Author: Paul Purpura

I'm the public information officer for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office. Reach me at 504.361.2514 or ppurpura@jpda.us.

New Orleans man on 4-state crime spree convicted of Kenner armed robbery

A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday (Dec. 13) found a New Orleans man guilty of robbing a Kenner business, part of a crime spree in which he committed similar heists in four states during a three-month period in early 2014.

Steven J. Rodney, 34, was convicted as charged of the armed robbery of the Walmart at 300 West Esplanade Ave., on March 7, 2014.

About 8:30 p.m., Rodney approached a 25-year-old employee working at a check-out register, lifted his shirt to reveal a pistol and then pointed it at her before returning it to his pants waistband, according to the Kenner Police Department. He ordered the employee to escort him to near an exit, where he fled with about $1,500, according to trial evidence.

Rodney arrived in the area on a commercial flight from Las Vegas on March 5, 2014, according to trial evidence. The day after, on March 6, he is accused of robbing the American Apparel store in the 3300 block of Magazine Street in New Orleans. And then, on March 8, 2014, the day after the Kenner robbery, he returned by air to Las Vegas, according to trial evidence.

Kenner and New Orleans police detectives determined that the same suspect committed both crimes. With the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police identified Rodney as the robber.

In all, between January 2014 and March 2014, Rodney robbed businesses in Colorado, California, Nevada and Kenner and New Orleans, traveling by commercial airlines between the locations to commit the crimes.

Rodney admitted to the Jefferson Parish jury that he committed the crimes to feed his addiction to Oxycodone. He denied using a dangerous weapon, asserting he used a toy gun that shoots rubber projectiles. As such, he asserted he was not guilty of armed robbery.

The Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about an hour before returning its verdict. Judge June Berry Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Rodney on Jan. 8.

Assistant District Attorneys Zachary Popovich and Joshua Vanderhooft prosecuted the case.

New Orleans man gets 20 years for orchestrating violent Harvey home invasion

A Jefferson Parish judge has sentenced a New Orleans man to 20 years in prison, after the defendant admitted to orchestrating a Harvey home invasion in which a resident was shot during an exchange of gunfire.

With jury selection underway in his trial on Wednesday (Dec. 12), Jermaine Robinson, 44, pleaded guilty as charged to aggravated burglary. He admitted that he recruited two men to help rob the residents of a home in the 2400 block of Tattersall Drive on the evening of Feb. 9, 2017.

Robinson asserted that he concocted the scheme in an effort to recoup money that a relative of his lost to a resident of the Tattersall Drive home. That resident ran a gambling operation in New Orleans, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Robinson drove his co-defendants, Fred Daniels, 47, of New Orleans, and Clifton Lampton, 50, of Baton Rouge, to the home. Daniels and Lampton forced the male resident inside at gunpoint, beat him and forced him to the ground after demanding money. Robinson remained in his vehicle.

The man’s wife, seeing her husband being beaten, retrieved a pistol, leading to an exchange of gunfire with Daniels, according the Sheriff’s Office. The woman was shot in an arm.

On Oct. 28, Daniels pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He received a 20-year sentence.

Lampton, who had no prior criminal history, pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary on May 31 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

A jury was seated Wednesday in Robinson’s trial when he decided to plead guilty. In accepting the plea, Judge E. Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Robinson to 20 years.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Brittany Beckner prosecuted the case.

Teddy Chester sentenced to life in ’95 cabbie murder

A Jefferson Parish judge on Wednesday (Dec. 12) sentenced Teddy Chester to life in prison for shooting a cab driver in the back of his head during an armed robbery attempt.

Chester, 41, was convicted as charged during his retrial last month of second-degree murder in the Dec. 27, 1995 death of John Adams, 34, a driver for a Kenner-based taxi cab company who died after being dispatched to Calhoun Street.

“It took 20 seconds to take his life,” Bonnie James, fiancée of Mr. Adams’ brother, said in impact testimony Wednesday. “Our family was changed forever.”

In 1997, Chester was convicted of first-degree murder and spent 22 years on Louisiana’s death row until a federal judge this year ruled that his original attorney committed several errors during the first trial, depriving him of his constitutional right to effective representation. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office opted to retry Chester for second-degree murder.

