On Friday, February 21, Baton Rouge residents Sherman Wisham, 59, and MaryAnn Douglas, 55, were convicted of a murder that took place in West Baton Rouge in what officials say is one of the strangest and most unique cases they’d ever seen.
The story begins in 2009, when Douglas met and began a relationship with Otis Roberts, a widower in Baton Rouge, who was 68 at the time.
Roberts, a hard working and trustworthy man, per Douglas’ suggestion, hired a man, Sherman Wisham, to help around the house and yard on a regular basis. Douglas claimed that Wisham was her cousin, though it was later uncovered that the two were actually a divorced couple.
“Over the next year or so, (Douglas and Wisham) systematically plotted and took about $240,000 of (Roberts’) money,” said Colonel Richie Johnson of the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office Monday afternoon in his office. “They drained him; put him in debt, and he didn’t know.”
Johnson said that the bulk of the funds were stolen in a six-month period in 2010, but Roberts had no idea that his money was being taken. According to Johnson, banks began calling Roberts’ home, but Douglas had cut the phone line so there were no calls received.
On October 10, 2010, Douglas and Wisham’s plan came to a head when MaryAnn Douglas asked Roberts to take Sherman Wisham to his sister’s home in West Baton Rouge to collect money that was owed him.
According to Johnson, the two had brought Roberts to the house two weeks prior, so Roberts was neither uncomfortable nor skeptical about driving Wisham to Mulatto Bend in WBR.
“Sherman (Wisham) gets out of the car and acts like he’s going to get his money, and when he comes back, he starts shooting (Roberts),” Johnson said.
Otis Roberts was shot three times and left for dead.
Allegedly, the plan was for Wisham to kill Roberts and walk to a designated place where Douglas would pick him up. Police would later find photo IDs containing Wisham’s face and all of Roberts’ information, allowing the assumption that Sherman Wisham was planning to kill Otis Roberts and use his identity and information to live.
But Wisham and Douglas didn’t plan for what took place after the shooting.
Roberts, after being shot three times, was paralyzed by the bullets, but not dead. Though unable to move extremities, Roberts was able to get to his phone and somehow press the call button, which called the last number dialed from the phone - that number was to the phone of MaryAnn Douglas.
Douglas answered her phone and Roberts told her he had been shot and asked her to call 9-1-1.
“For 30-40 minutes before 9-1-1 figures out where he’s at, (Douglas) gets on the phone with them and tells them she doesn’t know where he is,” Johnson said.
Emergency responders found Roberts alive and rushed him to the hospital to treat his gunshot wounds.
Due to Roberts’ phone call, Douglas “freaked out,” according to Johnson, and did not pick up Wisham in their designated place – so Wisham began walking back to Baton Rouge.
He started walking over the U.S. 190 bridge (the old bridge), heading east on the westbound side of the bridge, when a state trooper noticed him and, for Wisham’s own safety, decided to pick him up and drive him to the other side of the bridge.
The trooper, Benny Taylor, explained to Wisham that he would be able to give him a ride across the bridge but not before frisking him prior to getting into the police unit. Upon frisking, Trooper Taylor finds a gun and confiscates it until safely to the other side of the Mississippi River.
While riding on the bridge, Taylor heard over his radio that a shooting had recently taken place – the trooper immediately decided to bring Wisham in.
WBRSO Detective Ron LeJeune, meanwhile, had surveyed the scene of the crime and saw the phone Roberts used to make a call. LeJeune redialed the last number that had been called from the phone and spoke with Douglas, asking her to come in to answer some questions.
LeJeune later questioned Wisham, asking how he was planning to cross the bridge initially. When Wisham responded that his friend, Mary Johnson, was supposed to pick him up but never did, LeJeune asked for Mary’s phone number – which was identical to the number that belonged to Douglas.
LeJeune realized that “Mary Johnson” and MaryAnn Douglas were the same person.
“Without the investigative work of Ron LeJeune, this case wouldn’t have been anything,” Johnson said, commending LeJeune, adding a special commendation to Trooper Taylor.
“Think about how many times a police officer might give someone a ride and not check them. It happens all the time… Benny Taylor and Ron LeJeune did a great job on the case. This case was nothing without the police work. It’s not your typical deal – there were no eyewitness or any of that.”
After more than a year after being shot, Otis Roberts’ condition began to deteriorate. Johnson said that he made the decision to get an ambulance to bring Roberts into the WBR Sheriff’s Office to give a filmed deposition of what occurred the night he was shot.
“He was paralyzed; we brought him here in an ambulance and perpetuated his testimony on the record and got him on the record and videoed him, along with defense attorneys so they could question him also so we could use it later, because we knew he was probably not going to make it to the trial,” Johnson said.
About two weeks after giving his testimony on video and answering questions, Roberts died.
“In 25 years, I can’t think of one time I got to meet the murder victim,” said Johnson. “(Roberts) basically got to testify at his own murder trial; how often you see that?”
Douglas and Wisham were put on trial in front of a jury last week in West Baton Rouge, and convicted Friday afternoon of second-degree murder, which could carry up to a life sentence in prison.
“It was a good case. Absolute, pure, old-fashioned police work,” said Johnson. “When in front of a jury – they were sold on (Wisham) immediately. On (Douglas), once they saw the telephone technology of where she was… she was toast. They were convinced when they saw that.”
Douglas and Wisham will be sentenced next month, according to Johnson.