Month: June 2016

New Orleans scrap yard owner pleads guilty, gets 10 years in auto theft racketeering case

Hours after he was indicted by a grand jury on Thursday morning (June 30), the co-owner of a New Orleans scrap yard pleaded guilty to participating in an alleged criminal enterprise whose members were responsible for almost one-third of the auto thefts in Jefferson Parish in recent years.

Harry J. Sorrell, 48, of Slidell, pleaded guilty as charged to racketeering and conspiracy to commit theft, for crimes occurring between 2009 and this year. Sorrell then pleaded guilty to being a double offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law, because of a 2008 conviction of a federal weapons offense.

Judge Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court, who accepted the pleas on Thursday afternoon, sentenced Sorrell to 10 years in prison as a second felony offender. Sorrell then was remanded into state custody to begin the sentence.

According to the superseding indictment, Sorrell, who also uses the name Harry Sporrell, owned and operated a scrap yard with an unindicted co-conspirator. Vehicles that were stolen by enterprise members were transported to the scrap yard to be crushed. By crushing the vehicles, the enterprise members eliminated evidence and gained another source of revenue through the sale of scrap metal, according to the indictment.

Enterprise members additionally filed fraudulent insurance claims seeking compensation from insurance companies, after members of the enterprise alleged their involvement in staged automobile accidents.

On May 5, a Jefferson Parish grand jury handed up an indictment charging 13 people in connection with the racketeering case. Sorrell was listed as unindicted co-conspirator “A” in that bill of indictment. On Thursday, a grand jury handed up a superseding bill of indictment, adding Sorrell and two other men to the list of defendants who were previously charged.

Authorities say approximately 32 percent of all vehicle thefts in Jefferson Parish in 2014 and 2015 were tied to the group of men. The thefts, most involving trucks, amounted to at least $2.5 million in economic loss to Jefferson Parish, according to the bill of indictment.

While the grand jury met Thursday morning, Patrick Robinson Jr., 49, of New Orleans, pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy to commit theft, 11 counts of theft, two counts of illegal possession of stolen things and altering vehicle identification numbers.

Robinson was among the 13 people who were charged on May 5. Judge Adams is scheduled to sentence Robinson on Sept. 19.

Sorrell’s and Robinson’s pleas on Thursday bring to six the number of defendants who have admitted guilt in the racketeering case.

Ronnel A. Kyles, 29, received a 10-year prison sentence. Jimmie “Black” James, 28, of New Orleans, is scheduled to be sentenced in September. Jason Mercadel, 38, of New Orleans, was sentenced to 15 years in prison; and Brandon Lane, 29, of Marrero, received a 10-year sentence.

Others named in the indictment are Parrish Norris, 41; Oliver D. Green, 46; Patrick N. Robinson III, 28, whose father is the Robinson who pleaded guilty on Thursday; Cardell E. Torrence, 39; Kevin A. Martin, 29; Brandon P. Evans, 30; Keith A. Nero, 29; Shon R. Claiborne, 27; and Ronald J. Johnson, 29. Norrish remains at large and led police in New Orleans on a high-speed chase after he was indicted on May 5.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Auto Theft Unit and the Louisiana State Police investigated the cases.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese, Thomas Sanderson and Lindsay Truhe are prosecuting the cases.

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Marrero man whose DNA on cigarette butts tied him to crimes convicted of armed robberies

A Marrero man who was tied to several business heists after his DNA was found on cigarette butts recovered at two seemingly unrelated crimes scenes five years ago was convicted on Wednesday (June 29) of committing the armed robberies.

Jonathan Isaac, 54, was convicted as charged of five counts of armed robbery in connection with the three heists in March 2011. The five counts reflect the five employees who were working at the three businesses during the robberies.

Isaac’s cohort, Damion Savage, 42, of Harvey, was convicted of six counts of armed robbery and sentenced to 60 years in prison in February. Both men rushed into the businesses armed with pistols and their faces hidden, leaving their victims unable to identify them.

