Month: September 2016

Jefferson Parish prosecutors in Harvey Hustlers cases receive top FBI awards

Two Jefferson Parish prosecutors who are working with the joint local and federal task force that dismantled the notorious Harvey Hustlers gang, sending dozens of extremely violent drug dealers to prison for as long as 120 years, received 2016 FBI Director’s Awards for their ongoing work in the case.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Seth Shute were among the New Orleans-area local and federal law enforcement officials to receive the award in the Outstanding Criminal Investigation category on Thursday (Sept. 15) from FBI Director James Comey, during a ceremony in Washington D.C.

Members of the FBI New Orleans Gang Task Force, which initiated the investigation seven years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office also were named to receive the awards.

The Director’s Awards, considered to be among the most prestigious accolades within the FBI, are given annually to Bureau employees and others to recognize their exemplary contributions and service to their communities. This year’s recipients include men and women who investigated deadly terrorist and cyber attacks, designed innovative technology and training and provided exceptional service to colleagues and victims of crime, according to the FBI.

Read the FBI New Orleans announcement here.

Considered the scourge of some West Bank neighborhoods, the Harvey Hustlers traces its roots to the 1980s in the Scotsdale subdivision, from where a core group of members oversaw a narcotics distribution ring. The gang enlisted affiliates from other West Bank neighborhoods to help import the narcotics into Jefferson Parish from as far as Texas and to distribute it in the area.

The Harvey Hustlers had an enforcement arm known as the Murder Squad, which used violence to protect its illegal activities. Numerous homicides were tied to the gang, including those of an 81-year-old Bridge City woman and a 58-year-old Marrero man, neither of whom was the intended target.

The FBI New Orleans Gang Task Force and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office initiated the investigation in 2009, leading to more than 65 criminal indictments in state and federal courts. Since the investigation began, Jefferson Parish saw a 39-percent decrease in its homicide rate through 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office collaborated in deciding the jurisdiction in which the cases would be prosecuted, depending on whether federal or state law could provide the more appropriate punishment.

Convictions in Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, and U.S. District Court in New Orleans, led to sentences ranging from five years to life in prison. The state and federal charges ranged from heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine distribution, racketeering, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, firearms offenses, homicide and murder-in-aid of racketeering.

In the Jefferson Parish, Freese and Shute prosecuted more than 30 Harvey Hustlers and their affiliates. Of them, 21 defendants were charged last year by a state grand jury in a sweeping 30-count racketeering and conspiracy case that includes a pending second-degree murder case.

Among them was Robert Williams, a Harvey Hustlers leader who was convicted at trial and sentenced in January to 120 years in prison. Each of the Harvey Hustlers who already had prior criminal convictions received no less than 20-year prison sentences in the Jefferson Parish cases.

This is the second time this year the Harvey Hustlers task force has been recognized. In February, New Orleans’ Metropolitan Crime Commission awarded the task force its 2016 Excellence in Law Enforcement Award.

blue bar 2

Metairie man convicted of raping 14-year-old girl

A former Metairie resident faces up to 40 years in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl.

Marcus Harris, 40, was convicted as charged Friday night of the forcible rape of the teenager who was sexually assaulted in her bed in February 2010. The victim, now 21, testified this week that Harris, with whom she was acquainted, entered her bedroom as she was going to sleep and tickled her before raping her.

“I didn’t do nothing, because I was scared,” she recounted in tearful testimony. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Afterward, she thought, “What should I do? Should I say something? Or should I keep quiet?”

She disclosed the abuse at her school the following day, leading to an investigation by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Within hours of the disclosure, the Sheriff’s Office recovered evidence from the house in which the rape occurred, including the victim’s bed linens, detective Sgt. Randall Fernandez testified.

Harris’ DNA was found in seminal stains and skin cells on the bed sheets, according to testimony. Statistically speaking, the probability that the genetic material belongs to someone other than Harris is only greater than one in 100 billion, DNA analyst Sarah Serou of the JPSO Regional DNA Laboratory testified.

Serou’s findings led the Sheriff’s Office to obtain an arrest warrant, Fernandez testified.

The victim testified this week that she felt “disgusting” after he raped her, and that she “hated myself for the longest.”

“I forgive Marcus, because I’m a Christian,” the victim testified. “But I will never forget what happened.”

Harris did not testify. The defense depicted the victim as an emotionally troubled youth and suggested she planted the seminal fluid on her bed sheets. Harris’ mother, two brothers and his sister-in-law testified for his defense, primarily to call the victim’s credibility into question.

Soon after the rape investigation began, Harris pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of second-degree battery of his then 19-year-old girlfriend, for which he received a four-year sentence. The rape investigation proceeded, leading to charges being filed in court after he completed that sentence.

The sentence for forcible rape is five years to 40 years in prison. Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Harris on Sept. 26.

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

blue bar 2

Man convicted of Metairie bar machete attack sentenced to 12 years

A former Metairie resident who was convicted last week of attacking a man with a machete in a bar was sentenced on Tuesday (Sept. 6) to 12 years in prison.

Akando Ducksworth, 33, a native of Moss Point, Miss., received the punishment for his conviction of attempted manslaughter in the Oct. 11, 2015 attack inside the business in the 5200 block of Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie.

The 26-year-old victim lost the use of his right thumb, because it was almost severed as he raised his hand defensively to block Ducksworth’s first blow with the machete. The victim also suffered three gashes on his back and two cuts on his head, according to trial testimony.

“He had no right whatsoever to take it upon himself to make an attempt to take another human’s life,” the victim wrote in a letter to the judge, which he provided to the court in lieu of live impact testimony. “My LIFE was almost taken from me.”

The maximum sentence that Judge Nancy Miller of the 24th Judicial District Court could have given Ducksworth was 20 years. She decided on the 12-year sentence after reading the victim’s letter, the five letters written by Ducksworth’s family and friends, and hearing Ducksworth’s apology in court.

Judge Miller cited Ducksworth’s young age, his college education and the eight years he served in the Mississippi National Guard as mitigating factors in her decision. But she juxtaposed his accomplishments with his machete attack.

“The court finds it difficult to wrap my head around that those are one and the same persons,” Judge Miller said.

The incident was recorded on the bar’s security video system, providing jurors with imagery that showed Ducksworth and the victim exchanging words and shoving in the patio area of the bar. The men had a dispute over Ducksworth’s girlfriend, according to testimony.

Ducksworth then ran to his car, and the victim returned to the inside of the business, according to the video. Moments later, Ducksworth ran into the bar carrying the machete in his right hand. He ran straight to the victim and swung the large blade at least twice.

Ducksworth’s attorney argued that at best, Ducksworth committed an aggravated battery, not an attempted second-degree murder, the offense with which the defendant was charged. The jury decided on the attempted manslaughter verdict.

As he did in testimony during his trial, Ducksworth apologized for his behavior. He addressed the victim directly in the courtroom on Tuesday, and he addressed Judge Miller, asking for lenience. “I am not the animal, the monster that’s depicted on this video. Judge Miller, my life as I know it is over.”

Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute, who prosecuted the case, announced Tuesday that he intends to seek restitution in an attempt to financially compensate the victim for the medical and other costs he incurred as a result of the attack.

blue bar 2