A state judge has formally handed down three life sentences for the first member of a now defunct Ponchatoula church to be convicted of sexually abusing children in connection with a case that came to light in 2004.
Austin “Trey” Bernard III, 39, of Hammond, had been convicted in December on three counts of aggravated rape of a 2-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy. The life sentence was mandatory in the case after prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty.
Jurors also read hundreds of pages of written confessions by Bernard and two children detailing the alleged abuse.
Bernard was the first of the seven members of the Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula indicted on charges of sexually abusing children as part of occult rituals to be tried and convicted.
The next member to go to trial is expected to be the former pastor, Louis D. Lamonica, 49, of Holden, accused of raping the same 2-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy Bernard was convicted of raping.