Month: February 2017

Old Jefferson purse snatcher sentenced to 20 years in prison

A Jefferson man with a history of crimes of violence in the Houma area who was convicted this month of a purse snatching that occurred outside an Old Jefferson bar was sentenced on Friday (Feb. 24) to 20 years in prison as a habitual offender.

Eric Fitch, 37, has four felony convictions, three of which were crimes of violence that occurred when he was a Terrebonne Parish resident. There, he was convicted of a theft, tied to a purse snatching in 2013 and an attempted simple robbery in 2010. He also has a simple robbery conviction, for a crime in Lafourche Parish in 2004.

His latest conviction was for a Nov. 28, 2015, incident, in which he assailed a 64-year-old woman just before midnight as she was leaving a bar in the 3500 block of Jefferson Highway. The victim was getting into the passenger’s seat of a car when Fitch approached her asking for a cigarette.

When the woman responded that she did not smoke, Fitch pushed her into the car, grabbed her purse from the floor board and ran. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies were able locate Fitch by tracking the victim’s cell phone, which was in her purse.

Deputies found Fitch about an hour later. He was hiding in a large trash container behind a grocery store in the 3600 block of Jefferson Highway. He refused to voluntarily leave the container, leading Deputy Daniel Lassus to forcibly remove him. That led to his being charged with resisting arrest.

Deputies recovered the woman’s belongings, and she identified him on the scene as the purse snatcher.

A six-member jury found Fitch guilty as charged of purse snatching on Feb. 15. Judge June Berry Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court, found Fitch guilty of the misdemeanor resisting arrest charge on the same day.

On Friday, Judge Darensburg sentenced Fitch to 20 years for the purse snatching, the maximum punishment for that crime, and six months for the resisting arrest. She ran the sentences concurrently.

Fitch then pleaded guilty as charged of being a triple offender. Judge Darensburg vacated the 20-year sentence she gave him for the purse snatching and resentenced him to 20 years on the triple bill.

Fitch will not have the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

The underlying offense for the 2013 theft conviction was a purse snatching. In that case, Fitch grabbed a 55-year-old woman’s purse as she left a business in Houma. Her wallet fell from her purse as he ran. The woman picked up her wallet, but Fitch returned, grabbed it and fled with it, too.

Assistant District Attorneys Josh Vanderhooft and Thomas Sanderson prosecuted the latest case.

blue bar 2

New Orleans man sentenced to life in prison for killing JPSO Sgt. Tracey Marshall

Three days after he was convicted by a Jefferson Parish jury, an eastern New Orleans man was sentenced Tuesday (Feb. 21) to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his ex-girlfriend, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tracey Marshall.

James Darby, 49, will serve the life sentence at hard labor with no benefit of probation, parole or suspended sentence. He executed Sgt. Marshall as she was returning to her Terrytown condominium on Dec. 13, 2015, after a date with another man. She was 47.

Sgt. Marshall ended the couple’s tumultuous 12-year romantic relationship on the month before she died. At the time, she was assigned to the JPSO bailiff squad at the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna. She was employed by the Sheriff’s Office for about 10 years.

In the weeks before he killed her, Darby stalked her and harassed her with text messages, according to trial evidence. On the night she died, he followed her as she was on a date that included dinner at a St. Charles Avenue restaurant. He followed her to her home, where he fired eight .45-caliber bullets at her as she sat in the driver’s seat of her truck, striking her five times. Her body was found the following morning.

A Jefferson Parish jury on Saturday deliberated less than 40 minutes in finding Darby guilty as charged of second-degree murder. He was returned to Judge Nancy Miller’s courtroom on Monday morning for his sentencing hearing, during which he said nothing to Sgt. Marshall’s parents and friends who were in the audience.

“I want to hate this person. I want to, but I don’t.” – Barbara George White, Sgt. Marshall’s mother

Before sentencing Darby, Judge Miller denied defense requests for a new trial and a post-verdict judgment of acquittal.

Sgt. Marshall’s mother, Barbara George White, provided impact testimony, tearfully recounting the grief she feels. “I want to thank everybody who tried to help her, and every day I can see her,” Mrs. White testified. “She was a good and decent and loving person.”

She said she thinks of her daughter often. “It’s been very difficult,” she testified. “I can hardly sleep. I go to work, and it helps me a little. But when I’m by myself, I see her. I love her. She was a very good and decent person. She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t playing anybody. She was trying to get away from it. I couldn’t help her, because she didn’t tell me. I failed her in that.”

In handing down the sentence, Judge Miller told Darby that he robbed Mrs. White of her love for her daughter. And to the grieving mother, the judge said, “Ms. White, you did not fail your daughter. You raised her to be the person she was. And she was loved by everybody.”

