“You could just smell it.” Responding officer describes discovering Sartin restaurateur’s body.

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The first person to testify Tuesday in the trial of a Sabine Pass woman accused of killing her father said he could smell death as he approached the house.

“I can’t explain it,” Port Arthur Police Officer Toby Paul told the court. “You could just smell it. It’s something you never forget.”

While much of what was said in the first day of testimony — conducted through Zoom and streamed across YouTube — was inaudible, the officer who was first on scene said Kelli Sartin was “kinda all over the place” when he arrived at her house in the 5000 block of Treemont Street just after 4 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2019.

Kelli Diedre Sartin

Police had been called to the house to conduct a welfare check on her father, 81-year-old Charles Sartin.

“I don’t want to say nervous but she was talking really fast,” Paul said. “I had never met her before, so maybe that’s just the way she talks.”

Of one thing, though, he was certain.

When asked by Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith if he had ever heard of anyone beating themselves to death, the 18-year PAPD veteran replied, “No sir, not in my experience.”

It was, he said, what Kelli Sartin first stated when questioned on the scene: her father, founder of the longstanding Sartin’s Seafood restaurants, had punched himself with his fist, punched himself with a metal spatula and hit himself with a rolling pin.

According to a probable cause affidavit issued the day of, Charles Sartin was found dead in a bedroom. His body “was found wrapped in bedding and a tarp.” The document says Kelli Sartin also admitted to having cleaned the residence with bleach and taped the door closed.

Port Arthur Police Det. Mike Hebert speaks with crime scene technicians outside a home in the 5300 block of Tremont Street in the community of Sabine Pass in September 2019 where Charles Sartin, 81, was found dead and his daughter Kelli Sartin, 53, was arrested.

Investigators said he had been dead for at least four days.

Paul said the room in which the body was located was behind a metal rack used to hang clothes, making it hard to see.

Paul was questioned by Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith and Defense Attorney Tom Burbank before and after police photos and body cam footage were shown to jurors.

Recalling audio from the body cam, Burbank said, “She said her dad was acting like a mad man. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know who to call.”

He said Kelli Sartin had alluded to her father’s inability to control his bodily functions, which called for tarps to be used on furniture.

And he asked Paul if he had heard her mention that her father had a mental health condition, and that the two had argued days prior when issues regarding sexual assault were brought forth.

At noon, court recessed for a 1.5 hour lunch break. Jurors, however, were told Monday during selection that the trial was not expected to last longer than one week.

The first contingency on starting the trial was to have enough jurors present. Amid the coronavirus, that has been difficult, said District Attorney Bob Wortham. On Monday, 52 of the 62 summoned appeared.

Kelli Sartin, who has been in the Jefferson County Jail on a $1 million bond since her arrest on Sept. 9, 2019, was present in the courtroom. Attorneys told jurors Monday that they had failed to reach a plea agreement, and that, if found guilty, the defendant has chosen punishment by jury.

The range for first-degree murder is 5-99 years or life in prison.