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URGENT Businessman Executed for Raping And Killing Secretary

August 24, 1987 GMT

ANGOLA, La. (AP) _ An accountant who raped and murdered his secretary because he feared she would expose his embezzlement of $84,000 was executed early Monday in Louisiana’s electric chair, professing his innocence.

Sterling Rault, 36, was pronounced dead at 12:16 a.m., according to C. Paul Phelps, secretary of the state Department of Corrections.

″I would like the public to know that they are killing an innocent man at this time,″ Rault said before becoming the eighth person executed in Louisiana this summer and the 15th to be put to death in the state since it resumed executions in 1983.

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″I pray that God will forgive all those involved in this matter. I personally do not hold any animosity towards anyone though.″

He blew a kiss to Sister Mary Rault, his aunt who is a Roman Catholic nun and was one of his spiritual advisers. She bowed her head through the execution.

After he was strapped into the chair, he looked toward her and gave a thumbs-up signal. He held the signal until the first jolt hit at 12:10 a.m.

″Even as I sit in this chair I intend to stand tall for Christ,″ he said.

In addition to his aunt, Rault was visited on Sunday by his mother, father, brother and sister-in-law, and another spiritual adviser, the Rev. Alan J. McLellan, said Warden Hilton Butler of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Butler said Rault ordered a huge final meal of steak and fried shrimp and then made two last requests - that he be allowed to telephone his parents at 10:30 p.m. and that he be permitted to read a final statement before he died.

Both requests were granted, Butler said.

Rault was convicted of raping, shooting and stabbing his secretary, Jane Ellen Francioni, 21, of Slidell, whose body was then doused with gasoline and set afire in March 1982 in a desolate section of eastern New Orleans.

″Everything has been ready,″ Butler said at the state penitentiary at Angola, where Rault was moved Saturday to the death house, steps away from the oak electric chair.

Rault, a New Orleans accountant, was denied a seventh stay of execution Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving his last hope with Gov. Edwin Edwards.

But Edwards has refused to stop executions unless given indisputable proof of innocence.

At a State Pardon Board hearing, Rault said he was innocent of murder, that he recalled nothing of the events preceding his arrest and claimed someone must have drugged him.

The prosecution has said Rault killed Miss Francioni in 1982 because she knew he had embezzled $84,000 from the Louisiana Energy and Development Co. and was afraid she would expose him.

Rault originally told arresting officers that he and Miss Francioni were kidnapped by two masked men who raped and killed her.

At one time, he said two long-dead cousins appeared while he was in a self- induced hypnotic trance and killed the woman while he tried to stop them.

Later, under hypnosis, Rault said Miss Francioni was shot accidentally when his dead cousins appeared to rape the woman, slit her throat, drag her around with a belt and then set her body afire.

In yet another version, Rault told his defense attorney that Miss Francioni pulled a gun on him and was accidentally shot during a struggle. He said he tried to save her with a tracheotomy, and when he realized she was dead, he cremated her in accordance with previously expressed wishes, according to court documents.