PROVIDENCE – The man accused in the brutal killing of Donna Pike was a 43-year-old career criminal who had been released from a federal prison in West Virginia less than three months ago.
A police affidavit filed in District Court says Brian Audette confessed to killing Pike, 57, whose battered, lifeless body was found in her third-floor apartment at 79 Rathbun St. in Woonsocket Monday night.
Wearing a pair of dirty jeans and a rumpled polo shirt, Audette was formally arraigned on charges of first-degree murder before Judge Joseph Ippolito Thursday morning.
Because he was on probation for a 1999 robbery in Providence when he allegedly killed Pike, state prosecutors also initiated proceedings to charge Audette as a violator. He could be sentenced to up to 12½ years, or what amounts to the suspended portion of the original 15-year sentence.
He’s held without bail pending a hearing April 25.
For the first time since Pike’s body was discovered, a clearer picture of what happened and how police caught Audette began to take shape from court papers and interviews with law enforcement sources yesterday.
Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, said Pike died as a result of blunt force trauma to the face and head, but neither she nor police would say whether a weapon was involved. Kempe said Audette and Pike were acquainted, but wouldn’t say how.
“She died in an extremely violent manner,” said Detective Capt. Edward J. Lee Jr.
Much of the story emerged in an affidavit filed with the court to support a warrant for Audette’s arrest. The court papers say that police found Pike’s body after her landlord, David DiPardo, called police because he hadn’t seen her in a few days. She was unresponsive when police arrived and emergency rescue personnel immediately declared her deceased.
With the help of the computer crimes unit of the state police, a telephone number that had recently been dialed from Pike’s cell phone was traced to Audette.
Local police issued a nationwide computer screen to see if Audette had any contacts with law enforcement after the homicide. They got a call from the Warwick Police Department, which informed them that Audette might be at Kent County Hospital in Warwick.
Police found Audette in the hospital on Wednesday and questioned him about the homicide.
“He confessed to killing Pike,” said the affidavit, filed by Detective Sgt. Marc Cabral. “Audette gave facts regarding the manner of death that only the killer would know.”
Though Audette gave his address to police as 307 Elm St. in Warwick, his father, reached by phone, said his son does not live there. William Audette said he doesn’t know where his son has been living and wouldn’t say when he last saw him.
The elder Audette said his family, including his son, has no known ties to Woonsocket. He said he had never heard of Donna Pike and didn’t know the nature of his son’s involvement with her.
“I have no idea what the connection was and that’s the same thing I’m now trying to figure out,” he said.
Audette passionately denounced the prison system for its failure to rehabilitate inmates, but he declined to talk about his son, saying, “I think the less said the better right now.”
Brian Audette has a long and complicated criminal history that includes both state and federal charges and dates back to 1989, including felony larceny, possession of stolen motor vehicles, and a series of more violent crimes. He’s been in and out of jail since he was 20 years old.
In Rhode Island courts, he was sentenced to 10 years with eight to serve in 1992 after pleading no contest to state police charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun, possession of a firearm with altered marks of identification and other charges. In 1995 he was sentenced to seven years, with 18 months to serve, after pleading no contest to escaping from minimum security at the Adult Correctional Institutions. In 2000 he pleaded no contest to Providence police charges of robbery and was sentenced to 15 years with 30 months to serve. The latter is the charge that triggered the violation proceedings against him in Superior Court yesterday.
Susan Lamkins, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said it last had custody of Audette at the ACI in 2001, when he was transferred to federal custody.
U.S. Marshal Jamie Hainsworth said Audette was sentenced to 110 months in January 2000 after pleading to charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was held at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania and served “at least 85 percent of his full sentence,” Hainsworth said.
Audette was arrested again for violating his federal probation and sent to the Wyatt Detention Center Central Falls in December 2011. Hainsworth said Audette was formally sentenced in February 2012 and transferred to the Hazelton Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia.
The federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed he was discharged from Hazelton on Jan. 18.
Meanwhile, Pike’s background remains rather cloudy. No member of her family showed up in court Thursday and police say she had no close relatives.
One neighbor described her as an “odd” woman who would appear at her door unexpectedly on occasion to ask for spare cigarettes. Another said she traveled regularly to the Providence Center, a counseling agency, but the organization declined comment, citing patient confidentiality.
According to the police, Pike lived alone and was the only tenant of 79 Rathbun St., a three-story, gray stucco owned by the Egidio DiPardo & Sons Funeral business.