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.