Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans on Tuesday (March 14) recognized a Jefferson Parish cold-case investigative and prosecution team with its Law Enforcement Unit of the Year “Protector Award,” for solving and bringing closure to a 45-year-old case involving the rape and murder of a 5-year-old Waggaman girl.
Nancy Michel, chief of the District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Assistance Division, Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Shannon Swaim and the late District Attorney investigator John Ronquillo were recognized for their work in solving the sexual assault and death of Stephanie Hebert.
Retired WWL-TV anchor Karen Swenson accepted the award on behalf of her husband, John Ronquillo who died in 2018.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Capt. Dennis Thornton, Lt. David Mascaro and detectives Jesus Falcon and Jerry Devorak also were recognized for their work on Stephanie Hebert’s case.
Stephanie Hebert went missing on June 13, 1978. Her remains were found five months later tied to a tree in a wooded area in St. Charles Parish.
The case went cold until an effort led by Nancy Michel prompted the District Attorney’s Office and Capt. Thornton of the JPSO Cold-Case Squad to re-examine the case, leading to the arrest and indictment of Jason Franklin Sr., for three counts of aggravated rape in 2019. These crimes involved Stephanie Hebert and two other child victims.
The District Attorney’s Office was in the process of reviewing the case on Franklin for Stephanie Hebert’s death when he died in prison in 2021. Meanwhile, a key witness in the case died tragically in an automobile accident in New Orleans that same year.
“Despite this outcome, and based on the posture of this case in 2021 and the evidence accumulated, investigators have closed Stephanie Hebert’s murder by exceptional means, declaring Jason Franklin Sr., the suspect responsible for her murder,” Crimestoppers said.