Fourth suspect in Hernando County murder-for-hire plot to go on trial

BROOKSVILLE — The plan was supposed to unfold something like this: The men were going to stage an early-morning home invasion, kill Jacqucia Francois' husband before he left for work and then ransack the home for drugs and money.

But when Francois' husband left for work earlier than usual on the morning on Nov. 18, 2008, the plan unraveled.

And so far, all Francois, Esnel Jean Baptiste and Frans Guerrier have gotten for their trouble is jail time.

All three of them have been found guilty for their roles in the bungled murder-for-hire plot. A fourth suspect, Kedner Noel, is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday morning in Circuit Judge Jack Springstead's courtroom.

Noel, 34, of Kissimmee, faces charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and principal to armed home invasion robbery. Noel could face life in prison on both charges; he has pleaded not guilty.

Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis said Noel, a friend of Francois, helped recruit Baptiste and Guerrier to assist with the plan.

"He brought in the three guys from Orlando to commit murder," Lewis said. "He was smart enough to get people to do his dirty work for him."

Noel, Baptiste, Guerrier and another man known only as "Mitch" allegedly met with Francois on Nov. 16 and 17, 2008, to lay out the plan and figure out how to get inside her home in the 8100 block of Nightwalker Road, in northwest Hernando County. Noel returned to Orlando on the evening of Nov. 17, according to reports.

The next morning, Baptiste, Guerrier and "Mitch" allegedly broke into the home, only to find that Fenol Francois had left early for work.

The men then ransacked the home, trying to find money and drugs that had been promised to them by Jacqucia Francois and Noel, according to reports. When the men couldn't find the promised goods, they went into the bedroom of the couple's 13-year-old son and ordered him out of bed at gunpoint.

The men tied up the boy and waited at the home until Francois arrived about 7:30 a.m. Baptiste told detectives that "Mitch" tried to get Francois to enter the home so the men could confront her, but she refused and started screaming once neighbors came outside to investigate.

Within minutes, the men fled back to Orlando.

Francois pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and received a four-year prison sentence in July. Baptiste pleaded to a lesser charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping while armed, receiving a three-year sentence in September.

Guerrier also pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in October and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 23. Prosecutors said Guerrier will testify in Noel's trial and will be sentenced based on his testimony.

Noel, who is facing carjacking charges back in Orlando, faces more time in jail than all of them. His attorney, Edward Abel, declined to comment about the case.

"He's a dangerous guy," Lewis said of Noel.

The trial of Noel is not the only activity scheduled next week in Circuit Court.

Also in Springstead's courtroom, a 24-year-old Spring Hill man is set to go to trial on four counts of armed robbery. Timothy Gartner, who has previously spent two years in state prison on unrelated charges, could face life in prison.

Gartner was arrested in December 2007 after authorities initially took the wrong man into custody. But authorities centered their investigation on Gartner after he was discovered at Lollipops, an adult entertainment spot in Hudson, allegedly trying to use a credit card that had been reported stolen.

He is also accused of stealing a 2007 Ford Five Hundred off the lot of Karl Flammer Ford in Tarpon Springs.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Fourth suspect in Hernando County murder-for-hire plot to go on trial 11/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 26, 2009 8:19pm]

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