After denying defense motions for a new trial, Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Chester to the mandatory life sentence in prison without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. “To the family of Mr. Adams, I am very sorry for your loss,” Judge Kovach said in handing down the sentence.

Chester’s co-defendant, Elbert Ratcliff, is serving a life sentence in prison for his role in the murder.

Assistant District Attorneys Douglas Rushton and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.

Vincenzo Randazzo pleads guilty to fatal hammer attack on elderly Kenner couple

A Jefferson Parish judge on Monday (Dec. 3) sentenced Vincenzo “Jake” Randazzo to life in prison with parole eligibility, after he pleaded guilty as charged to attacking an elderly Kenner couple with a hammer, killing the man and injuring his wife.

Randazzo, 17, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in connection with the July 19, 2017, attack on Phillip Lynch Sr., 89, and his 70-year-old wife Anita in their Kenner home. Mr. Lynch died from his injuries caused by blunt force trauma on Aug. 4, 2017.

Randazzo, who had just turned 16 years old at the time, knew the Lynches. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office prosecuted Randazzo as an adult and filed notice with the court announcing its intention to seek a life sentence without parole eligibility.

However, pursuant to a plea agreement with Randazzo’s public defenders, the District Attorney’s Office withdrew the notice, meaning he will be eligible to apply for parole in 25 years because he is a juvenile.

Judge Scott Schlegel of the 24th Judicial District Court, in accepting the plea, sentenced Randazzo to life with parole eligibility for the first-degree murder and 25 years for the attempted second-degree murder. He ran the sentences concurrently.

Judge Schlegel sentenced Randazzo after hearing impact testimony from Anita Lynch and three of Mr. Lynch’s five children.

Assistant District Attorneys Rachel Africk and Matthew Whitworth prosecuted the case.

 

Metairie man sentenced to 30 years in pawn shop robbery

A Jefferson Parish judge on Friday (Nov. 20) sentenced a former Metairie resident to 30 years in prison for his role in the armed robbery of an Airline Drive pawn shop last year.

Edgard Rivas, 27, was convicted by a Jefferson Parish jury last month of two counts of first-degree robbery in connection with the crime that occurred on the evening of Jan. 7, 2017. Two of Rivas’ roommates, Mario Geovani and Carlos Ramos, previously pleaded guilty as charged to armed robbery counts.

Geovani and Ramos were armed with an AR-15 rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, while Rivas carried a hammer which he used to break glass display cases to steal jewelry, according to testimony. Two of the robbers wore Jason character masks from the “Friday the 13th” movies.

Rivas stood trial on charges of armed robbery, but the jury deliberated about two hours before returning with the lesser verdicts of first-degree robbery. Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Rivas to 30 years for each of the two counts and ran them concurrently, reasoning that he disagreed with the jury.

“It’s not often the court disagrees with a jury,” Judge Regan said. “However, in this particular case, the court feels the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Sitting in the courtroom, the victims declined to give impact testimony. Rivas gave a statement, apologizing to the victims but maintaining his innocence.

Ramos, 21, and Geovani, 22, previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery counts. Ramos received a 20-year sentence and Geovani was sentenced to 26 years.

Assistant District Attorneys Blair Constant and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted Rivas.

Separately, Edward West, 31, of Harvey, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his armed robbery convictions and for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

West was convicted of robbing two women of their purses, moments apart in neighboring business parking lots in the 1500 block of Manhattan Boulevard on Nov. 18, 2016.

His first victim was a 31-year-old woman who was putting her newly purchased items in her car when she was assailed. West then ran across that parking lot to rob a 78-year-old woman of her purse. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested him shortly after in a nearby apartment.

Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court handed down the sentences on Nov. 8. A multiple bill hearing for West is set for Jan. 10.

Assistant District Attorneys Seth Shute and Emily Booth prosecuted West.

 

Olivia Matte sentenced to 20 years for DWI fatality on Causeway bridge

A Jefferson Parish judge on Thursday (Nov. 15) sentenced Olivia Matte to 20 years in prison for causing the death of a Mississippi man while she was driving drunk on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway last year.