Mrs. White, in her impact testimony, recalled the last family gathering two months before her daughter was murdered. Her family misses her, she said. “I won’t remember her for this. I will remember her for the person she was. I won’t let this be a label, because she was a really good person. I loved her, and her family loved her.”

Throughout her testimony, she spoke of Darby only in the third person. “I want to hate this person. I want to, but I don’t,” she testified, breaking into sobs.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman prosecuted the case.

blue bar 2

New Orleans man guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend, JPSO Sgt. Tracey Marshall

An eastern New Orleans man was convicted on Saturday (Feb. 18), of killing his ex-girlfriend Tracey Marshall, a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office sergeant whom he stalked before he executed her as she returned to her Terrytown home after a date with another man.

In a five-day trial that highlighted the hidden horrors of domestic violence, James Darby, 49, is guilty as charged of second-degree murder for shooting Sgt. Marshall, 47, while she was off duty. Angered by their break-up and that she was seeing another man, Darby stalked her during the last hours of her life, following her around Uptown New Orleans to her West Bank home in a borrowed car.

In the parking lot outside her condominium in the 2300 block of Ashley Drive, Darby crept up on her before she could get out of her private vehicle as she spoke on her cell phone, leaving her unable to retrieve her pistol. She yelled out “Boy!” before her phone call went dead, as Darby opened fire using a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, according evidence presented by Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman.

“This was personal,” Gorman said in closing argument. “This was an execution. The offender stood right by her window, which was rolled up, fired eight shots standing right next to that vehicle, and hit her five times, in the torso and in the head. This was personal, and this was an execution.”

Rish told jurors that Sgt. Marshall took an oath as a law enforcement officer, understanding that she could lose her life in the line of duty. “The saddest thing about Tracey’s betrayal is that it happened at the hands of the man that she loved,” Rish said.

“The saddest thing about Tracey’s betrayal is that it happened at the hands of the man that she loved.”

At the time of her death, Sgt. Marshall was assigned to the 24th Judicial District Court bailiff squad at the Jefferson Parish courthouse in Gretna. She had been employed by the Sheriff’s Office about 10 years, including assignment at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center.

The nine women and three men on the Jefferson Parish jury, which seated Tuesday, deliberated less than 40 minutes. Darby faces a mandatory life sentence in prison. Judge Nancy Miller of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Darby on Feb. 21.

Sgt. Marshall and Darby had been involved in a 12-year but tumultuous romantic relationship that she ended in November 2015, when she moved out of his eastern New Orleans home and into the condominium she owned in Terrytown.

People who knew them told Sheriff’s Office Detectives Gabe Faucetta and Donald Zanotelli that after the break-up, Darby inquired about Sgt. Marshall’s activities, including whether she was with another man. Evidence shows he stalked her and harassed her with text messages during the month before he killed her.

A friend recalled for detectives how she and Sgt. Marshall were on an outing when Sgt. Marshall spotted Darby following them in his car. Sgt. Marshall confided her fear not only that she might lose her job over the harassment, but that Darby might harm her. “He will not let me alone,” Sgt. Marshall told the friend. “He just will not let me go.”

The evidence shows that Darby frequently sent harassing text messages to Sgt. Marshall in the weeks before he killed her, indicating his unrelenting obsession for her. “I just want to tell you I love you and miss the hell out of you,” he told her in a text message on the day before he killed her.

Evidence also shows she had obtained numerous restraining orders against Darby, who in 2011 pleaded guilty to cyberstalking her.

Darby killed her about 9:40 p.m., as she returned to her home from a dinner date. A resident who lived in the adjacent neighborhood called 911 about that time, reporting hearing gunfire. Deputies who responded searched the area but found nothing. Sgt. Marshall’s cell phone went dead at that same time, according to trial evidence.

Another nearby resident later told detectives he heard gunfire and looked out to see a dark color mid-size four-door vehicle being driven at a high rate of speed away from the scene. Detectives later learned that Darby was driving a borrowed mid-size, four-door Nissan.

On the morning following the shooting, a mutual friend of the former couple, who lived in the same complex as Sgt. Marshall, called 911 after seeing the driver’s side window of her 2010 Ford Expedition shattered and hair hanging out that window.

Deputies found Sgt. Marshall slumped against the driver’s door. She was shot in the head, face, arm and back. Deputies also found eight spent .45-caliber bullet casings on the ground outside her vehicle.

Her personal belongings, including her purse, cell phone and pistol, were in her vehicle and undisturbed, indicating that robbery was not a motive in her death.

Darby immediately fled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., after killing her, showing up unannounced at a friend’s home, where he spent the night, and then went to a woman’s home asking to take a bath. He was located in Tuscaloosa two days after the homicide by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Recovery Task Force.

During the interrogation by Faucetta and Zanotelli in Alabama, Darby denied killing Sgt. Marshall. He admitted to stalking her frequently, including on the night of her death.