Isaac faces up to 104 years in prison on each count, which includes a 5-year enhancement for each offense because a gun was used in the robberies. Judge Michael Mentz of the 24th Judicial District Court, who presided over Savage’s case as well, is scheduled to sentence Isaac on July 18.

The duo robbed a Subway on Barataria Boulevard in Marrero on March 6, 2011, and then a Subway on Jefferson Highway in Old Jefferson on March 23, 2011. Two employees were working at each Subway during the robberies.

Isaac and Savage also robbed the GameStop store on Promenade Boulevard in Marrero on March 24, 2011. Only one employee was present at the GameStop when it was robbed.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives investigating what they initially believed were unrelated robberies at the Subways found freshly smoked, discarded Newport brand cigarettes outside the two businesses, according to testimony. The detectives sent the butts to the Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory, where DNA analysts found Isaac’s genetic material.

In searching Isaac’s home in the 900 block of Silver Lilly Lane, the detectives found that he smoked the Newport brand, according to testimony. Isaac also was linked to the GameStop robbery through a fingerprint authorities found on a game box that was shelved behind the counter. In the business’s video surveillance system, Isaac is seen touching that box during the robbery.

Further, they investigated his cell phone’s call history and learned he frequently communicated with Savage, including around the time of the robberies. The detectives arrested Savage, finding in his home clothing similar to that worn by one of the robbers, according to testimony.

Savage also confessed and implicated Isaac in the crimes. Prosecutors called for Savage’s testimony this week. As he did during his trial earlier this year, Savage said he falsely confessed to the crimes and so could not say whether Isaac was involved.

The detectives also used cell phone transmission towers to determine that both men were in the vicinity of the robberies when they occurred.

Isaac, who did not testify, denied robbing the businesses. His attorney argued that the cigarette butts and fingerprint could have been left at the crime scenes at any point in time and so did not indicate that Isaac was involved in the robberies.

The six women and six men in the jury deliberated about an hour before unanimously finding Isaac guilty of all five counts.

Assistant District Attorneys Angel Varnado and Douglas Rushton prosecuted the case.

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Gunman convicted of attempted murder in Avondale home invasion shooting

A Metairie man was convicted as charged on Thursday (June 23) of attempted second-degree murder and two other offenses, for shooting an Avondale woman more than 10 times during a home invasion two years ago.

Danny “Noonie” Saulny, 25, a former Avondale resident, faces up to 50 years in prison for attempted second-degree murder, 10 years to 20 years for convicted felon in possession of a firearm and five years to 30 years for home invasion in connection with the Jan. 13, 2014 crimes. Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Saulny on July 18.

The victim, who was 23 years old at the time, testified on Wednesday that she was in her kitchen cooking a meal at the home in the 100 block of Madeira Drive, when Saulny and a second gunman entered, saying “give me everything you got.”

She recognized only Saulny, whom she knew by his nickname Noonie from elementary school. Crying throughout her testimony, she told the jury she is “a million-percent certain” that Saulny was one of the gunmen.

“Noonie had me by my hair and drug me toward the kitchen while the other guy was kicking me,” she testified. They then dragged her to a bedroom. She stood against her godchild’s crib when she retrieved a wallet from a dresser to give to the assailants.

She said Saulny held a gun to the back of her head, and she turned her head as he fired. The bullet struck her in the cheek, she testified. She then struggled with the men as they shot her.

“They just kept firing at me, and I was trying to fight,” she testified. After falling to the ground, she said she then heard Saulny say, “’I think she’s dead. Let’s go.’”

She said she remained on the floor bleeding until the assailants left, and then ran to a neighbor’s home four doors down. She collapsed into a neighbor’s arms, struggling to speak because the bullet that struck her cheek caused severe damage to her tongue.

The neighbor testified that the victim also identified “Noonie” as one of the gunmen before calling 911.

She said she was shot more than 10 times, causing 15 bullet holes. She has still has bullet projectiles and fragments in her body and still faces more surgeries she testified.

