Nacogdoches murderer gets life sentence

Randy Lee Ellinwood (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Randy Lee Ellinwood (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Erin Belz (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Erin Belz (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Jurors sentenced Randy Lee Ellinwood to life in prison for the April 9, 2012 beating death of Gilbert Thibodeaux, 32, of Nacogdoches Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the sentencing, prosecutor Lauren Gaston urged the jury to give Ellinwood, 32, of Nacogdoches, a life sentence in her closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

"It was not an accident, and it wasn't a mistake," Gaston said. "Every time Randy hit Thibodeaux, he meant it. Randy did not show Thibodeaux one bit of mercy."

Day two of the sentencing started with testimony from Steve Gilcrease, a detective with the Nacogdoches Police Department. Prosecutors played a police tape from the night Ellinwood was interviewed. In the video, Ellinwood said, "I didn't mean to beat him up as bad as I did." When told by officers that Thibodeaux was dead, Ellinwood became distraught, saying, "What? Please don't tell me I killed him."

Gilcrease said he didn't originally believe Ellinwood was being sincere, but changed his mind as he spoke to him longer. The detective also said his investigation has proved Erin Belz, Ellinwood's co-defendant, had invited Thibodeaux over for sex. However, Belz and Ellinwood had a plan to beat Thibodeaux when he arrived. Ellinwood said in the video that Belz told him Thibodeaux would badger her for sex, and she was tired of it. Ellinwood said he had just meant to "whoop" him and didn't mean to kill him. He thought Belz would stop him if it got bad.

John Boundy, an attorney and a good friend of Ellinwood, was called to the stand next. Boundy said he knew Ellinwood for six-to-eight months and added Ellinwood was a generous person.

Carlton Maguess, a truck driver and close friend of Ellinwood, agreed with Boundy. He said he had met Ellinwood in a Nacogdoches-based 12-step program for recovering alcoholics. He said Ellinwood had very low self-esteem because he had spent years in foster care.

"He was changing. He was trying to do the right thing, Maguess said. "We were working with him to get his high school diploma."

He said Ellinwood had never had a mentor or father figure. Maguess said he felt like he played that role. As soon as he said that, Ellinwood broke into tears.

"I love Randy like a son and brother. He's just a good person," Maguess said.

Defense Attorney Bill Agnew told jurors he believes the murder was a "very, very bad mistake made by a good person."

Jurors in Nacogdoches County's 420th Judicial District Court learned Tuesday that Ellinwood attacked Thibodeaux with a section of aluminum pipe, his fists, and his feet after Belz, 27, of Nacogdoches, lured Thibodeaux to her house with a text-messaged promise of a sexual encounter.

After the assault, Ellinwood and Belz drove Thibodeaux to the Walgreen's store located on Nacogdoches' North Street and left him there. Nacogdoches Police officers arrested the pair a day after they found Thibodeaux's bloodied body in the front seat of his Chevrolet pickup.

Both suspects told NPD detectives that they had destroyed the SIM card from Thibodeaux's cell phone, dumped his cap and wallet into a storm drain, and attempted to wash blood off the driveway at Belz's home in an attempt to conceal incriminating evidence. However, detectives were able to ID Thibodeaux from a pay check stub attached to a sun visor in his truck.

Ellinwood is still being held in the Nacogdoches County Jail on a charge of first-degree murder. His bond has been set at $500,000. Originally charged with capital murder, Ellinwood faces a sentence of up to life in prison for killing Thibodeaux.

Belz avoided a life sentence by pleading guilty to first-degree murder in October 2012. She was sentenced to 39 years in prison. Like Ellinwood, she had originally been charged with capital murder. Had she been convicted of that, she could have faced a possible sentence of life in prison without parole or death.

Nacogdoches Police arrested the pair after finding the body of Thibodeaux in the back of a pickup at Walgreen's on April 9. Police connected them to the truck and arrested Belz at Belz's residence in the 300 block of Myrtle Street on April 10. Ellinwood was located at his residence a short time later.

Officers were called the night of April 9 to a suspicious person call at Nacogdoches Floral Company on North Street. The caller said a man and woman were seen dumping something in a dumpster of the business and leaving in a pickup truck. Officers found items with blood on them and began searching for the suspect's truck.

According to Sgt. Greg Sowell of the Nacogdoches Police Department, it appears Thibodeaux knew the two and went to the Myrtle Street address, where he was assaulted. According to Steve Gilcrease, a detective with the Nacogdoches Police Department, Ellinwood was annoyed that Thibodeaux had sex with Belz and another woman he knew.

In Tuesday's testimony, Gilcrease also said that Ellinwood told him that he never intended to kill Thibodeaux; he just wanted to beat him up. NPD detectives also testified that Belz gave them a detailed account of how she helped Ellinwood move the body, steal evidence, and clean up the crime scene.

Copyright 2013 KTRE. All rights reserved.