He asserted he was driving on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans when he “happened upon” her in her SUV. He said he followed her back to the West Bank and parked near her condominium. He admitted he was near her apartment in the borrowed car when she arrived. He also admitted he got out of his car, but he maintained he did not shoot her.

“I stood there, and I wouldn’t go any further,” Darby told the detectives during the videotaped interrogation shown to jurors. This would have happened about the same time Sgt. Marshall was killed, evidence shows. Yet Darby maintained he neither killed her nor saw who did it.

Detectives obtained cellular phone evidence that proved that Darby was stalking Sgt. Marshall. Authorities in Alabama obtained the data from Darby’s cell phone, showing that he used a Google Maps app to search for her Terrytown residence, and for the St. Charles Avenue restaurant in New Orleans where she and her date had dinner hours before she was killed, Faucetta testified.

Other cell phone data showed Darby was at numerous locations around where Sgt. Marshall was with her date in New Orleans in the hours before she was killed, Faucetta testified. Further, Darby’s cell phone data showed he was near Sgt. Marshall’s neighborhood around the time of the homicide.

His text messaging history included his asking his son for “a heater” so he could go hunting, suggesting he was seeking a gun. Deputies have not recovered the pistol that Darby used to kill Sgt. Marshall.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman prosecuted the case.

blue bar 2





Metairie man guilty of killing girlfriend’s toddler son

A Metairie man has been convicted of the second-degree murder of his girlfriend’s 27-month-old son, who died from blunt-force traumatic injuries caused by numerous beatings.

Troy Kelly, 30, faces a mandatory life sentence in prison for causing the death of Semaj Batiste on the evening of Feb. 20, 2014 or early the following morning in their apartment in the 300 block of North Laurel Street.

The autopsy, conducted by the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office, revealed the toddler had suffered numerous injuries, including lacerations to the liver and spleen and broken ribs. The injuries were inflicted within hours of his death, and some were so severe that he likely would not have survived even had he received medical attention, according to the Coroner’s Office.

The pathologist’s findings contradicted Kelly’s assertions that Batiste received the injuries from a single event. When questioned by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, Kelly said he had bathed Batiste and two of his older siblings together the night before the death.

Kelly said Batiste defecated in the tub, and that three children were playing with the stool when he discovered what happened. He said he quickly pulled the children out of the tub, and in doing so he might have flung Semaj into the toilet.

Pressed by detectives who knew about the autopsy results, Kelly denied physically abusing the child. But prior to partially confessing, Kelly was observed praying and heard saying, “I’m sorry, Jesus. I’m so sorry.”

The toddler’s mother called 911 on the morning of Feb. 21, 2014, after discovering her son was not breathing. The night before, the mother said she had put her toddler and two of his older siblings to bed when she noticed he was not feeling well. Believing her son was getting sick, she gave him Tylenol.

A Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about two hours before returning with its verdict on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 16). Judge Donnie Rowan of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Kelly on March 2.

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

blue bar 2

Jefferson man convicted of another purse snatching

A Jefferson man has been convicted of purse snatching, for assailing a woman as she exited an Old Jefferson business.

Eric Fitch, 37, who was convicted of committing a similar offense in Terrebonne Parish in 2013, was convicted by a six-member Jefferson Parish jury on Wednesday (Feb. 15). He also was found guilty of resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.

On Nov. 28, 2015, the 64-year-old victim had left a bar in the 3500 block of Jefferson Highway just before midnight and was getting into the passenger’s seat of a friend’s vehicle when Fitch approached her asking for a cigarette. The woman, who had placed her purse in the car, told him she did not smoke. That’s when Fitch pushed her into the car, snatched the purse and ran away.

Because the victim’s cell phone was in the purse, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office was able to quickly track the stolen items. Deputies found Fitch just after 1 a.m., hiding in a large trash receptacle behind a grocery store in the 3600 block of Jefferson Highway.

Fitch refused to get out of the receptacle, leading Deputy Daniel Lassus to forcibly remove him and leading to the resisting arrest charge. The victim positively identified Fitch as the man who stole her purse.

Fitch was convicted of a felony theft offense tied to purse snatching in the 32nd Judicial District Court, in Terrebonne Parish, four years ago. He grabbed a 55-year-old woman’s purse as she left a business in Houma. Her wallet fell out of the purse as he tried to run. The victim picked up her wallet, and Fitch returned and grabbed it, too.

He also has convictions of attempted simple robbery and simple robbery, in Houma and Golden Meadow. His criminal history could lead him to receive a sentencing enhancement.

Judge June Berry Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court, who heard testimony concurrently with the purse snatching case, found Fitch guilty of resisting arrest. Judge Darensburg is scheduled to sentence Fitch on Wednesday (Feb. 22).

