Linda "Kate" Passaniti

I have been trying to make an effort to research three or four blogs and then take the time to sit down and compose them one after another but this case struck such a chord with me I felt I could not move on until I finished this one completely.

I would like to say that there is more information out there that I somehow missed but judging by comments about television shows that discussed this story, among other things, I just am not sure that would be an accurate statement.  I am not going to sit here and tell you that Kate Passaniti did everything correct, or did nothing even illegal, because she did.  But, in my opinion the proof that she hired someone to murder her stepfather is simply not there, and I am not alone in my thinking.  

Ernest and Loretta Luttrell lived together for over forty years in Keithville Louisiana on a hay farm.  She carried his name but most information states that they were never officially married.  While Louisana does not recognize common law marriages it is clear that they lived as husband and wife, including having joint accounts and including each other in their Wills as being a survivor just as a marriage would allow.  

By 2010, Ernest was seventy-three and Loretta was seventy.  They had both been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia in 2009.  By the assessment made at that time Loretta was at a faster progressing state than Ernest's. However, if you have ever dealt with anyone with dementia issues than you know that no matter what "stage" they are in, things can be rather unpredictable.  It should also be noted that in most cases signs of the dementia are visible quite a while before an official diagnosis is given.  Many people who suffer from dementia are able to hide it for quite some time, then little signs appear that they can no longer hide.  Medical professionals will often say that dementia and Alzheimer disease are not the same.  Maybe not in a technical sense, but the reality of it is, that to the lay person there is no difference when it comes to the behavior and signs, especially in the beginning.  It is true that many times those diagnosed with Alzheimer have more moments of hallucination and less moments in reality while those with what is considered simple dementia forget things, such as how to run things like the washer that they have run every day of their lives or things told to them just a few seconds before.  But again, in the vast scheme of things, especially for a caregiver, there is little difference.  The question for me when it comes to Ernest and Loretta, as I am sure it was for those around them, was just when these signs started and were they making good decision with their health and finances.

The year of 2008 had been a big one for the Luttrells when it came to finances. Ernest had sold the mineral rights of his 60 acre farm for $400,000.  He took $300,000 and put it in an annuity fund in both his and Loretta's name.  With the remaining money he paid off a loan, some bills, and purchased a CD, placing the rest in a joint bank account.  In April of that year Ernest and Loretta drafted Wills in which stated that if one of the died before the other, the remaining "spouse" would receive everything.  In the event that they died at the same time it specified that Loretta's sister, Rosie received the 60 acres in land and that Loretta's daughter Kate, would receive the money from the estate.

I find this Will very interesting. And, I should point out that no one seems to dispute the validity of this Will and consider it to be the expressed wishes of the couple.  But, what I find interesting is that I found no mention of what each individual stated would happen with the property and estate if they were the surviving spouse, nor was there mention of Ernests' sister who he was supposedly close to.  Now, of course this does not mean that she was not mentioned or even she would have been the sole heir if Ernest died last but I think there was an importance to Loretta's sister being named.  Kate lived in San Antonio Texas, so quite a distance away and by all indications Rosie was nearby.  The provision in the Will may have likely had more to do with the fact that had they both died at the same time so much would have to be done and from a distance from where Kate lived.  Now, Rosie would claim in court several years later that Ernest had told her of the Will and that if something were to happen to them both that she was to go to the home and get them because he did not trust Kate and her husband.  But, to be fair, no one knows for certain that happened.

As 2010 began it seems more problems were coming up. It appears that it is possible that Ernest was having more dementia issues at that time and along with dementia often times comes irrational anger along with the confusion.  On April 10th Loretta would call the neighbor to warn him that Ernest had headed out with his gun and said he was going to shoot the neighbor.  For his part the neighbor called the police and apparently this was not the first time in which they had been called about this issue.  It seems that on at least one prior occasion Ernest had expressed deadly thoughts about the neighbor, in front of the deputy.  Whether it was his past comments added to what was alleged that he said while leaving the home or his behavior when the police arrived is unclear but Ernest was taken to a psychiatric hospital and admitted.

