The son of Willie Lee Hill AKA “Dub” and Marion Gundy Hill Dwayne grew up in what was considered to be an upper-class Black family. Faith in God was instilled in Dwayne at an early age. He regularly attended Baptist Youth Encampment and served as a junior deacon in the Rayville, LA. at Macedonia Baptist Church. Dwayne was also a member of the choir and it has been said that Dwayne had the voice of an angel. “He can sanggg, your daddy can sang girl” noted his best friend Judith Silk during an 2022 interview with Dwayne’s eldest daughter Medria.
Judith has been Dwayne’s friend since the fourth grade. They met on the merry go round, where the kids were picking on him because he had braces on his legs. Judith beat the kids up for it and they have been friends ever since. Judith became a common face at the Hill residence. Welcomed by Mrs. Hill into the house even if Dwayne wasn’t there. Judith stated in her 2022 interview that she once attempted to take her own life. She talked to Dwayne and he told her not to do it, and that no matter what she’s going through to remember she’s never alone.
“You can always pick up the bible, God is always with you.“ Dwayne told her.
“That’s the kind of person your father is”, Judith told Dwayne’s daughter. “ A bright light who made me aware of God and helped me understand the bible when I started hanging out with him."
In 1968 Dwayne joined his eldest brother Joseph Michael Gundy for his freshman year at Rayville High School. Michael was the first black student to integrate the segregated school in 1968. Racial segregation was very real in the rural Louisiana town during this time. While at Rayville High School, Dwayne played linebacker and tight end for the Rayville football team and was a member of the band where he was a percussionist.
The summer before Dwayne's Junior year he attended summer school at Carroll High School. Carroll was right around the corner from Dwayne's grandmother, Katie Miles, house. He always wanted to attend Carroll as it was a historically black high school with an awesome football team and an award winning marching band. When the opportunity to attend Carroll presented itself Dwayne jumped at it.
Dwayne was well liked by his peers. He and the GQ -Crew LaVance Hammonds and Jimmy Ray Gibson, came to school everyday dressed to impress and they weren't walking. They each had cars, Dwayne drove a 68 Camaro. It was at Carroll that Dwayne met Sharon Taylor, dated and Sharon became pregnant with Dwayne's first child Medria. Dwayne graduated from Carroll in 1979 and then went on to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, for Business Administration, in August of that year and Medria was born that September.
After two semesters at Southern Dwayne felt he should leave school to get a job so he could be a provider for his new born daughter. He left school to enter the United States Air Force. During his brief service in the Air Force Dwayne received a marksmanship award but was ultimately honorably discharged.
Instead of returning home to Rayville Dwayne moved to Dallas. He lived in a home his father owned that was left to him by Dwayne grandmother Katie and attended Dallas Institution of Mortuary Science.
"I loved my time in Dallas. 4430 Jamaica Street, that's where the house was. I went to school during the day and I worked for Smith Security at night. They tried to recruit me for DPD (Dallas Police Department) I probably should have stayed there and none of this would have happened to us."
After Mortuary School Dwayne went to work in the family business as a Mortician at Simms & Gundy Funeral Home in Rayville, LA. Hill’s family also owned People’s Progressive Burial Insurance Company in Monroe, LA, and Simms & Gundy Funeral Homes in Monroe, LA, and Tallulah, LA, along with several properties. Their wealth made them a target like most educated affluent black business owners. The family was no stranger to scandal. Dwayne’s uncle William Sills Gundy, Sr. was killed while in the custody of the police. In the April 17, 1958, issue of JET Magazine, it was stated that, “he had been caught in his car with a white girl, that he ran away from the police, resisted arrest and leaped from the back seat with a switchblade.” He died almost instantly in a full onslaught of gunfire from the two policemen’s pistols that left Gundy bleeding to death from seven bullet wounds to the chest and one to the arm, all while seated in the back seat of a state police car. A grand jury hearing into his death was never held.
There were other incidents in which his family was targeted for supporting the Civil Rights Movement which led Hill’s father to stand watch during the night while the family slept. Racial tension trickled down through the years and despite the efforts of Hill’s parents to shelter him and his brothers from becoming targets of the racial biases in the community that continue to exist today, Dwayne’s faith would be tested in ways he could never have imagined.
It was the summer of 1989. When Dwayne was approached by Detective Charles McDonald. McDonald asked Dwayne if he knew anything about the Coon murder and would he come down to the police station so they could take his finger prints and eliminate him as a suspect. Dwayne told him, “Sure, I come and answer some question after I take my daughter in the house.” Dwayne told his mother what happened. They agreed that didn't make any sense and that he was probably just picking at him like people of authority often did.
Dwayne continued to work at the funeral home and spend time with his daughter and hang out downtown in the coming days. On Aug 15, 1989, there were several funerals scheduled for the day. Dwayne didn’t go straight to the funeral home, he went to the Courthouse because he had a summons to appear for a speeding ticket.
