IMAGE: Ronald Joseph Dominique
Terrebonne Sheriff's Office  /  AP file
Ronald Joseph Dominique, in a photo made available Dec. 4 by the Terrebonne Sheriff's Office.
updated 1/16/2007 7:32:26 PM ET 2007-01-17T00:32:26

A man who police say confessed to strangling or suffocating 23 men during an eight-year killing spree pleaded not guilty Tuesday to nine counts of murder.

Ronald Dominique was rolled into the courtroom in a wheelchair. He mumbled “not guilty” to each count as his sister and other relatives looked on — along with family members of some of his alleged victims.

The nine charges of first-degree murder, which carry a possible death sentence, stem from the rape and murders of nine men between 2002 and 2005 in Terrebonne Parish, La.

Dominique, 42, has confessed to 23 murders from 1997 to 2005, authorities said. Victims were found in ditches, sugar cane fields and other remote locations in southeastern Louisiana.

Dominique’s public defender, Anthony Champagne, declined to comment.

Among the onlookers in the courtroom Tuesday was Angela Smith, mother of victim Wayne Smith.

“I wish I could have talked to him. I want to ask him ‘Before you killed my child, what were his last words?”’ Smith said after the arraignment.

“I couldn’t even see him. That’s how bad a shape he was in when they sent him back to me. I just buried a box.”

Dominique, who has a heart condition, was arrested at a homeless shelter in December. Initially booked on two murders, he eventually was indicted on nine and, during interrogation, confessed to 23, authorities have said.

Authorities have said he allegedly enticed victims with offers of money for sex, or in some cases by offering the men his “wife” and showing them a picture of a woman. Dominique is not married.

In addition to the nine charges in Terrebonne, Dominique also has been arrested in connection with two bodies found in the New Orleans suburb of Jefferson Parish. However, it is uncertain when or if he will be prosecuted there because of a lack of evidence, prosecutors said.

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