She identified Saulny as one of the gunmen in a photographic line-up presented by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, according to testimony.

She later asserted she saw the second gunman in the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, during a court hearing. She said she recognized the man by a tattoo on one of his hands. The Sheriff’s Office identified the suspect, but prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence on which to base a criminal charge, according to testimony.

Saulny denied being involved, and his attorneys said the victim identified the wrong person.

He was barred from having guns because of a 2011 conviction of possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, which was an aggravated second-degree battery in 2010. He received a six year prison sentence. He also has convictions of resisting arrest and theft in 2010.

Assistant District Attorneys Blair Constant and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.

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Convicted Marrero rapist guilty of failing to register as sex offender again

A former Marrero resident faces five years to 20 years in prison, for his conviction on Wednesday (June 22) of a second offense of failing to register as a sex offender.

A Jefferson Parish jury deliberated just over 15 minutes in finding Gerald Dominick guilty as charged. The jury delivered the verdict about 5:40 p.m., Wednesday.

Judge June Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Dominick on July 25.

Dominick, 60, was required by law to register as a sex offender for life because of a conviction of forcible rape in Jefferson Parish in 1984. He had been charged with aggravated rape of a 13-year-old girl in February 1984. Subsequent to a negotiated plea agreement, he admitted to committing a forcible rape that same year and received a 17-year prison sentence.

Then, between 2005 and 2011, he failed to maintain his registration. He pleaded guilty to failure to register in 2011 and received a two-year prison sentence. He returned to Jefferson Parish in January 2013, but he never registered as a sex offender.

The Sheriff’s Office arrested him in 2015, leading to his being charged with the second offense of failing to register and to this week’s trial.

Dominick pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and his attorney argued that because of his history of psychiatric disorders, Dominick did not know right from wrong when he failed to register.

Assistant District Attorneys Josh Vanderhooft and Douglas Rushton prosecuted the case.

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DA’s Office improves mobile device website with access to news items

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The newly redesigned mobile site offers access to internally generated news items. Mobile users also can share these items through social media platforms.

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office has rolled out a newly built website for mobile devices, allowing for the first time users of iPhone and Androids to view all the office’s online content.

Before this week, mobile users were unable to view news releases generated by the District Attorney’s Office, which are published at These releases also are linked to the office’s Facebook site,, and its Twitter feed, @JeffParishDA.

Mobile device users also are now able to share the internally generated news items through social media platforms, and they can email the items. About half of web traffic generally originates with mobile devices, according to industry sources.

District Attorney Paul D. Connick, Jr., had his website rebuilt in recent years, to give Jefferson Parish and other residents access to information about the various services his office provides to the public. The office also provides to the public and to news media outlets reports on criminal cases in the 24th Judicial District Court.

The DA’s Office plans continued improvements to its website, for both desktop and mobile users.

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Fourth man pleads guilty to role in auto theft racketeering case

A New Orleans man pleaded guilty to his part in an auto theft racketeering case on Monday (June 20), bringing to four the number of people to have confessed to involvement in the ring authorities say accounted for almost one third of vehicle thefts in Jefferson Parish in recent years.

Ronnel A. Kyles, 29, pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy to commit theft and one count of theft in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence. He was among the 13 men charged by a grand jury on May 5 in connection with the ring tied to approximately 32 percent of vehicle thefts in the parish in 2014 and 2015, amounting to at least $2.5 million in economic loss, according to the indictment.

Vehicles, primarily pickup trucks, allegedly were stolen for several reasons. In some cases, enterprise members allegedly transferred vehicle identification numbers to wrecked, inoperable or salvaged trucks with little or no value that were legally purchased to vehicles that were stolen.

In other instances, enterprise members allegedly stole vehicles for parts. The stolen vehicles were sold for scrap based on the weight or simply abandoned, according to the indictment.

