An eastern New Orleans man was convicted on Saturday (Feb. 18), of killing his ex-girlfriend Tracey Marshall, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office sergeant whom he stalked before he executed her as she returned to her Terrytown home after a date with another man.
In a five-day trial that highlighted the hidden horrors of domestic violence, James Darby, 49, is guilty as charged of second-degree murder for shooting Sgt. Marshall, 47, while she was off duty. Angered by their break-up and that she was seeing another man, Darby stalked her during the last hours of her life, following her around Uptown New Orleans to her West Bank home in a borrowed car.
In the parking lot outside her condominium in the 2300 block of Ashley Drive, Darby crept up on her before she could get out of her private vehicle as she spoke on her cell phone, leaving her unable to retrieve her pistol. She yelled out “Boy!” before her phone call went dead, as Darby opened fire using a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, according evidence presented by Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman.
“This was personal,” Gorman said in closing argument. “This was an execution. The offender stood right by her window, which was rolled up, fired eight shots standing right next to that vehicle, and hit her five times, in the torso and in the head. This was personal, and this was an execution.”
Rish told jurors that Sgt. Marshall took an oath as a law enforcement officer, understanding that she could lose her life in the line of duty. “The saddest thing about Tracey’s betrayal is that it happened at the hands of the man that she loved,” Rish said.
“The saddest thing about Tracey’s betrayal is that it happened at the hands of the man that she loved.”
At the time of her death, Sgt. Marshall was assigned to the 24th Judicial District Court bailiff squad at the Jefferson Parish courthouse in Gretna. She had been employed by the Sheriff’s Office about 10 years, including assignment at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center.
The nine women and three men on the Jefferson Parish jury, which seated Tuesday, deliberated less than 40 minutes. Darby faces a mandatory life sentence in prison. Judge Nancy Miller of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Darby on Feb. 21.
Sgt. Marshall and Darby had been involved in a 12-year but tumultuous romantic relationship that she ended in November 2015, when she moved out of his eastern New Orleans home and into the condominium she owned in Terrytown.
People who knew them told Sheriff’s Office Detectives Gabe Faucetta and Donald Zanotelli that after the break-up, Darby inquired about Sgt. Marshall’s activities, including whether she was with another man. Evidence shows he stalked her and harassed her with text messages during the month before he killed her.
A friend recalled for detectives how she and Sgt. Marshall were on an outing when Sgt. Marshall spotted Darby following them in his car. Sgt. Marshall confided her fear not only that she might lose her job over the harassment, but that Darby might harm her. “He will not let me alone,” Sgt. Marshall told the friend. “He just will not let me go.”
The evidence shows that Darby frequently sent harassing text messages to Sgt. Marshall in the weeks before he killed her, indicating his unrelenting obsession for her. “I just want to tell you I love you and miss the hell out of you,” he told her in a text message on the day before he killed her.
Evidence also shows she had obtained numerous restraining orders against Darby, who in 2011 pleaded guilty to cyberstalking her.
Darby killed her about 9:40 p.m., as she returned to her home from a dinner date. A resident who lived in the adjacent neighborhood called 911 about that time, reporting hearing gunfire. Deputies who responded searched the area but found nothing. Sgt. Marshall’s cell phone went dead at that same time, according to trial evidence.
Another nearby resident later told detectives he heard gunfire and looked out to see a dark color mid-size four-door vehicle being driven at a high rate of speed away from the scene. Detectives later learned that Darby was driving a borrowed mid-size, four-door Nissan.
On the morning following the shooting, a mutual friend of the former couple, who lived in the same complex as Sgt. Marshall, called 911 after seeing the driver’s side window of her 2010 Ford Expedition shattered and hair hanging out that window.
Deputies found Sgt. Marshall slumped against the driver’s door. She was shot in the head, face, arm and back. Deputies also found eight spent .45-caliber bullet casings on the ground outside her vehicle.
Her personal belongings, including her purse, cell phone and pistol, were in her vehicle and undisturbed, indicating that robbery was not a motive in her death.
Darby immediately fled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after killing her, showing up unannounced at a friend’s home, where he spent the night, and then went to a woman’s home asking to take a bath. He was located in Tuscaloosa two days after the homicide by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Recovery Task Force.
During the interrogation by Faucetta and Zanotelli in Alabama, Darby denied killing Sgt. Marshall. He admitted to stalking her frequently, including on the night of her death.
He asserted he was driving on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans when he “happened upon” her in her SUV. He said he followed her back to the West Bank and parked near her condominium. He admitted he was near her apartment in the borrowed car when she arrived. He also admitted he got out of his car, but he maintained he did not shoot her.
“I stood there, and I wouldn’t go any further,” Darby told the detectives during the videotaped interrogation shown to jurors. This would have happened about the same time Sgt. Marshall was killed, evidence shows. Yet Darby maintained he neither killed her nor saw who did it.
Detectives obtained cellular phone evidence that proved that Darby was stalking Sgt. Marshall. Authorities in Alabama obtained the data from Darby’s cell phone, showing that he used a Google Maps app to search for her Terrytown residence, and for the St. Charles Avenue restaurant in New Orleans where she and her date had dinner hours before she was killed, Faucetta testified.
Other cell phone data showed Darby was at numerous locations around where Sgt. Marshall was with her date in New Orleans in the hours before she was killed, Faucetta testified. Further, Darby’s cell phone data showed he was near Sgt. Marshall’s neighborhood around the time of the homicide.
His text messaging history included his asking his son for “a heater” so he could go hunting, suggesting he was seeking a gun. Deputies have not recovered the pistol that Darby used to kill Sgt. Marshall.
Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman prosecuted the case.