Month: March 2017

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2017 events include march for sexual assault awareness

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New Orleans-area law enforcement agencies and victim service providers are observing this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2017, drawing attention to the annual event with a memorial balloon release and a tutu march through the Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which this year is April 2-8, is designed to draw the public’s attention to the emotional, physical and financial burdens crime victims must endure. The week also provides the opportunity to recognize the various services that are available to crime victims and their families.

This year’s theme is “Strength. Resilience. Justice.” This reflects a vision for the future in which all victims are strengthened by the response they receive, organizations are resilient in response to challenges, and communities are able to seek collective justice and healing, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, which coordinates the weeks.

“It is our honor to speak for those who have been silenced as we pursue justice, and we are privileged to have the great responsibility of fighting for justice for our victims,” said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul D. Connick Jr., whose office led this year’s planning committee.

“The power of partnerships is where the crime victims’ rights movement began more than three decades ago,” said Nancy Michel, who heads the Jefferson DA’s Victim-Witness Unit. “Victims who feel understood and supported are more likely to disclose their victimization and participate in the criminal justice process.”

This year, various religious denominations have agreed to highlight the victims’ rights during Sunday services. In Jefferson Parish, law enforcement and district attorney’s office employees will wear red, white and blue bracelets to mark the week.

The week’s events include:

  • Monday, April 3, “Wear Blue Peace Day,” in support of child abuse prevention.
  • Tuesday, April 4, “Violence in Our City,” a community round table discussion, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., at the Orleans Parish Justice Center, 2800 Perdido St., New Orleans
  • Thursday, April 6, “Tutu Walk for Sexual Assault Awareness,” 6 p.m. The walk begins at Washington Square Park, 700 Elysian Fields Ave. The route takes tutu-wearing marchers up Royal Street to Bienville Street, then down Bourbon to Toulouse, to Decatur Street and returning to Washington Square Park via Elysian Fields.
  • Friday, April 7, Memorial Balloon Release, sponsored by Silence is Violence. Crime victims will release biodegradable balloons at 6 p.m., at Bayou St. John near Orleans Avenue.
  • Saturday, April 8, in conjunction with the French Quarter Festival, the New Orleans Police Department will host a crime victims resource both, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., at its 8th District station, 334 Royal St., in the French Quarter.

Planning and hosting this year’s events are the district attorney’s offices and law enforcement agencies in Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes; the coroner’s offices in Jefferson and Orleans parishes; Silence is Violence; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Covenant House, through Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force; Metropolitan Center for Women and Children; and Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) of New Orleans.

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Gary Francois guilty of murder in Xmas Eve 2014 Oakwood Center mall shooting

A Marrero man faces a mandatory life sentence in prison for his conviction on Thursday (March 23) of killing another man in the Oakwood Center mall on Christmas Eve 2014.

Gary Francois, 28, is guilty as charged of second-degree murder in the death of James Vaughn, who was exchanging a pair of pants for a larger size at an athletic shoe store in the West Jefferson mall when he was killed about 4:15 p.m. The gunfire caused pandemonium among the Christmas Eve shoppers, some of whom took cover inside the mall or fled screaming toward the exits.

A Jefferson Parish jury deliberated under 2 ½ hours before rejecting Francois’ insanity defense, finding he knew the difference between right and wrong when he shot Vaughn.

His attorneys did not deny that Francois killed Vaughn. They argued that he could not be held criminally responsible because of schizophrenia and a paranoid episode triggered by a belief that Vaughn was at the center of a conspiracy against him.

The District Attorney’s Office rebutted the defense theory with testimony from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Richoux and forensic psychologist Dr. Rafael Salcedo, both of whom evaluated Francois on behalf of the state. They concluded that although Francois has a psychiatric disorder, his actions preceding, during and immediately following the homicide prove that he was able to distinguish right from wrong when he shot Vaughn.

Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Francois on May 18.

Assistant District Attorneys Rachel Africk and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.

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Kenner man pleads guilty to brutalizing girlfriend, gets 17-year sentence

A Kenner man was sentenced to 17 years in prison on Friday (March 17), for forcing his way into an apartment and brutally beating his pregnant girlfriend, and on a separate occasion, for stabbing her in the back.