Kyles’ role included designating vehicles to be stolen, transporting other enterprise members to steal them and stealing the vehicles. He specifically pleaded guilty to being one of three members who stolen a 2006 Ford F250 pickup between April 16, 2015 and April 17, 2015. The charge was theft involving a vehicle valued at between $5,000 and $25,000.

Judge Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Kyles to 10 years for each of the three counts and ran them concurrently, for a total of 10 years.

Kyles then pleaded guilty to being a second offender under the state’s habitual offender law, because of a previous auto theft conviction in Jefferson Parish. In the previous conviction, he pleaded guilty to theft of a motor vehicle and attempted theft in December 2014 and received three years of probation, court records show. Those crimes involved his stealing a pickup truck, and attempting to steal a vehicle’s rims in May 2014, records show.

On Monday, Judge Adams sentenced Kyles to 10 years as a second-offender, on the second count of his guilty plea, conspiracy to commit auto theft. The judge ran that sentence concurrently, for a total of 10 years.

The others who’ve pleaded guilty in connection with the alleged auto theft ring are Jason Mercadel, 38, of New Orleans, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison; Jimmie “Black” James, 28, of New Orleans, who is scheduled to be sentenced in September; and, Brandon Lane, 29, of Marrero, who received a 10-year sentence.

Lane was charged last year, separately from the 13 men named in the May 5 indictment.

The others named in the indictment are Parrish Norris, 41; Oliver D. Green, 46; Patrick N. Robinson III, 28; Patrick N. Robinson Jr. 49; Cardell E. Torrence, 39; Kevin A. Martin, 29; Brandon P. Evans, 30; Keith A. Nero, 29; Shon R. Claiborne, 27; and Ronald J. Johnson, 29.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Auto Theft Unit and the Louisiana State Police investigated the case.

Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Sanderson, Lindsay Truhe and Doug Freese are prosecuting the cases.

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Metairie woman pleads guilty to death, dismemberment of Jaren Lockhart

A Metairie woman pleaded guilty Monday morning (June 20) to participating in the death of Jaren Lockhart, the French Quarter exotic dancer who was fatally stabbed in a Kenner home four years ago before her body was dismembered and her body parts were discarded along the Mississippi Gulf Coast by the two killers.

One year and one day after her ex-boyfriend Terry Speaks was convicted for his role in the same crime, Margaret Sanchez, 32, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. She was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Lockhart, 22, the mother of a 3-year-old child, died on June 6, 2012, after agreeing to leave her French Quarter job in the early morning hours with Sanchez and Speaks. The trio went to the home that Sanchez and Speaks shared in the 2000 block of Connecticut Avenue, near Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner, where Speaks and Sanchez killed Lockhart.

“After consulting with Ms. Lockhart’s family, it was decided that the negotiated plea agreement was in the best interests of all parties involved,” Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul D. Connick, Jr. said. “Out of respect for Ms. Lockhart and her family, I will not comment further on the case or the evidence.”

Members of Lockhart’s family, along with numerous law enforcement officers from Kenner and Mississippi who were involved in the investigation, were present in the courtroom when Sanchez pleaded guilty.

“Words cannot express the pain her family and friends have endured since the murder,” Donna Kulick, guardian of Ms. Lockhart’s daughter, said in impact testimony.

She said the girl still cries over the loss of her mother, and that their family is “forever broken.”

“This will have a huge impact on her for the rest of her life,” Kulick testified.

In accepting the plea agreement, Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court, who presided over both criminal cases, sentenced Sanchez to 40 years for manslaughter, 40 years for obstruction of justice and 20 years for the charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The three sentences are the maximum for the respective charges. Judge Grefer ran the sentences concurrently.

Sanchez was scheduled to stand trial beginning July 11 on charges of second-degree murder, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Speaks, 43, was convicted as charged on June 19, 2015, of second-degree murder, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He is serving two life sentences at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The first of those life sentences was handed down for the second degree murder.

After initially sentencing Speaks to 40 years in prison for obstruction of justice, Judge Grefer ruled on Jan. 22 that Speaks is a quadruple felony offender under Louisiana’s habitual offender law. Judge Grefer then handed down the second life sentence.