While Ernest was in the hospital Kate apparently made her way to Louisiana and she, her mother, and Tina Vanmoerkeque began looking into nursing homes to have Ernest placed. 

If you have never tried to have a loved one put into a nursing home then you may not know the struggle.  When we are naive about such things we live with the belief that you simply walk in, explain to people that your loved one can no longer care for themselves alone and boom! they are in.  No, it does not work in that manner....not even close.  Now, back in the 50's, 60's and even some of the 70's it was extremely easy not only to place the elderly in nursing homes but have people placed that have what are considered to be brain diseases. Dementia qualifies as one, as well as an assortment of other mental issues. Now, I stated you could have the placed easily, I did not necessarily state that they received good treatment or even helpful treatment because we have all see the pictures of the mental facilities that were in place in that era. Sadly mentally ill children were placed in homes and forgotten and heaven help a woman who disagreed with her husband because he could make up whatever he wanted to have her placed.  Thankfully laws were changed not just on the placement ability but the quality of the facilities.  However, a bigger problem arose it seems.  When laws changed it took away all the "power" of families and put them in the hands of the patient.  On the surface that sounds great, but the reality is that it is not. The patients are given almost full control of everything and those who make irrational decisions, despite doctors agreeing with this, are still allowed to make irrational decisions.  For example, if you have an elderly relative in which you feel cannot live alone, whether it be because they get confused and can't properly take medicine or a fall risk or any other number of reasons and you think a nursing home would be more adequate because really that is the last choice, if that relative says no, they are fine and feel they can live alone, they cannot be forced to go.  Medical professionals will tell you (and I have been told many times) that there are only two ways to have someone admitted against their will, especially when it comes to the elderly.  They have to have some sort of an emergency in which an ambulance needs to be called, such as a fall or some injury.  Then, it has to be serious enough to warrant a three day stay at a hospital.  And then, and only then will a nursing home be considered.  And even then it is not always a given.

In this case while Loretta and Kate had found the nursing home the facility in which Ernest was in did not agree that he needed a nursing home and without that recommendation it could not happen.  Now, whether the facility itself did not believe Ernest belonged in a nursing home or he himself had refused is unclear.  At either rate, without a doctor recommendation, or Ernest's consent, he did not go to the nursing home but was sent back to his own home.

It was around this time that one of Kate's crimes may have occurred. Remember, Ernest went to the psychiatric hospital on April 10th and the search for the home had taken place during this time.  On April 14th a Power of Attorney (POA) was signed but, it appears it was back dated to the month prior. This POA gave Kate Passaniti the right to make medical, as well as financial decisions on behalf of Ernest.  It seems a second POA was signed for the same benefits to Kate only concerning Loretta.  The problem here is that it does not seem that Ernest signed his.  It seems that Kate would admit to knowing that the process in which was taken was not proper.  It seems that Kate had found the paperwork on the Internet, printed it off and sent it to Loretta.  Tina Vanmoerkeque would testify that she witnessed Loretta sign Ernest's name to the document while she signed her own, and forged her daughters name as a witness.  Tina then drove Loretta to a notary republic to have it authorized.  

It should be noted that this POA, legal or not, had not done Kate any good when they were attempting to have Ernest placed in the nursing home. However it did seem to help when Loretta and Kate went to the bank and began moving money out of Ernests' name and into Loretta's only.