Durrell Joseph, 21, pleaded guilty as charged to home invasion and aggravated battery, both involving his 20-year-old girlfriend because she wanted to end their abusive relationship. He was scheduled to stand trial on the charges next week.

The home invasion happened on June 13, 2015, when Joseph went to an apartment in the 1000 block of 31st Street. After forcing his way inside by breaking the door off the hinges, he dragged the woman by her hair out of the closet she was hiding in and beat her, causing numerous facial injuries and leading her to lose consciousness.

She told the Kenner Police Department that Joseph beat her because she wanted to end their relationship. As the officers interviewed her, she further disclosed that on Dec. 18, 2014, she told Joseph she wanted to leave the relationship because he was unfaithful.

During the ensuing argument, as she walked away from him, Joseph stabbed her in the back. Joseph apologized, and he then fabricated a story for police, asserting that she was attacked by a group of women.

The victim told police that she went along with Joseph’s story, because she feared he would harm her if she told the truth.

In court Friday, the victim provided impact testimony, struggling through tears as she tried to tell the court how the crimes affected her. “I forgive him,” she testified, adding that she did not want to see the father of her child spend the rest of his life in prison. “I’m a forgiving person.”

Judge Henry Sullivan of the 24th Judicial District Court, who accepted the plea, sentenced Joseph to 17 years for the home invasion and 10 years for the aggravated battery. The sentences were run concurrently.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Brittany Beckner prosecuted the case.

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Former playground coach pleads guilty to molesting boys, gets 35-year sentence

A former Jefferson Parish playground coach was sentenced to 35 years in prison after he pleaded guilty Thursday morning (March 16) to molesting four boys as young as 9 years old in his Metairie apartments and to taking pornographic photographs of one child.

James L. Prince Jr., 45, known as “Coach Jim” to the youths he mentored at Girard Playground in Metairie, pleaded guilty to forcible rape, four counts of sexual battery of juveniles, four counts of indecent behavior with juveniles and nine counts of production of pornography involving juveniles under age 13.

He also would register as a sex offender for life, should he ever be released from prison. He is not be expected to be released from prison before he is 81 years old.

The plea, to which the victims and their families agreed, spares them the need to testify about the details of the abuse Prince meted out. However, two victims and a mother provided impact testimony on Thursday, telling the judge and Prince about the effects his abuse has had on them.

The crimes were reported on Oct. 15, 2015, by the mother of two of the victims after her sons disclosed the abuse beginning in 2002. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives learned that Prince met the victims through Girard Playground, where he volunteered as a youth sports coach.

In accepting the plea, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Prince to 35 years for forcible rape, 35 years for each of the child pornography counts, 10 years for each of the sexual battery counts and seven years for each of the indecent behavior.

The sentences were run concurrently. Prince must serve the sentences at hard labor and without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Assistant District Attorneys Lynn Schiffman and Thomas Sanderson prosecuted the case.

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New Orleans man gets 40-year sentence in Gretna pharmacy robbery

A New Orleans man was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Tuesday (March 14), after he pleaded guilty to robbing a Gretna pharmacy.

Royal Stevens, 40, pleaded guilty as charged to four counts of armed robbery with a firearm, one count for each of the four victims who were in the business at the time he committed the crime.

He was one of two masked gunmen who entered the pharmacy in the 500 block of Lafayette Street about 5:25 p.m., on May 15, 2015. Stevens removed a semiautomatic pistol from his pants waistband, and the other gunman did the same, yelling, “This is a hold-up! Give me all the money and the drugs!”

Stevens and his cohort ordered employees to fill boxes they carried with hydrocodone, oxycodone and other prescription medications. Stevens ordered the employees into a restroom and told them to wait there until they were gone. The gunmen then fled the business.

The Gretna Police Department learned that Stevens had been in the pharmacy the day before, casing it in preparing the robbery. Security images helped detectives identify Stevens as one of the robbers.

Detectives also concluded that Stevens used his silver Ford Mustang to case the pharmacy and to rob it the following day. Detectives also located bags of stolen narcotics at his apartment.