Sanchez has been held in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna since May 2014, when the Kenner Police Department arrested her in connection with Lockhart’s death. She and Speaks were indicted by a Jefferson Parish grand jury on Aug. 14, 2014. She was unable to post a $1.5 million bond.

Sanchez’s last court appearance was Dec. 7, when Judge Grefer denied requests to dismiss the indictment and, alternatively, to move the trial out of the Jefferson Parish area. Her attorneys asserted the extraordinary pretrial publicity the case received by local news media made it difficult to seat a fair and impartial jury. However, her July 11 trial date was set that day, court records show.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Tommy Block prosecuted both cases.

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Gretna man sentenced to maximum 40 years for raping teen

A Gretna man who claimed he falsely confessed to sexually abusing a teenaged girl in part because of the “high-grade marijuana” he smoked before meeting with a police detective was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday (June 16).

Omar Duplessis, 31, was convicted as charged of forcible rape, for abusing the girl at least three times beginning when she was 13 and ending the on day before Thanksgiving in 2014, when she was 16.

In addition to receiving the maximum punishment for forcible rape, Duplessis also will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after his release from prison, 24th Judicial District Judge Henry Sullivan ordered.

Judge Sullivan, who handed down the guilty verdict on May 27 because Duplessis waived a trial by jury, rejected Duplessis’ request for a new trial on Thursday. In handing down the maximum 40-year sentence, Judge Sullivan cited Duplessis’ “deliberate cruelty” in raping on “multiple occasions,” and of using force during the rapes to prevent the victim from resisting.

The victim told her mother about the rapes, but the mother did nothing, according to trial testimony, when the mother said in court that she didn’t believe her daughter’s accusations. The victim then disclosed the abuse to her uncle, who contacted the Gretna Police Department and led to Duplessis’ arrest.

Duplessis, one of nine witnesses who testified during the two-day trial, initially denied the accusation. In a second recorded statement, he told the detective that he was in his bed intoxicated when the girl attempted to have sex with him.

In the third and final recorded statement, he admitted to raping the girl “at least four times, maybe five, maybe, like once every – I don’t know.”

During the trial, however, he said he was at his job as a longshoreman on New Orleans’ riverfront when he learned of the rape accusation. He testified he didn’t immediately go to the Gretna police headquarters, but then “smoked a blunt of high-grade marijuana” before meeting with the detective to help him relax. He asserted that in part led to a false confession.

The girl’s mother, whose name is being withheld to protect the victim’s identity, pleaded guilty on Feb. 25 to failure to report the commission of certain felonies, meaning the rape. She received two years of active probation, because she did not disclose to authorities that Duplessis sexually abused her daughter. She testified for Duplessis during his trial.

Assistant District Attorneys Rhonda Goode-Douglas and Marko Marjanović prosecuted the case.

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Teenager pleads guilty, sentenced to 30 years for Harvey homicide

A Harvey teenager pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Friday (June 10), for his involvement in a homicide two years ago in which a 24-year old man was shot to death.

Raynell Whittaker, 19, will receive a 30-year prison sentence for the June 27, 2014 death of Demone Robinson, according to the plea agreement presented in court on Friday.

Robinson was shot multiple times and died in the 1000 block of Inca Drive, which is off Manhattan Boulevard in Harvey. According to court documents, Robinson was targeted as part of a plan to rob him. Whittaker and a co-defendant who is the accused shooter had been scheduled to stand trial next week on a charge of second-degree murder.

As part of the negotiated plea which requires Whittaker’s cooperation, prosecutors reduced the murder charge to manslaughter, which carries a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison. Whittaker also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess Xanax, for which he will receive a 2 ½-year sentence that will run concurrently with the manslaughter sentence.

Judge Lee Faulkner of the 24th Judicial District Court, who accepted Whittaker’s guilty pleas, scheduled the sentencing for July 18.

