• Hammond Police Department

Alleged serial rapist presumed innocent

Hammond Police arrested Jerome Hills, 45, on September 17, 1996, charging him with the rape and murder of Laquinta Mercedes “Sadie” Henderson—a 5-year-old girl who called him “Uncle Jerry.”

A grand jury indicted Jerry Hills the following month, but in 2004, the District Attorney’s Office for the 21st Judicial Court discovered that DNA from a hair found on the preschooler’s body actually belonged to someone other than Hill.

Soon after, DA Scott Perilloux returned the case to the grand jury. Reviewing the 9-year-old case, the new grand jury found the evidence against Hills insufficient for trial and set him free.

Hills walked out of the Tangipahoa Parish Jail on January 26, 2005, escorted by his New Orleans attorney, Martin Regan, Jr., who told reporters, “He was always adamant he didn’t commit this crime. Back when they offered a plea deal, he could have gone home on probation, but he said no. He said he wouldn’t plead guilty to something he didn’t do.”

Jerry Hills freed
Jerry Hills freed

The Baton Rouge Advocate ran photos of Hills leaving jail with a grin on his face, seemingly just another falsely accused black man, exonerated by DNA evidence after spending nearly a decade wrongly imprisoned.

However, the newspapers of the day may not have reported the complete story. The rape and murder of Sadie Henderson were not the only crimes women had accused Hills of committing without standing trial.

At a Prieur hearing on March 4, 1998, the State presented evidence of three earlier alleged rapes and one alleged attempted rape, all attributed to Hills.

In arguments, the State claimed these incidents showed Hills’ modus operandi; that he picks his victims up in his car, transports them to another location, and commits a crime against them. This, according to the State, also matched the modus operandi of Sadie’s murderer.

During a pretrial Prieur hearing, HPD Sgt. Melissa Spurling described the reported rape of a 15-year-old on January 3, 1994. Spurling said that the victim told her that she obtained a ride from Hills around midnight, wanting to visit her mother at the North Oaks Hospital. Instead of taking her to the hospital, the victim told Spurling, Hills drove down Highway 51 near Manchac and told her to have sex with him, or he would abandon her on the dark road.

Afraid, the victim said she submitted, and Hills drove her to the hospital to visit her mother. She saw her mother while Hills waited to take her home. Entering his truck for the second time that night, she said, Hills told her they were not going straight home. Fearing another assault, she jumped out of the vehicle and ran. Later that night, a friend took her back to the hospital, where she reported the rape.

Spurling testified that the doctor found inactive spermatozoa in the victim’s vaginal area, but no other trauma. The Hammond Police Department issued a warrant for Hills without executing it for another two years—after he became a suspect in Sadie Henderson’s murder.

Another alleged rape victim, a 43-year-old, testified that on December 10, 1990, she caught a ride with Hills from Hammond to Kentwood. Enroute, she said, Hills told her something was wrong with his truck. When they stopped, she said, Hills hit her with a hammer and raped her multiple times.

The third alleged victim, a 44-year-old, testified that she caught a ride from Hills early one morning in 1993. Instead of taking her home, she said, he took her to an isolated area near the airport and forced her to have sex with him.

She testified that afterwards, when Hills took her home, she broke his nose with a beer bottle from the floorboard of the truck. She said this action (together with the crack she smoked) gave her satisfaction, so she did not report the rape.

 The final witness, recently arrested for the attempted murder of her husband, entered the court in handcuffs. The 25-year-old testified that on April 15, 1992, she accepted a ride from Hills outside a bar. She said Hills drove her down Coonville Road, pulled a knife, and told her she was going to have sex with him. The two struggled, she said, but she escaped and did not file charges.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with the DA that these incidents demonstrated “evidence of a method of operation and system,” saying they found all of the witnesses highly credible and would allow the introduction of this new evidence in Hills’ eventual murder trial.

However, a higher court overturned this finding and ultimately denied the state’s request to call these witnesses at trial—the same trial that was later canceled when the grand jury ruled the DA did not have enough evidence to prosecute.

Today—since no court has found anyone guilty of these crimes— the Hammond Police Department considers each of these alleged rape cases unsolved. Like the rape and murder of Sadie Henderson, these are cold cases still under investigation.

If you or someone you know has information that may bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice, please contact the Hammond Police Department today.

Regarding the murder of 5-year-old Laquinta Mercedes “Sadie” Henderson, this is what we know today:

Discarded doll

On March 2, 1996, Shiela Henderson, left her daughter, Sadie, and her 4-year-old brother playing and eating candy in their grandmother’s backyard, both children excited to be spending the night at grandmother’s. The 4-year-old went inside at approximately 4:00 p.m., but Sadie never did.

Fishermen found her body over a week later, on March 11, 1996, floating face down in a pond adjacent to Yokum Road, near Hammond, south of Interstate 12—less than three miles from the grandmother’s home.

Tangipahoa Parish Coroner James G. Traylor, Jr.—based on the remains of undigested pickles in Sadie’s stomach—fixed the time of death somewhere between 4:00 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. on March 2, 1996.

The coroner found no outward signs of rape but noted both anal and vaginal trauma. Sadie’s body had begun to decompose, making cause-of-death tough to determine, but Traylor said he believed the girl’s death came from a blunt strike to the head.

No Comments