Month: March 2018

Kenner man convicted of killing, dismembering rival in love triangle

Viusqui J. Perez-Espinosa was convicted Monday night (March 26) of murdering his ex-girlfriend’s new lover in Kenner before dismembering the body and dumping the parts in a St. John the Baptist Parish swamp.

Perez, 45, a Cuban national who had worked as a butcher, was convicted as charged of the second-degree murder of Ives Alexis Portales-Lara, 27. A Honduran immigrant who moved to East Jefferson to be near his young daughter, Portales was murdered Nov. 11, 2016, in the Baylor Place apartment he shared with Perez and the woman who was the third leg in their love triangle.

Perez also was convicted of obstruction of justice, for his efforts to conceal his crime. The day after he killed Portales, Perez disarticulated the body, packed the remains in garbage bags, stuffed them in his car’s trunk and drove to St. John the Baptist Parish, where he threw them off the Interstate 10 bridge over the swamps near the Reserve Canal, according to evidence presented during the trial.

“It was the most brutal possible way to die and be disposed of,” Assistant District Attorney Kellie Rish told jurors in opening statements.

“I’ve never seen a case when a victim is cut into pieces and thrown away like trash,” Assistant District Attorney Richard Olivier told jurors in closing argument.

According to evidence presented at trial, Perez and Portales were friends and co-workers at a scaffolding company who romanced the same woman. Perez was sexually involved with the woman for about 18 months before the relationship ended in September 2016. Portales moved in with her in her Baylor Place apartment, and a secret romantic relationship began.

Perez, who worked as a fisherman and boat captain in Cuba and as a butcher in Honduras before he migrated to the United States, pined for her affections and wanted Portales out of the picture, according to trial evidence.

With Portales’ blessing, his ex-girlfriend who also is a native of Cuba, allowed Perez to move in with them on Nov. 8, 2016, three days before the murder. Perez, aware of rumors of Portales’ relationship, offered his rival money to move into his own apartment.

On the morning of Nov. 11, 2016, after Portales left for work, Perez allegedly sexually assaulted his former girlfriend in her bed. Portales was last seen alive that evening.

The Kenner Police Department was notified, marking the start of a missing persons investigation. Officers responding to the complaint visited the Baylor Place apartment and noticed blood on the floor.

Using luminol, Kenner police later found blood on a wall, the ceiling and on furniture. Blood also was found in the trunk of Perez’s car. In the meantime, police booked Perez based on his ex-girlfriend’s assertion that he sexually assaulted her.

Later in November 2016, amid the missing persons investigation, the blood from the apartment was determined to belong to Portales, Dr. Marcela Zozaya, a forensic DNA analyst with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, testified. Dr. Zozaya likened the process to a paternity test, by matching the genetic material she extracted from the blood to that of Portales’ daughter.

On Dec. 29, 2016, a fisherman found a right arm in the Reserve Canal. On Jan. 12, 2017, pipeline workers dredging the canal found the legs and torso, according to the testimony. Portales’ head and left arm have not been found. The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office joined the investigation.

Through DNA analysis, Dr. Zozaya determined that the body parts belonged to Portales, she testified. Perez was then booked and subsequently charged with Portales’ murder.

Perez’s attorney asserted that Portales attacked Perez thinking that Perez sexually assaulted his girlfriend, an accusation that Perez denied. Testifying on Monday, Perez told jurors that Portales attacked him with a knife, and during the ensuing struggle, Portales cut his own throat and died as a result. The body was too heavy for him to carry to the trunk of his car, he testified. He refused to describe cutting up the body.

After a six-day trial during which more than 1,200 exhibits were presented by the state, the Jefferson Parish jury deliberated 2 ½ hours before delivering its verdicts. Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Perez to a mandatory life sentence in prison on April 26.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Richard Olivier prosecuted the case.