Matte, 28, of Covington, who had remained free on bond since pleading guilty on Sept. 4, surrendered Thursday to begin serving her sentence.

James Blackmond, 37, of Foxworth, Miss., was driving his pick-up south on the Causeway early on the morning of March 23, 2017, when Matte drove into the rear of his truck about three miles north of the south shore. Blackmond was killed and his passenger was injured.

Matte had a blood-alcohol content of .216, close to three times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. On Sept. 4, she pleaded guilty as charged to vehicular homicide, vehicular negligent injuring, operating a vehicle with a suspended driver’s license and failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.

At her attorney’s request, Judge Glenn Ansardi of the 24th Judicial District Court ordered a presentence investigation on Sept. 4 and allowed Matte to remain free on bond until her sentencing.

After hearing impact testimony from witnesses on both sides of the matter, Judge Ansardi sentenced Matte to six months for the negligent injuring, six months for driving with a suspended license, 90 days for careless operation and 20 years for the vehicular homicide. He ran the sentences concurrently.

Assistant District Attorneys Joshua Vanderhooft and Richard Olivier prosecuted the case.

Corey Woods convicted of Metairie triple-murder, illegal gun possession

A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday night (Nov. 8) convicted Corey Woods of killing three people as they sat in a car on a Metairie street last year, finding that he executed one victim and then shot two others to eliminate the witnesses. One of the victims was a 16-year-old girl, whom Woods shot in the back of her head as she attempted to flee for her life, according to the evidence presented during the three-day trial.

Woods, 33, of Metairie, who is known by the nickname “Cocomo,” was convicted as charged of three counts of second-degree murder and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

About 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2017, Woods sat in the rear driver’s side seat of a car when he opened fire with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. His target was Malcolm Wallace, 25, of Metairie. He also shot Wallace’s girlfriend Daneka Lott, 24, of Kenner; and Wallace’s teenage sister Monica Bates, of Metairie, according to trial evidence.

Sitting in the front passenger seat of the 2006 Honda Accord, Wallace was struck twice. One of the bullets severed his spinal cord, causing an injury that would have left him paralyzed had he survived, forensic pathologist Dana Trosclair testified. Lott, the driver, was shot in the right side of her head. She and Wallace died later at a hospital. Bates was struck in the back of her head and died in the back seat, behind where her brother sat, according to testimony.

“You can conclude by the evidence they were killed by ambush,” Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese, prosecuting with Lynn Schiffman, told jurors.

Woods had spent the evening earlier with Wallace and his family watching a football game, after which the four people drove to a sporting goods store on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, where Lott and Bates went inside to purchase slippers, according to testimony.

They returned to the neighborhood from the store and a fast-food restaurant when Lott pulled to the side of road in the 1400 block of South Laurel Street, just off Mistletoe Street. That’s where Woods began shooting. After the shooting, the car, still in the drive gear, moved forward and struck a utility pole, according to testimony.

Woods ran north on South Laurel, crossing a drainage canal along Airline Drive while apparently wearing the slippers that Lott and Bates purchased at the sporting goods store shortly before. He fled in the direction of his neighborhood just north of Airline Drive at David Drive, according to testimony.

A combination of witness interviews and business surveillance video led Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Detective Joe Waguespack to identify Woods as the killer.

Woods denied all four charges. His public defenders argued that Wallace previously attempted the armed robbery of an elderly woman, and that woman’s great-grandson committed the murders in retaliation.

Wallace was prohibited from possessing guns because of his felony narcotics convictions. He faces life in prison without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Judge Donnie Rowan of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Woods on Dec. 3.

(UPDATE: Woods’ sentencing hearing was continued to Jan. 7, 2019.)

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.

Teddy Chester convicted anew of murdering Kenner cabbie John Adams in 1995

A Jefferson Parish jury on Monday night (Nov. 5) found Teddy Chester guilty of killing a cab driver in East Jefferson 23 years ago, bringing to two the number of times he has been convicted of the same crime.