In accepting the guilty plea, Judge June Berry Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Stevens to 40 years for each of the four victims and ran the sentences concurrently. Stevens will not receive benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

A second suspect was booked but not charged because of insufficient evidence.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Vanderhooft and Lindsay Truhe prosecuted the case.

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Former Destrehan teacher pleads guilty in Kenner student sex case

A former Destrehan High School teacher pleaded guilty on Monday to having an illegal sexual relationship with one of her students in her Kenner apartment that lasted almost one year.

Kimberly Naquin, 27, pleaded guilty as charged and without a plea agreement to carnal knowledge of a juvenile, a felony, and prohibited sexual contact between a teacher and a student, a misdemeanor.

In accepting the guilty pleas, Judge June Berry Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court, suspended a five-year prison sentence for the felony and ordered Naquin to serve five years of active probation. Judge Darensburg suspended a six-month jail sentence for the misdemeanor and ordered her to serve six months of inactive probation.

Naquin will have to register as a sex offender for 15 years, undergo a psychological evaluation and receive treatment if needed and have no contact whatsoever with the victim for one year, the judge ordered.

“I can guarantee you, if you violate any conditions of your probation, you will go to jail for five years,” Judge Darensburg told her.

Naquin was the victim’s world history teacher and sought the relationship with the minor student one week after her 16th birthday, keeping her at school after class hours, the victim told the judge in impact testimony. “I thought she was cool, because she paid special attention to me,” the victim testified.

The victim testified that Naquin cried after sexual encounters and said she’d go to jail and threatened to kill herself. The victim said that it was only after therapy that she learned she was manipulated by her teacher.

The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office started the investigation in January 2016, after the victim’s mother learned of Naquin’s actions. The Kenner Police Department assumed the investigation after learning the illegal activities occurred in Naquin’s apartment on Loyola Drive. “Kimberly Naquin broke my child. She broke my family,” the victim’s mother testified.

The victim’s father testified his daughter’s psychological distress was “the result of the selfish predatory actions of the teacher.”

“School is supposed to be a safe place for children to mature and to learn, and this teacher has ruined that,” the father testified.

Naquin apologized to the victim and to the parents. “I betrayed your trust,” she told the parents.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Vanderhooft prosecuted the case.

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Mississippi man pleads guilty in brutal human trafficking case

A Mississippi man was sentenced on Wednesday (March 8) to 20 years in prison for his role in a human trafficking case. Pierre Braddy’s guilty plea brings to two the number convictions obtained in connection with the April 2015 crimes, in which a 25-year-old Florida woman was severely beaten and forced into prostitution in Jefferson Parish.

Braddy, 28, of Jackson, pleaded guilty to forcible rape, human trafficking and obstruction of justice, admitting he was one of two Mississippi men to force her into prostitution and keep the money she earned. He entered the pleas late Tuesday afternoon, at the end of the first day of testimony in his trial that began on Monday, when the jury was seated.

The victim appeared in court Wednesday morning to provide impact testimony.

“I just wanted to let you know that I hope when you get out, and I know that you will get out, that you make better choices and that you don’t let someone manipulate or control you and let something like this happen,” she told Braddy. “It was very hurtful. It was very painful. But life goes on. I hope you have a good life.”

Braddy apologized to her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be a man and stopped what happened,” he told her. He thanked the prosecutors and judge “for giving me a second chance.”

In sentencing Braddy, Judge Nancy Miller of the 24th Judicial District Court called his crimes “horrendous.” Of his victim, Judge Miller told him, “You have traumatized her forever.”

Braddy’s co-defendant, Willard Anthony, 30, of Madison, Miss., was convicted as charged by a Jefferson Parish Jury on Dec. 11, of two counts of aggravated rape, two counts of human trafficking, one count each of second-degree battery, aggravated battery, sexual battery and of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

He forced the Florida victim into prostitution. Judge Miller sentenced Anthony to a mandatory life sentence in prison on Dec. 14.

Anthony initially met the victim at a hotel in Florida in 2015. She had turned to prostitution to earn money to support her drug habit and advertised her illegal services on backpage.com, a website known by law enforcement agencies for its prostitution advertisements, according to evidence presented in his December trial.