Assistant District Attorneys Josh Vanderhooft and Thomas Sanderson prosecuted the case.

blue bar 2

Bridge City man sentenced to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing child

A Bridge City man was sentenced to 60 years in prison on Thursday (Feb. 9), for his conviction of sexually abusing a girl during a 5-year period.

Trevor Clifton, 37, also faces a lifetime of electronic monitoring by the state and sex-offender registration should he be released from prison, 24th Judicial District Judge E. Adrian Adams ordered in announcing the punishment.

A Jefferson Parish jury convicted Clifton as charged on Jan. 26 of sexual battery of a victim under age 13, and sexual battery. Sexual battery involving a child age 13 or under carries a punishment of 25 years to 99 years in prison.

For the former charge, Judge Adams handed down a 60-year sentence with the first 25 years to be served without benefit of probation, parole or suspended sentence. Judge Adams sentenced Clifton to the maximum 10 years for the latter charge. He ran the sentences concurrently.

The victim’s mother caught Clifton in the act of abusing the child on Oct. 2, 2015, when the victim was 14 years old. In impact testimony on Thursday, the woman told Judge Adams how Clifton’s actions adversely affected her and her daughter.

“Trevor Clifton showed no remorse for the horrible decisions he has made in his life,” the mother testified.

She added that with the sentencing hearing behind them, her daughter can grow into an intelligent woman. “Now she has a voice. I will not let this situation ruin her life.”

After she discovered the abuse, the mother called 911. Before the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office arrived, Clifton confessed to the mother that he abused the child only that one time, according to trial testimony.

Clifton brandished a knife and threatened to cut his own throat. But before deputies arrived, Clifton fled, triggering a two-day manhunt that ended with his arrest. Deputies tracked him to a woman’s home in Harvey. There, the deputies found Clifton hiding behind a refrigerator.

Authorities recovered a man’s DNA from the victim’s body, but the amount of genetic material was not enough for analysts to identify its donor. Meanwhile, through interviews, the victim disclosed Clifton had been abusing her since she was about 9 years old.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Josh Vanderhooft prosecuted the case.

blue bar 2


Former Terrytown resident convicted of raping girl on 10th birthday

A former Jefferson Parish resident faces spending the rest of his life in prison, for his conviction on Tuesday night (Feb. 7) of raping a girl on her 10th birthday five years ago.

Brian Banks, 52, was convicted as charged of the aggravated rape of the child in his West Bank apartment in February 2012. The victim, now age 14, is not being identified.

She testified that during a visit to his apartment in Terrytown, Banks ordered her to go to his bedroom, where he forced himself upon her. She recounted the abuse for a jury and to forensic interviewer Brittany Bergeron of the Jefferson Children’s Advocacy Center. “If you tell anybody, you’re going to hell,” the victim told Bergeron in repeating what Banks told her.

The victim testified that she was too embarrassed to report what happened, and she did not understand that she was raped until later in life, when she took sex education at her school. She said nothing about the rape for three years, until her mother, concerned about her daughter’s trouble in school, asked her to speak with a member of their church congregation who worked in the criminal justice field.

The crime still was not immediately reported. In April 2015, however, the victim and a classmate passed a note back and forth in class, in which they shared their stories of being sexually abused, according to testimony. Their teacher intercepted the note and alerted a school counselor, who in turn notified police.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office opened its investigation. The victim consistently recounted the crime to detectives, a doctor at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, a forensic interviewer at the Jefferson Children’s Advocacy Center and to staff at the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Banks lived in Houston, Texas, at the time he was arrested on July 7, 2015, as a result of the victim’s disclosure. In testimony, he denied raping the child. He asserted he was playing golf with a friend at the time the victim was raped, and in doing so, he contradicted a statement he made during a previous court proceeding.

The jury deliberated 2 ½ hours before reaching its unanimous decision. Life in prison is the mandatory punishment for aggravated rape under Louisiana law. Judge Nancy Miller of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Banks on Monday (Feb. 13).

Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Sanderson and Lindsay Truhe prosecuted the case.

blue bar 2

Grand jury indicts Ronald Gasser with 2nd-degree murder of Joseph McKnight

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul D. Connick, Jr. announced today that the grand jury has returned an indictment against Ronald Gasser, Jr.

Gasser, 55, was indicted for the second-degree murder of Joseph N. McKnight, Jr., on Dec. 1, 2016. Based upon the evidence available at the time, Gasser was arrested on Dec. 5, 2016 for the crime of manslaughter. Subsequent to that arrest, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office continued working together in a collaborative effort to develop additional evidence regarding the case. Today’s indictment comes as a result of that joint effort.

If convicted as charged, Gasser would face a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

As a result of the indictment, Gasser’s bond was increased to $750,000 by Judge June Darensburg of the 24th Judicial District Court.

In keeping with office policy, there will be no further comment by this office.

blue bar 2