Now, once again I am going to play devils advocate here.  As I stated earlier, it is not a simple process to put someone in a nursing home, and while the steps to move assets is considered to be illegal, it is often done in efforts not just to have someone placed in a home but to protect the person, as well as others. In this case it has been argued, and there does not seem a way to disprove, that the issues with moving the money and assets out of Ernests' name and into Loretta's could have been two-fold.  First, any assets that Ernest owned could be forced to be sold to help pay for any care in a nursing home.  It also prevents the patient from obtaining government help.  In this case Ernest and Loretta were not legally married and the state of Louisiana, as in most states, did not recognize a common law marriage.  Had they been successful in having Ernest placed into a home, not only would he have lost his home, his land and really anything of value, but the same would have happened to Loretta.  At this point it did not appear that Loretta could not be cared for in some way in her home. You have heard me mention the name Tina Vanmoerkeque a few times already but I have yet to tell you who she is and what role she played in this case completely.

Tina Vanmoerkeque lived on the property owned by Ernest and Loretta in a travel trailer.  Tina worked as a housekeeper but also was considered a "personal assistant" to Loretta.  In essence where Loretta went, Tina went. Tina's boyfriend, Chris also lived in the trailer with her and worked as a handyman around the farm.  So, while Loretta surely had her issues, remember she too had been diagnosed in 2009 with dementia, Tina was there to guide and help her.  Would it have been possible to also hire someone to do the same for Ernest?  I cannot say because every dementia patient is different in the behaviors and it is also important to find someone the patient connects to. If Ernests' behaviors could not be controlled then it would not matter if he had a "personal assistant" or not.  

And then the day of July 25, 2010 came along.  It was on this day that Ernest was found dead in his home from multiple gunshot wounds.  The first to be arrested for this crime would be Erick Crain.  I could not find specifics on how he was found, considered a suspect, or even when his arrest occurred other than it seemed rather soon after the murder.  Erick's arrest led them to Tina Vanmoerkeque and then it let to the arrest of Loretta Luttrell, all rather quickly. Investigators did not arrest Kate Passaniti until nearly three years later, in March of 2013.

So how did all of these people fit into the murder of Ernest Luttrell?  Let's start with the first person to be arrest, Erick Crain.  Crain would eventually plead guilty to shooting Ernest Luttrell and would receive a life sentence.  Part of the agreement he made required that he testify against Kate Passaniti.  I get a little confused here because in his testimony Crain tells the jury that he was hired to kill Ernest by Tina and Loretta and states in court that he had never seen, talked to or heard of Kate until police mentioned her.  The saddest thing about Crain is that he agreed to kill a man on the promise of $1,000.  He would later say that his consumption of drugs and alcohol on the day prior to the murder when he was approached likely contributed to agreeing to the plot.  Crain would say that Tina had supplied him with a gun but had not said the gun belonged to Ernest. Tina had been the one to tell him what door to enter and that Loretta would be at church but would leave the door unlocked.  He was told that Ernest would likely be asleep or watching television.  After the murder he was to steal guns from the gun safe. He was told where Ernest kept the keys to his truck and to take the truck when he left.  Tina picked him up on the morning of July 25th and dropped him off at the entrance of the property.  While Crain would say that he was under the understanding that Loretta would be the person to pay him the money, he also admitted never talking to her, but that Tina had mentioned her, but had never mentioned Kate. I was left quite confused as to what exactly Crain had to offer in the prosecution of Kate.

Next there was Tina Vanmoerquerk.  She would claim to have heard Loretta on the phone, more than once talking to Kate on the telephone while using the speaker system.  She would testify that it was Kate who was behind having Loretta talk to her about the murder of Ernest.  She would claim to have heard Kate tell Loretta to get Tina to hire someone and if she refused to put pressure on her.  She would go on to say that after supposedly hearing this conversation, to which she never admits discussing with Loretta, that Loretta had come to her with the proposal and at some point threatened that if she did not do so that she would have her removed from the property.  Tina would also say that it was Loretta that gave her one of Ernests' gun to give to the "hit man."  Aside from the telephone calls that she purportedly heard it appears that Tina did not testify to any conversations with Kate concerning the murder of Ernest.  She too would plead guilty for her role in the crime and receive a life sentence.  It has been noted in several areas that Tina's plea agreement, just like Crain's, required her to testify against Kate, and that Tina had not even mentioned Kate for at least a year or more after her arrest. It has been alleged that Tina only mentioned Kate when investigators mentioned or threatened the idea of the death penalty.