When the victim showed up for her “date” at a hotel room, she met Anthony, who was armed with a pistol. She was beaten and passed out, and when she woke, she was in a car driven by Anthony and had other women, all of whom were traveling to New Orleans. Braddy followed them in his parents’ sports utility vehicle.

After obtaining a motel room on Manhattan Boulevard in Harvey, Anthony and Braddy advertised her and other women on backpage.com, according to trial evidence. The victim, after a “date,” attempted to escape with a man who paid her for sex. Anthony pursued them in his car and flashed a pistol on a busy West Bank thoroughfare, leading the man to leave her behind. The victim attempted to get away on foot. Anthony caught her.

As a result, Anthony had other women beat the woman to the point that she lost consciousness, according to trial testimony. Anthony also made the woman lick a drop of her blood from his shoe and announced he would urinate on her if he could.

Braddy stepped in and forced her to drink his urine, and in doing so he orally raped her. Anthony vaginally raped her with the barrel of his pistol, from which her DNA was later recovered, according to trial evidence. To mask her facial injuries, they made her wear makeup they purchased from a nearby big-box store.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Vice Squad encountered the victim while conducting a routine investigation of prostitution on April 13, 2015. The deputies randomly selected an advertisement on backpage.com.

An undercover JPSO deputy acted as a customer and arranged a date with the victim and went to the Harvey motel room. The Vice Squad was unaware of what transpired during the three days prior, when the victim was forced from Florida to Jefferson Parish, according to testimony in Anthony’s trial.

The undercover deputy testified that he saw the victim sitting on a bed. Her eyes were swollen, and she had a laceration above one of them. “When I saw her she was shivering. You could actually hear her teeth chattering,” the deputy testified.

Another woman in the room told him that the victim was not available. He negotiated for sexual services with the second woman, and once the transaction was confirmed, Vice Squad members raided the room.

The undercover deputy immediately drove the beaten victim to a hospital, given the extent of her injuries. “We later found out she was made to wear makeup so she could continue working. She had to make money” for her pimps, he testified.

After she was released from the hospital in the days that followed, she was extradited to Florida, where she had an open attachment.

Anthony was arrested at the motel on April 13, 2015, shortly after Vice Squad members rescued the victim. Braddy escaped in his sports utility vehicle with the pistol Anthony used to rape the victim and the drugs they used. His fleeing with evidence was the underlying act for the obstruction of justice charge. He was later arrested in Mississippi.

Following his prison sentence, Braddy will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Assistant District Attorneys Lindsay Truhe and Doug Freese prosecuted the cases.

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Metairie man sentenced to life in prison in toddler’s beating death

A Metairie man was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday (March 2) for causing the death of his girlfriend’s toddler, Semaj Batiste.

Troy Kelly, 30, was convicted last month of second-degree murder for the Feb. 20, 2014 death of the 27-month-old boy. His death was caused by blunt-force traumatic injuries inflicted upon the toddler through numerous beatings in their apartment in the 300 block of North Laurel Street.

Forensic pathology evidence presented during the trial shows Semaj died within hours of receiving the injuries that included lacerations to the liver and spleen and broken ribs.

“The one burning question I have is why? What causes a man to beat an innocent child to death?” Semaj’s uncle Gary Bukaske asked in impact testimony. “What could an innocent toddler have done to deserve this treatment?”

Bukaske also said that Kelly will have the blessing of waking every morning still breathing. “Semaj took his last breath in agonizing pain,” he testified.

Life without the benefit of probation, parole or suspended sentence is the mandatory punishment for second-degree murder under Louisiana law. Judge Donnie Rowan of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Kelly after rejecting defense attorneys’ requests for a post-verdict judgment of acquittal and a new trial.

Kelly told the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office that he was bathing Semaj and two of his siblings when Semaj defecated in the tub. In rushing to remove the children from the bath, he said he may have flung Semaj into the toilet.

During the interrogation, Kelly was observed praying and saying to himself, “I’m sorry, Jesus. I’m so sorry.”

Assistant District Attorneys Andrew DeCoste and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.

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