Chester, 40, is guilty as charged of second-degree murder for the Dec. 27, 1995 killing of John Adams, 34, who was a driver for a Kenner-based taxi cab company. He was killed during a botched armed robbery that Chester and co-defendant Elbert Ratcliff planned, prosecutors argued in the trial that began last week.

“This is not a planned murder,” Assistant District Attorney Douglas Rushton told jurors in closing argument Monday. “This is a planned armed robbery during which the homicide occurred.”

“This was a senseless killing, a senseless murder of John Adams,” Assistant District Attorney Lynn Schiffman told jurors Monday. “He was working his job, just like everybody else does every day.”

Mr. Adams was shot once in the back of his head while in the driver’s seat of his taxi, after he responded to a 4 a.m. dispatch to the 700 block of Calhoun Street, according to trial testimony. The area of East Jefferson near River Ridge is known among local law enforcement for its narcotics distribution activities and is called “The Dump.”

About two hours after the dispatch, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to a report about an abandoned vehicle found Mr. Adams’ body in the driver’s seat. The cab’s engine was still running, and the vehicle itself had left the roadway. The cab’s contents were strewn about inside and outside the vehicle, according to testimony. Deputies still found cash on Mr. Adams’ body, which was indicative of a botched armed robbery.

Detectives linked Ratcliff, then 25, to the murder after finding his thumb prints on two of Mr. Adams’ business cards, one inside the car and one outside, according to testimony. Questioned by Detective Ralph Sacks, Ratcliff named Chester as his cohort and the shooter, according to testimony.

During his trial in 1997, Ratcliff was convicted as charged of second-degree murder for his role in the crime. He is serving a life sentence in state prison.

After arresting Chester, detectives found in his apartment a cap and jeans with blood on them. The DNA profile obtained from the cap was consistent with a mixture of Mr. Adams and Mr. Chester, according to testimony. DNA analysts were unable to obtain a genetic profile from the blood on jeans.

During his interrogation 23 years ago, Chester admitted to Detective Sacks that he was in the cab, but only because he was trying to sell fake narcotics. He blamed Ratcliff for killing Mr. Adams, although he admitted to his then-girlfriend that he pointed the pistol to the back of the cabbie’s head when it accidentally fired, according to testimony.

In 1997, Chester was convicted as charged of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death for the crime. However, in June 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan of the Eastern District of Louisiana, in presiding over Chester’s federal habeas corpus proceedings, ordered a new trial. She ruled that Chester’s original trial attorney committed several errors that deprived him of his constitutional right to effective representation.

Instead of appealing Judge Morgan’s ruling, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office opted to retry Chester, albeit on a charge of second-degree murder. The offense carries a punishment of life in prison without probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Chester, who did not testify, continued to maintain his innocence and accused Ratcliff of being the killer. The Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about 1 ½ hours before returning with its unanimous verdict.

Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court set Chester’s sentencing for 9:30 a.m., on Nov. 15.

(UPDATE: Judge Kovach on Nov. 15 granted Chester’s attorneys’ request to continue the sentencing. The new sentencing date is Dec. 12).

Assistant District Attorneys Douglas Rushton and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the latest case.

Harvey, Metairie men convicted of unrelated armed robberies

Jefferson Parish juries on Thursday evening (Oct. 25) returned guilty verdicts in two unrelated robberies, one involving a Harvey man who accosted two women in business parking lots and the other involving a Metairie man who helped in a pawn shop heist.

Armed purse snatchings

In the West Bank crime, Edward West, 31, of Harvey, was convicted of two counts of armed robbery, for robbing women in back-to-back crimes outside neighboring businesses in the 1500 block of Manhattan Boulevard in Harvey. West also was found guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

On the evening of Nov. 19, 2016, West, armed with a .38-caliber revolver, assailed a 31-year-old woman as she left a discount store. The woman was returning to her vehicle after shopping when West approached, brandished the pistol and robbed her, according to trial testimony.

West then ran through the parking lot to an adjacent business and robbed a 78-year-old woman of her purse as she and her daughter finished shopping at a nearby business, according to testimony.