Everis Hilton, 18, of New Orleans, and Markeisha T. Lewis, 25, of Harvey, also are charged with second-degree murder in connection with Robinson’s death.

Second-degree murder carries a punishment of mandatory life in prison upon conviction. However, under a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Miller vs. Alabama, individuals who commit homicides before they reach age 18 cannot automatically be sentenced to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole.

At the time of Robinson’s death, Whittaker was 17 and Hilton was 16, but both were charged as adults.

At the time a Jefferson Parish grand jury handed up charges in Robinson’s homicide, Whittaker and Everis already were in state prison in connection with their guilty pleas to armed robbery in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

That crime happened sixteen days before Robinson was killed. Whittaker and Everis admitted they robbed a man of his cell phone in the 600 block of Third Street, in New Orleans’ Irish Channel. They currently are serving 10-year prison sentences for that crime.

In accepting the plea, Faulkner agreed to run Whittaker’s 30-year sentence currently with the 10-year sentence in the armed robbery case.

Assistant District Attorneys Lindsay Truhe and Michael Smith are prosecuting the cases.

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Child sexual predator sentenced to 20 years for twice failing to register as sex offender

An admitted child sexual predator was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday (June 10), for his second conviction of failing to register as a sex offender.

Tommy Mouton, 62, a former Bridge City resident, failed to register as a sex offender last year, after he was released from state prison for his first conviction of failing to register as a sex offender.

Judge Donnie Rowan of the 24th Judicial District Court, who has presided over Mouton’s criminal cases and ruled in 2013 that he was likely to re-offend against children, handed down the maximum sentence after denying a defense request for a new trial. Failure to register second offense carries a sentencing range of five to 20 years in prison.

“It is the court’s opinion that if he was released and out on his own, someone else would be assaulted,” Judge Rowan said in explaining his handing down the maximum sentence.

Mouton received a 10-year prison sentence in 1990 in Jefferson Parish for his convictions of sexual battery, aggravated oral sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile. That case involved a girl he molested over a 21-month period beginning in 1986, when the girl was 6 years old.

While serving that sentence, state corrections officers found in his cell his journal, in which he detailed child abuse and had drawings of young girls being sexually tortured. That led to his conviction in Claiborne Parish of possession of child pornography.

He was sent back to prison in 2010, after he was convicted the first time of failing to register as a sex offender. While in prison, he was evaluated by a Sex Offender Assessment Panel, or SOAP, which seeks to determine whether certain inmates pose a danger to society.

In that process, Mouton stipulated he was, in fact, a child sexual predator. Judge Rowan, who presided over the SOAP hearing, found that Mouton was a danger to society during a December 2013 hearing. Mouton was ordered to register as a sex offender and have his whereabouts tracked via GPS for the rest of his life when released from prison.

Before his release from prison on Feb. 12, 2015, Mouton told the state Department of Corrections that he intended to reside in the 200 block of 8th Street in Bridge City, according to trial testimony.

He failed to report to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office within three days of his release, leading deputies to obtain a warrant for his arrest.

Mouton was at large for 15 days following his release from prison, until a fugitive task force that included the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, the New Orleans Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service, found him in the 1800 block of Gravier Street in downtown New Orleans. He had condoms and a bottle of lubricant in his pockets, authorities have said.

Judge Rowan noted on Friday that Mouton made no attempt to at least alert Jefferson Parish authorities that he had difficulties in trying to register last year. “They literally had to do a manhunt to find you,” the judge said. “That’s my problem with that. You sought no help.”

Following Mouton’s arrest last year, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office persuaded a 24th Judicial District Court magistrate to hold him in jail without bond until his trial for second-offense failure to register. That trial ended May 25, with his conviction by a unanimous Jefferson Parish jury.

His attorney asserted Mouton, a U.S. Army veteran, was moneyless and homeless, and that he was in downtown New Orleans to get treatment at the U.S. Veterans Administration hospital.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Andrew DeCoste prosecuted the case.

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