March 1, 1981
New Orleans, Louisiana
Janie Francioni (21) is shot, sexually assaulted, and beaten, her throat cut, and her body set on fire
On March 1, 1981, Sterling Rault asked Francioni for a ride to a night class he was taking. Francioni agreed. Both were employed at the same company and several other employees witnessed the pair leaving work together.
Thirty minutes after Rault and Francioni were seen leaving work, three university students witnessed the pair struggling in her car. Francioni called out to the students to say she was being raped, and the students noticed blood on her clothing. Rault told the students repeatedly that he needed to take Francioni to the hospital, threw “her into the car from the driver’s side all the way to the passenger side,” and drove away.
At some point during the attack, Rault drew a .25-caliber gun on Francioni and shot her. The pathologist examining Francioni’s body found two bullet wounds: one entered her thigh and traveled into her abdomen, passing through the small intestines, stomach, and liver before exiting her chest; the other damaged blood vessels in her right kidney and lodged in her spine. The pathologist testified the first wound would have been extremely painful and caused her to slowly bleed to death in “less than a matter of hours” while the second would have proved fatal within 5-10 minutes.
Rault sliced Francioni’s throat after she was dead, drove her to a “desolate” area of New Orleans, and set her body on fire to destroy any evidence. The fire attracted the attention of an off-duty state trooper who found Francioni’s body alight, with a jagged cut to her throat and a man’s belt coiled around her neck. Rault was spotted within minutes and attempted to run from law enforcement but soon surrendered, declaring “I am Sterling Rault!” He had fresh scratches to his chest and smelled heavily of gasoline at the time of his arrest. At this point, Rault claimed that he and Francioni had been abducted by two men in ski masks, and his abductors had raped Francioni before killing her.
During the course of the investigation, authorities found two checks from the company Rault worked for — totalling $84,000 — had been forged and deposited into an account belonging to a person named Jerry Jones. Three checks were written from that account, two of which had been made payable to Francioni. Handwriting analysis showed the checks had been signed by Rault. It was also found that Rault had been caught embezzling $166,000 from his previous job, though he had repaid the amount stolen in its entirety and was not prosecuted. It was suspected Francioni had discovered Rault’s embezzlement and threatened to expose him, which had been the motive behind her murder.
Rault pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity at trial. During this time, he also changed his story about Francioni’s murder. He claimed that two of his cousins, both of whom had died years before, had appeared to him during a “self-induced hypnotic trance.” Rault further explained his cousins had killed Francioni while he attempted to stop them. Rault was also placed under hypnosis by a court-appointed doctor. During hypnosis, he claimed Francioni had been accidentally shot after his deceased cousins had appeared, raped Francioni, slit her throat, dragged her by her neck with a belt, and set her body on fire. A final story, told to his defense attorney, involved Francioni pulling a gun on Rault; she was accidentally shot during the ensuing struggle. Rault then tried to save Francioni’s life by giving her a tracheotomy but realized she was dead, and decided to cremate her in accordance with the wishes she had previously shared with him.
Rault was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after the jury deliberated for less than 3 hours. Prosecutor David Paddison agreed with the decision and stated, “Crimes don’t come any more hideous. The death penalty was eminently justified.”
Crimes don’t come any more hideous. The death penalty was eminently justified.Prosecutor David Paddison
Rault was executed at the age of 36, on August 24, 1987. “I would like the public to know that they are killing an innocent man at this time,” Rault said during his final statement. “I pray that God will forgive all those involved in this manner. I personally do not hold any animosity towards anyone though. Even as I sit in this chair I intend to stand tall for Christ.” Rault then gave a thumbs up and held the gesture until the first burst of electricity was administered through the electric chair.
Oakley, Ben. 1981: 365 Days of True Crime, Cold Cases, Murder & Serial Killers. Twelvetrees Publishing, 2020
Woodbury, Richard. “Everyones’ A Victim in This.” TIME. September 7, 1987. Archived: http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,965361,00.html
Ashton, Linda. “Accountant turned killer executed.” Daily World [Opelousas, Louisiana]. August 24, 1987
Ashton, Linda. “URGENT Businessman Executed for Raping And Killing Secretary.” AP News. August 24, 1987. Archived: https://apnews.com/article/fd35758ce8943586ddcbfcbb8ba83c27
“Ex-resident of Laurel loses appeal.” Hattiesburg American. October 3, 1984
State v. Rault. 445 So. 2d 1203 (1984). STATE of Louisiana v. Sterling RAULT, Sr. No. 83-KA-0730. Supreme Court of Louisiana. January 16, 1984. Rehearing Denied February 15, 1984. Archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/louisiana/supreme-court/1984/83-ka-0730-1.html