LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — A 77-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for murder Monday, more than a half century after he told authorities his wife died in a boating accident, and a prosecutor says he believes the suspect killed two others.
Felix Vail was sentenced in southwest Louisiana for second-degree murder in the death of Mary Horton Vail. His Aug. 12 conviction carried a mandatory life sentence.
Although only one sentence was possible, there was plenty of verbal drama.
Mary Vail's brother, Will Horton, dared Vail in court to tell what happened to two other women who disappeared: girlfriend Sharon Hensley in 1973 and his second wife, Annette Craver Vail, in 1984, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, (http://on.thec-l.com/2dmMr9S ) reported.
District Attorney John DeRosier says he believes Felix Vail killed all three women.
The newspaper's 2012 series about the deaths and disappearances prompted the Louisiana investigation and trial.
"There is no decency in you, so I don't expect you to ever reveal the truth about Sharon and Annette. You're not man enough to do that," Horton told Vail.
Vail told Judge Robert Wyatt that Mary Vail's death was an accident and the other women chose "to disappear themselves from abusive mothers."
Wyatt told him, "You have been found guilty by a jury. The family has experienced the loss of life, the loss of a mother, the loss of a sister," while Vail "continued to live his life for 50 years."
The judge rejected public defender Andrew Casanave's argument that past Louisiana Supreme Court decisions about capital cases before 1972 meant Vail should be convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Georgia death penalty law similar to the one Louisiana had at the time.
On Oct. 28, 1962, Vail told authorities that his wife had accidentally fallen out of a boat and drowned in the Calcasieu River. In 2012, after The Clarion-Ledger shared her autopsy report with pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, he concluded her death was a homicide. Seven months after the newspaper published its findings, Louisiana authorities charged Vail with murder.
A nephew of Mary Vail said Felix Vail's actions in 1962 were ruthless and unforgivable.
Allen Horton III said he was convinced that his grandparents' early deaths were caused by lack of justice, which he said ate at his family's soul.
Over the past four years, he said, many kind people have shared their memories, enabling him and other family members to see "flickers of Mary . Your conviction established my aunt's immortal presence in all of us."
He told Vail, "We are all at peace, Felix — a feeling you will never have. And I look forward to that day when I will meet my aunt."
Vail shook his head and smiled.