As far as Loretta goes, she was charged with the murder of Ernest but she was deemed incompetent for trial and instead was placed in a mental facility.  She would die there in 2014, never having face those charges.  Doctors would state that by then she suffered from "severe" Alzheimer.  This brought on the question as to how competent Loretta had been leading up to the time of the murder and speculation, at best, that she could have been manipulated by Kate. However, it is my opinion that a few months prior to the murder she apparently was competent enough to call the neighbor and tell him Ernest said he was going to shoot him.  There was no indication in my research that this call was made up or planned, or that anyone other than Loretta had been involved in the call which means a woman with supposed severe dementia had remembered or found the phone number of the man and called him.  Now, I am not saying that Loretta did not suffer from dementia at all, I am just stating that her level of reality may have altered in and out.  With this said, aside from Tina's testimony of supposedly hearing Kate talk to her mother, there is no reason to believe that Loretta could not have come up with this idea to Tina on her own.

When Kate was arrested she was charged not just with the murder for hire scheme against Ernest but she faced three other charges of forgery.  The forgery charges had to do with the creation of the POA and the making of a new Will.  It seems that at least as far as the Will goes Kate admitted to those charges.  I am confused quite honestly why a Kate went to the lengths to create a new Will to be honest.  As stated before, from my understanding the Will in 2008 gave Loretta all assets if Ernest were to die first, which he obviously had. The only explanation for this would indicate that there may have been a stipulation in the preceding Will that would have given the assets to another person if Loretta, for whatever reason was unable to receive them.  This new Will apparently took care of that as the assets went to Loretta, and then to Kate and her daughters.  Kate would admit to enacting this Will but stated she did so to protect her mother's assets.  A notary would apparently place her seal on the Will on October 2, 2010 despite seeing the date on the Will as being July 1, 2010.  She would tell the court that she knew Ernest had died and that Loretta was facing charges but that Kate had expressed she was trying to protect her mother.

So at this point the only thing pointing to the fact that Kate was involved in the murder for hire of her stepfather came from Tina Vanmoerquerk who claims to have heard phone calls between mother and daughter but admits to never having discussed things with Kate.  Also at trial a woman by the name of Tawanda Daughtry testified.  She had been a cellmate of Kate's while in jail. Daughtry herself was serving time for possession of marijuana, speeding and check forgery.  Whether she received any special treatment for her testimony is unclear, but in my experience it is unlikely she testified for "free."  Daughtry would testify that Kate had admitted to her to the planning of Ernests' murder and had planned to pin it on her mother, who she knew would never face trial, and her aunt, Rosie Jones, Loretta's sister.  Interestingly enough Daughtry would also claim that Kate stated that it had been Rosie who came up with making it look like a robbery.  Now, I am not saying that everything Daughtry said was true, or that any of it were true for that matter. But I find it interesting that the only place in which I find the statement about Rosie being involved in the planning was in Kate's 2014 appeal.  I am of the firm belief that if we are going to believe a witness, we completely believe the witness.  Only picking to believe certain things from someone who testifies is much like "cherry picking" the bible and only following the things we believe in.  

For her part Rosie Jones would testify for the prosecution and while much was made of her testimony, it is my opinion that she added very little.  Rosie would state that both Kate and her daughter had been upset in 2008 when Ernest had sold the mineral rights to his land.  They both had believed it took away from the value of the property, something she claims they both expected to possess after Ernest and Loretta's deaths.  Rosie would claim that it appeared that Kate did not learn of the Will that was created in 2008 until sometime in 2010 near the time of Ernests' death.  She stated that Kate was angry at the idea that Rosie could have inherited the land, again something she claims she and her children expected.  Rosie would testify that there were several conversations between the two in which the death of Ernest was mention and she was often asked not just by Kate, but also Loretta to renounce her claim to ever receiving the property.