“I arrived at the courthouse and sat with my mother who was there with attorney Charles Jones who was there to represent my brother Mike. While waiting in court I saw Willie Lee and Charles looking in our direction whispering to one another. Soon after I saw them at the side door behind me motioning for me to come here. So I walked over there and they asked me if I wouldn't mind coming down stairs so they could ask me some questions. I said that I would as soon as I was finished paying my traffic fine. They said O.K. and left. I didn't have the money I needed to pay my fine so they held me for a few hour's upstairs in the "The High Fi," that was the name everyone used to describe the jail because it was the tallest building in town. Out of all my year's
looking at, passing by and hearing dudes holler from up there I was getting to experience what that was like for the first time.”
Once he finished taking care of his ticket in traffic court he leaned over and told his mother what they had said and that he would be right back. The minute he got off the elevator they put him in the bullpen, a large cell with other men. Joseph Michael was there waiting to go to court. Michael told Dwayne that Willie Lee Robinson and McDonald had questioned him about Ms. Coons murder. He told him “that he had told them that he didn't know anything about it and that he was out of town when it happened.” He told Dwayne not to talk to them unless somebody was with him.
“I walked in the room and they were initially very polite. Hey Dwayne, have a seat. So when I sat down they said, Look first we need to read you your rights. I immediately asked them what do you need to read me my rights for? I asked them this several times. Each time I repeated the question my level of frustration increased. Eventually they mentioned the death of Ms. Coon.
I said, "Man, you've got to be kidding! Y'all already know that I didn't have anything to do with that, you're trying to frame me for something that I didn't do! Nah, Nah, this is not gonna happen like this. I tell you what, go up stairs and get my Mama and Charles Jones.”
As soon as he said that McDonald left and came back with Charles Jones and his mother. "I can still see the hurt, anguish and distraught look on Mama's face.” Dwayne stated.
On March 16, 1991, the day after his 30th birthday Dwayne Jewel Hill started a mandatory sentence of life in prison after being charged and found guilty of second degree murder.
The circumstances surrounding the evening of July 12, 1989 and the death of Ms. Elnora Coon is still a matter of debate. Court documents indicate that Dwayne approached Ronnie Martin and Tameisa Russell about robbing Ms. Elenore Coon. It was said by Tameisa and Ronnie that after obtaining entry into her home Dwayne rammed Ms. Coon’s body into the ceiling, kicked her, and she succumbed to her injuries and subsequently died. Taken before her time, Ms. Coon’s family was left to mourn her death. A life taken from us too soon.
33 years have passed and Dwayne’s family and loved ones mourn his living death daily. Dwayne took hold of his circumstances and began pouring himself into his new community. He can’t be anyone but who he is, in the free world or behind bars.
Since Dwayne came from a loving, Christian family he began doing what he knew, and hasn’t stopped yet.
Dwayne is a Certified, Ordained Minister of the Gospel, with a Certificate, Associates, and Bachelor’s degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he’s earned 10 licenses Certified by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture from the Baton Rouge Community College Horticulture Program, he has completed Missionary work at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, La., where as Pastor and Mentor he helped to establish the first religious Moral Rehabilitation Program and Dwayne is the Pastor of the Church of God in Christ in Angola where he is highly respected by his peers and Administration.
Dwayne has been a Class A trustee since 1998, received 100 hours of pre-release, and has had no disciplinary records in the last 31 years. (Click here to see a full list of Dwayne's accomplishments.)
He has filed numerous appeals, and even represented himself at an evidentiary hearing when a last minute change in appointed counsel turned out to be the lawyer who represented Dwayne’s co-defendant Ronnie Martin. As noted by Attorney John T.Fuller in a review of Dwayne's case, “it remains clear that Mr. Hill’s claims appear to be legitimate claims speaking to the unusual tactics employed by the prosecution in this case and the possible violations of the state and federal constitutional rights, particularly the Brady claims.”
One of the most blatant being the use of a paid informant, Wanda Faye Thomas", disguised as a Crime Stoppers tip.
Dwayne erred in representing himself. He had all the information he needed but was unable to articulate his argument effectively in court. That hasn’t stopped him. Dwayne along with his family continue to advocate for his return home.
At a hearing on May 12, 2015 the State of Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole, unanimously voted and forwarded to Governor Bobby Jindal’s office a recommendation that Dwayne be granted a Commutation of Sentence to 99 years with Immediate Parole Eligibility. This decision was not made lightly, but made after considering new evidence, case files and the accomplishments Dwayne has made over the past 33 years. Governor Jindal left office without signing the recommendation.
On January 11, 2017 the Louisiana Board of Pardons voted for a second time to recommend that Governor John Bel Edwards grant Dwayne's request for commutation of his sentence.
A letter was delivered to Dwayne in 2018 stating the recommendation by the Parole Board to commute his sentence had been denied by the Governor. The letter also stated that he would be notified in writing the reason for the denial and that he could reapply in 4 years. Four years have passed and despite Dwayne and his family's efforts they have been unable to obtain the reason for the denial but after reapplying in December of 2022 Dwayne has been granted a new clemency hearing.
To this day Hill has remained resilient in his Faith and has held steadfast to God. Most of all he is loved and missed dearly by his family and friends who need him home. Prayers for justice, mercy and Dwayne's return home to his family.
Contact Governor Edwards and request that he reconsider his Board's recommendations for the clemency of Dwayne Hill. Ask him to send Mr. Hill home so that he might continue God's work in the community that misses him and to the family that needs him.