friends.

Antoinette frequently dissociated during episodes of abuse and sexual violation. She made several suicide attempts. She also tried to run away but her father always found her and returned her to his control.

Former Jurors Would Have Voted for Life if They Had Been Told About Antoinette’s Traumatic Life History

Antoinette’s jury heard none of this evidence. Nor did the jury hear from mental health experts (whose reports are linked below) who have diagnosed Antoinette with PTSD and Dependent Personality Disorder, explaining how her trauma history made her vulnerable to manipulation by violent men like Rogers LaCaze. Two jurors have submitted sworn statements attesting that they would have voted for a life sentence if they knew about Antoinette’s background and mental illness.

Antoinette Was Vulnerable to Manipulation and Was Coerced at Gunpoint into Participating in the Crime

In 1995, Antoinette was a 23-year-old rookie police officer eager to use her position to help victims of violence and abuse. Her fellow officers recognized that she lacked the aggressive personality needed for law enforcement. In a letter of support, her former police partner describes Antoinette as meek, mild, and timid, having “an extremely gentle touch with the public” and “showing genuine concern for the people she assisted.”

Rogers LaCaze was a drug dealer and habitual criminal whom Antoinette was trying to guide away from crime. On March 4, 1995, LaCaze barged into the Kim Anh restaurant where Antoinette was speaking with employees, after she had told him to wait in the car. He killed an off-duty police officer and held a gun to Antoinette’s head, ordering her to help him as he killed two of the restaurant owner’s children.

In LaCaze’s 2013 post-conviction proceedings, the State’s own witness testified to LaCaze’s coercion of Antoinette. Yet, today, Rogers LaCaze is serving a life sentence while Antoinette Frank is on death row. Ten years after presenting this evidence in court, the State has done nothing to address the inequity of Antoinette’s death sentence.

Antoinette is Deeply Remorseful and Has an Exemplary Prison Record

During more than 25 years on death row, Antoinette has consistently manifested her gentle and peaceful character. She has worked hard to continue her education and is known as a peacemaker in the prison community. Johnnie Jones, a former head warden at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women has described Antoinette as “the best person in our institution.” He adds, “Inmates like to complain, but she never complains.”

In seeking to reduce her death sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of parole, Antoinette has always been candid about feeling responsible for the Kim Anh homicides notwithstanding the fact that she only participated under duress. Her longtime spiritual advisor, Deacon Angelo “Zeke” Nola, attests to “the authenticity of her conversion and redemption” and says she “has entered a life of TRUE repentance.”

The clemency application filed on Antoinette Frank’s behalf is available here.
An index to materials supporting Antoinette’s clemency application is available here.
Expert reports regarding Antoinette’s trauma history and resulting mental illness are available from Dr. Sarah DeLandDr. Leslie Lebowitz, and Dr. Frederic Sauter.
A summary of the State’s 2013 witness testimony is available here.
The jurors’ declarations are available here.
Deacon Nola’s letter of support is available here.
Retired police officer Cary Dupart, Sr.’s letter of support is available here.
The letter supporting Antoinette’s request for clemency, signed by 50 Louisiana and national advocates for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, is available here.