Margaret Sanchez pleads guilty in 2012 killing of Jaren Lockhart

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The Jefferson Parish Government Center in Gretna. - CREATIVE COMMONS/LEGORIKI
  • CREATIVE COMMONS/LEGORIKI
  • The Jefferson Parish Government Center in Gretna.
Margaret Sanchez, 32, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the 2012 stabbing death of Jaren Lockhart, 22, and been given a sentence of 40 years, 40 years and 20 years — the maximum possible sentences — all running concurrently. 

Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna this morning accepted the plea deal worked out between the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's office and Sanchez's attorneys, Anna Friedberg and Cynthia Cimino. 

The plea ends a major chapter in a tragic and lurid local crime case, The reading of the agreement into record included a tearful victim impact statement from Donna Kulick, who is raising Lockhart's young daughter. After speaking of the suffering Lockhart's death had caused, Kulick momentarily appeared to go off-script: "I can't read this next sentence," she said, "At this point in time you're eligible for parole. Justice has not been served: you didn't get life." 

Sanchez had been scheduled to stand trial July 11 for second-degree murder. Her testimony today was limited to a long series of quiet "Yes, sir," and "No, sir" statements in answer's to the judge's questions, including agreeing to a "factual basis" statement that detailed the killing, dismemberment and coverup, and characterized Sanchez's relationship with Terry Speaks, 43, as one of intimidation and control.

Last July in the same courtroom, a jury found Speaks, Sanchez's former boyfriend, guilty of second-degree murder in Lockhart's death, a verdict which condemned him to a mandatory sentence of life without parole— the same sentence Sanchez would have received had she gone to trial and been convicted.

After the plea agreement and sentencing, Sanchez wept silently.

"It's a very sad situation," said Friedberg in a statement. "I hope everyone affected can find some peace with the resolution of this case."

The Lockhart case has spanned years, parishes and states. On the evening of July 7, 2012, pieces of what were subsequently identified as Jaren Lockhart's body began washing up on the Gulf Coast in Hancock County, Mississippi. Although Sanchez and Speaks were almost immediate suspects, since surveillance footage showed them leaving Lockhart's New Orleans workplace with her at 2 a.m. on June 6, the couple were not charged with her death until mid-2014.

This plea deal follows several quiet months in the Lockhart case. In November 2015, Sanchez's attorney, Anna Friedberg, filed a motion for change of venue which argued pre-trial publicity had made a fair trial impossible. The motion cited remarks made by law enforcement to the press and public before and during Speaks' trial and several hundred local news stories about the case, including a June 2012 Advocate piece which claimed Sanchez had been extradited from Tangipahoa Parish to face a murder charge in Lockhart's death — although no actual extradition had been requested and no charges would be filed against Sanchez for another two years. After Judge Grefer denied the motion, Sanchez' trial was postponed until July 2016. The only news to emerge around it since then was Speaks writing to the court on May 20 of this year proclaiming his unwillingness to testify in Sanchez' case.

Speaks, who's planning an appeal, is in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola, where his life sentence is compounded by two additional convictions related to the killing: obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In January, Judge Grefer ruled Speaks is a quadruple felony offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law and converted the additional 40 years Speaks had been assigned for obstruction of justice to a second life sentence.

Speaks' trial last year was a bizarre affair in which Speaks initially acted as his own attorney despite having no legal education. During that trial and the subsequent sentencing, Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese didn't conceal his disgust for the defendant, and claimed the absence of any material proof that Speaks had killed and dismembered Lockhart was not exculpatory but rather demonstrated how calculating Speaks was. "It makes sense to not find anything," Freese told the jury, in reference to the lack of physical evidence linking Speaks to the murder he and Sanchez have now both been convicted of.

Prosecution asserted Speaks and Sanchez had paid Lockhart to join them for a "private party," and that in the early hours of June 6 in Sanchez' Kenner home, Sanchez and Speaks had colluded in fatally stabbing Lockhart, cutting apart her corpse and driving her remains to Mississippi.

Lockhart, Sanchez and Speaks all worked at various times for adult entertainment businesses on Bourbon Street, one of the case's many sensational facets. During Speaks' trial, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office investigator Steve Saucier offered as possible motive for the killing a "ritual of sacrifice" performed for magical purposes: the planet Venus crossed between the Earth and the Sun on the date of Lockhart's death, an astral event that occurred only once before in the previous two centuries and which will not happen again until 2117.


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