Four sentencing hearings took place this morning, in relation to the death of 31-year-old Rosepine man, James Stephens. The hearings were held at the Vernon Parish Courthouse in Leesville; the Honorable Judge Vernon B. Clark, presiding.

Four sentencing hearings took place this morning, in relation to the death of 31-year-old Rosepine man, James Stephens. The hearings were held at the Vernon Parish Courthouse in Leesville; the Honorable Judge Vernon B. Clark, presiding.

Jose Israel Ayala III, 27, of Leesville, was sentenced to 40 years for manslaughter, 40 years for obstruction of justice, and an additional 10 years for attempted aggravated escape. These sentences are to be served consecutively, with no chance of parole.

Cassandra Ward, 25, of Leesville, was sentenced to 30 years for obstruction of justice, with no chance for parole.

Matthew David Andrews, 28, of New Llano, was sentenced to 12.5 years for obstruction of justice.

Robert Vincent Worth, 25, of Leesville, out on bond at the time of the hearing, was sentenced to 7 years for being an accessory after-the-fact. He was also sentenced to 5 years for possession of marijuana, with intent to distribute. These sentences will be served concurrently, for a total of 7 years.

Stephens had initially been reported missing in March 2014. His remains were found early in July of 2014. With assistance from the Polly Klaas Foundation Search Team, and trained cadaver dogs, the Vernon Parish Sheriff's Office located human remains, believed to be Stephens, in an area on LA-1211 in Vernon Parish. The road is known as Vernon Street in New Llano and Savage Forks Road thereafter.

The remains were taken, by the Vernon Parish Coroner’s Office, to the FACES (Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services) Laboratory at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, for identification purposes.

At the sentencing hearing, Clark explained the circumstances of Stephens' death. There are two versions of the story-- one from Ayala, the other from Ward.

Ward's story, according to Clark, is that Stephens came to the house and was allegedly looking for her mother, who was not home at the time. He continuously attempted to come into the house, when Ayala said he would take care of the situation. Ward took her daughter into another room, away from the fighting. She heard one "warning shot" fired, and Stephens saying, "I'm not scared of you." This was followed by several more shots, killing Stephens.

Ayala's version starts the same as Ward's, with Stephens attempting to come into the home. The stories diverge, as Ayala said that he had gotten into a fist fight with Stephens. Ward eventually came in with a shotgun, killing Stephens.

"I don't have a conclusion with any certainty at this point, as to who shot the weapon," said Clark at the hearing. "[Ward] helped hide the body and dispose of evidence, and to evade the responsibility for what they had done." Clark felt that Ward did not seem remorseful.

Allegedly, Andrews entered the situation when Ayala called him to bring shovels. He claimed that when he arrived, he saw what happened, and Ayala said, "I shot this guy. Help me."

Andrews accompanied Ayala and Ward to a location outside New Llano, and helped dig the grave. According to Clark, Andrews claims that Ward had the shotgun pointed at him, forcing him to help them. Clark is skeptical of that portion of the story. "I think he realized what happened and didn't want to be implicated," he said.

Andrews was not involved in the actual killing. He eventually took responsibility and came forward. He confessed and helped locate the body, said Clark. "That's a mitigating factor."

Worth came into the picture when Ayala, Ward, and her child stayed at his house. He apparently overheard Ayala state that he killed Stephens.

"He didn't use common sense," said Clark. "He didn't do anything about it. There's no way he didn't know the law was looking for Stephens. He was harboring perpetrators knowingly."

Clark felt that Worth did not come forward for the sake of self-preservation. If he went forward, admitting knowing about Stephens, he would have exposed the fact that he was selling marijuana.

Ayala, Ward, and Andrews have been given maximum sentences for their offenses, within the constraints of their plea deals.