PENSACOLA, Fla. — A former reporter became friends with twin brothers through the world of fantasy card and role-playing games, and it was a set of $100,000 collectible cards that led one of the brothers to kill the journalist and bury his body in a concrete-covered pit. The other brother helped cover up the crime.
Both were sentenced Thursday. William Cormier III was convicted of first-degree murder and given life in prison without parole for beating Sean Dugas to death with a hammer and burying him in a concrete-covered pit in Georgia in 2012. Cormier's twin, Christopher, pleaded no contest to charges of helping his brother move the body. He was sentenced to 15 years.
Prosecutors said Cormier III was so desperate for money that he killed Dugas so he could steal his collection of cards, some of which featured artwork of dragons, birds and islands, for the game "Magic: The Gathering."
Dugas worked as a multimedia and crime reporter for the Pensacola News Journal from 2005 to 2010. He was known for his long dreadlocks, vintage clothing and quirky personality.
"Bohemian, eclectic, unique, free spirit, all these words were used to describe Sean. The most important word to me was son. He was my only son," said his father, Christopher Dugas.
Dugas' mother sobbed as she told the judge about her son during the sentencing phase. She clutched a picture of her son, as she had the entire trial.
"I despise the fact that his supposed friends could hurt him like this. You must make sure they never hurt anyone else," Lois Jones said.
Dr. Cassie Boggs, an assistant medical examiner from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said during the trial that Dugas was in a fetal position in the storage container surrounded by sheets, a plastic tarp, air fresheners and spray foam used to seal cracks in walls. His body had to be cut from the bottom of the plastic bin because of the layer of concrete on the top.
"He sold Sean's own cards to buy that cheap, plastic coffin to put his body in," prosecutor Bridgette Jensen said of Cormier III.
Dugas' body was unearthed at his father's rented home in Winder, Ga., some 300 miles northeast of Pensacola. The twins had moved there from Pensacola after packing up everything in Dugas' home in the fall of 2012, prosecutors said. More than a month after Dugas went missing, police discovered him in the backyard of the Cormiers' father's home.
Cormier III, who was the only witness to testify for the defense at his own trial, said Christopher was the one who killed Dugas. He said he was acting under Christopher's direction and that he did not know Dugas' was dead when he sold more than $12,000 of his cards and cleaned out his home.
"His brother said, 'Here's a note from Sean wanting us to help him move'. His brother said 'Sean wants us to help him get some money and sell his Magic cards'. He didn't think anything of it, he trusted his brother," defense attorney Richard Currey said.
Witnesses, including the twins' father, testified Cormier III had always been the more-dominate twin and the leader. But Currey said that dynamic had changed before the killing.
Currey also said Dugas' death could have been a "crime of passion" by Christopher Cormier. Currey pointed to testimony from the twins' father, who said he thought Christopher Cormier was questioning his sexuality, but the defense attorney didn't go into more details.
Jurors convicted Cormier III after a little more than an hour of deliberations. He showed no reaction.
Almost immediately, court deputies escorted Christopher Cormier into the courtroom. The twins did not look at each other as Dugas' family members testified.
Christopher Cormier apologized and said he regretted his involvement.
"Everything you have said about Sean is true. He was unique. There will never be another Sean Dugas," he said. "Sean was a good friend. I respected his opinion and trusted his judgment."
Christopher Cormier told investigators his brother beat Dugas' to death with a hammer and that he was in another part of Dugas' home when it happened.
Judge Terry Terrell said the maximum 15 years was appropriate, even though prosecutors asked for more.
"If I can give you any words of comfort, I think it is fair to say that the Sean I have gotten to know through this trial would want you to find some joy in every day," Terrell told the family.