As West robbed the second woman, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Henry Dejean was in the area as part of a pro-active holiday police presence along the Manhattan Boulevard business corridor as the first victim was calling 911, according to testimony. As such, he was on the scene within seconds of the second robbery taking place.

Witnesses to the second robbery directed Deputy Dejean’s attention to West, who at this point was running across Manhattan Boulevard to behind an automotive repair business at Ute Street. Deputy Dejean pursued and helped locate and arrest West inside an apartment in the 1600 block of Ute Street.

The jury deliberated more than three hours in convicting West as charged of two counts of armed robbery and for being a felon with a firearm. Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court set West’s sentencing for Nov. 8.

Assistant District Attorneys Seth Shute and Emily Booth prosecuted West.

Pawn shop heist

Meanwhile, in Judge Conn Regan’s court, Edgard Rivas, 27, of Metairie, was convicted of first-degree robbery for his role in the Jan. 7, 2017, robbery of a pawn shop in the 7900 block of Airline Drive.

Rivas and two of his roommates, Mario Gevani and Carlos Ramos, entered the business on that evening, all concealing their faces, according to testimony. Two of the robbers wore Jason character masks from the “Friday the 13th” movie series, according to testimony.

Geovani and Ramos were armed with an AR-15 rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, while Rivas was armed with a hammer that he used to break the glass display cases to take jewelry, according to testimony. The trio escaped with cash, jewelry and a man’s wallet, according to testimony.

The following month, on Feb. 7, 2017, members of the Sheriff’s Office’s Project STAR team were conducting a narcotics investigation of Rivas and went to his Trenton Street apartment, according to testimony.

Project STAR deputies seized narcotics and noticed a Jason mask in the trio’s apartment. Robbery Detective Anthony Buttone, who was investigating a string of robberies in which robber wore a Jason mask, obtained a search warrant for the trio’s apartment. He discovered clothing matching that worn in the pawn shop robbery, leading him to question the trio and to obtain confessions, according to testimony.

Ramos, 21, and Geovani, 22, previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery counts, with Judge Regan sentencing Ramos to 20 years in prison and Geovani to 26 years in prison.

The jury deliberated over two hours in finding Rivas, who wielded a hammer during the pawn shop robbery, guilty of the responsive verdict of first-degree robbery. Judge Regan is scheduled to sentence Rivas on Nov. 26.

Assistant District Attorneys Blair Constant and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted Rivas.

Avondale man sentenced as triple-offender after Metairie home invasion conviction

A judge on Monday (Oct. 22) handed a 45-year prison sentence to an Avondale man, whose criminal history includes narcotics offenses and whose latest conviction was for a Metairie home invasion that left a man critically injured.

Damon Stephney, 40, was found to be a triple felony offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law by retired Judge pro tempore Michael Kirby, who was serving a temporary appointment to the 24th Judicial District Court’s Division E seat when he presided over Stephney’s trial last month.

A Jefferson Parish jury on Sept. 21 found Stephney guilty as charged of aggravated burglary, for being one of the men who on March 5, 2017 forced their way into a home in the 400 block of Oaklawn Drive, just north of Interstate 10.

The boyfriend of the homeowner was shot twice in the back as he fled up Oaklawn. “Never have I been so terrified in my life,” he told Judge Kirby in impact testimony on Monday.

For the aggravated burglary, Judge Kirby sentenced Stephney to 30 years in prison. He vacated that sentence after finding that prosecutors met their burden of proving Stephney is a triple offender and resentenced him to 45 years.

In explaining his reasons for the 30-year sentence, Judge Kirby noted in part that Stephney enlisted his sons to participate in the crime. His sons, Wendell Garcia, 20, of Algiers, and Damon Garcia, 23, of Avondale, previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the crime, to aggravated burglary and accessory after the fact to aggravated burglary, respectively.

On Monday, Wendell Garcia pleaded guilty to being a second felony offender under the state’s habitual offender law. Judge pro tempore Chuck Credo, also serving a temporary appointment to the Division E seat, resentenced Garcia to 30 years in prison.

Assistant District Attorneys Rachel Africk and Seth Shute prosecuted the case.