For my part it seems to me that Rosie and Kate obviously had issues.  I can some level, also depending on their relationship, see Kate being upset about the possibility of Rosie inheriting the land but from my understand that only happened if Ernest and Loretta died at the same time.  The odds of that occurring seemed very thin.  Rosie would go on to say that Kate's daughter, as well as Kate and Loretta, were angry with Ernest because he had apparently told Kate's daughter, Kim, that he would pay her student loans that amounted to about $70,000 and then had later refused.  Rosie would claim that Kate was angry that her mother had not been able to get Ernest to do as he promised and because of this did not speak to her mother for a period of time.  Rosie would go on to say that sometime around the month before the murder, she had talked to her sister who expressed some sort of fear that Ernests' sister would inherit everything in the event Ernest died.  Rosie of course denied being in on any plan to have Ernest murdered and make the crime look like a robbery.

Prosecutors would hammer a lot of the fact that Kate and her husband Anthony were in financial trouble at the time of the murder and had been at some time. In 2008 Kate had quit her job as a professor at a local college and apparently took some part time work as a professor elsewhere while at the same time she and her husband adopted a four year old child.  The following year Kate's husband lost his job and by the sounds of it they were truly struggling by 2010. Now, in a situation of a spousal death or even the last surviving parent death to me this issue would be more significant than it was made out to be in Kate's trial.  Now of course, if Ernest were to die and her mother became incapacitated then Kate would have had access to the assets that were then Loretta's, but going there without any proof just seems to be a far stretch.  

On May 5, 2013, after the jury deliberated for about 1.5 hours they returned with a verdict of guilty against Kate on all counts. Prior to her sentencing her defense asked that the verdict be vacated and a new trial be ordered arguing that the prosecution had provided no proof of her guilt.  Of course this was denied.  She was sentenced to life without parole, with a stipulation of "hard labor" for the charge of 2nd degree murder.  She was sentence to ten years each for each of the three counts of forgery.  

I have often talked about how when visiting the Department of Correction websites to states some are quite better than others.  I had never seen anything quite like the one for Louisiana.  There was literally nothing that could be found online on their site pertaining to inmates.  It stated that to get that information you needed to call and provided a number.  However, there was a link to another website called VineLink which I have used in the past but only pertaining to local jail inmates as opposed to state or federal prison inmates.  Even still all I could determine is that she is incarcerated, which was a given.

While doing my research I found my way to the Findagrave website and discovered something interesting.  There were apparently two obituaries published for Ernest upon his death.  One listed Loretta as his wife and also listed Kate and her family as the only survivors.  The other, apparently done by Ernests' sister only listed her and her family, omitting even Loretta.  It also mentioned that his parents, and a son had preceded him in death.  It appears that the son, was not also Loretta's as far as I can tell, but I could find no other information on him.  This could have been an infant death, but I am unsure.  He is not listed on the website at all, let alone at the cemetery in which Ernest was laid to rest.

As you can tell, this case bothers me more than most that I blog about.  It is not that I believe Kate did not commit some sort of crime.  It is not even that I can say for certain that she was not involved in the death of her stepfather.  It bothers me because from a legal standpoint I do not believe the evidence proved that she did anything more than attempt to not just protect her mother and her assets but possibly even do what she could to get Ernest medical help. While I do not advocate her actions as far as especially the Will I can fully see any number of us thinking they wish things had been taken care of better prior to a parent dying.  Yes, some of her actions were reckless and illegal and I have little doubt that she was angry over some of the things that had occurred.  She may have even spoken of his "death" quite often but I feel that it was not adequately portrayed in how these statements were made.  We are allowed to be angry at people, we are even allowed to wish for or anticipate their deaths but just because we do so does not mean that we actively go out and plan their murder.

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