Terrytown teen convicted in Westwego murder

A Terrytown teen was convicted Friday night (March 23) of luring a 15-year-old boy out of his family’s Westwego apartment and fatally shooting him as he fled for his life.

Chamid Davis, 19, committed the second-degree murder of Kevin Thomas Jr., the Jefferson Parish jury decided.

The motive: Retaliation for Thomas allegedly stealing a gun. “It is really dumb to kill someone over a stolen gun,” Assistant District Attorney Matt Clauss, who prosecuted with Lindsay Truhe, said in closing argument. He called it “foolery.”

Just after midnight on Oct. 19, 2015, Davis, then age 16, contacted Thomas and, under the guise of a marijuana transaction, had him leave his home in the Tanglewood apartment complex in the 1000 block of Sycamore Drive, according to evidence presented at trial.

Evidence shows Thomas was shot in the back three times as he fled up the stairs to his apartment to escape the gunfire. He died in mother’s arms in their living room, according to trial evidence.

Davis denied it, and his attorney argued that Westwego Police Department detectives arrested the wrong person. The jury deliberated just over an hour before finding Davis guilty.

Judge Henry Sullivan of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Davis on April 4. Because he was under age 18 when he killed Thomas, Davis will be eligible for parole consideration after serving 25 years of his life sentence.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Lindsay Truhe prosecuted the case.


Gretna couple convicted of sexually abusing three juvenile girls

A Gretna couple was convicted Tuesday night (March 20) of molesting three juvenile girls, including a teenager who was given alcohol before she was sexually abused while in a drunken state.

Both Elvin Villafranca, 40, and Argentina Mesa, 54, were convicted of sexual battery counts for the crimes that occurred at their home in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, Villafranca was convicted of the attempted forcible rape of a 13-year-old girl, a responsive verdict, and Mesa was acquitted of being a principal to forcible rape involving the same victim.

“These are three victims, essentially three cases crammed into one case because of a common denominator: Mesa and Villafranca,” Assistant District Attorney Laura Schneidau, who prosecuted with Emily Booth, told jurors in closing argument.

The Gretna Police Department began its investigation in November 2014, after it learned that a 7-year-old girl was molested while being babysat at a Newton Street residence, according to evidence presented during the trial.

That victim’s mother initiated the investigation after seeing a matter of sexual nature on the child’s electronic tablet. Investigators learned that Villafranca inappropriately touched the victim, leading to his conviction of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13.

The mother of that victim later encountered a juvenile relative, who also had contact with Mesa and Villafranca, leading to the child’s disclosure that in November 2013, when she was 13 years old, she had been sexually abused at the couple’s Newton Street residence.

That second victim asserted that, during a sleepover, she was given alcohol and was not allowed to leave. For that victim, Villafranca was convicted of attempted forcible rape, and Mesa was convicted of sexual battery.

Another victim disclosed that she, too, was abused at the couple’s Newton Street residence when she was 9 years old. For this, Villafranca and Mesa were convicted as charged of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13 for this offense.

After a six-day trial, the jury deliberated almost six hours Tuesday before returning its verdicts. Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Mesa and Villafranca on April 16.

Assistant District Attorneys Laura Schneidau and Emily Booth prosecuted the case.

Ronald Gasser sentenced to 30 years in Joe McKnight’s death

Ronald Gasser, the West Jefferson man who killed former John Curtis Christian School and pro-football player Joe McKnight at a Terrytown intersection, was sentenced Thursday (March 15) to 30 years in prison.

A Jefferson Parish jury on Jan. 26 found Gasser, 56, guilty of manslaughter for killing McKnight, 28. Jurors rejected Gasser’s justifiable homicide defense and found he had specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm when he fired three .40-caliber bullets at the former pro running back during a fit of road rage on Dec. 1, 2016.

Following the conviction, Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court ordered a pre-sentence investigation to guide her in her decision. On Thursday, after rejecting a defense motion for a new trial and hearing and reading the impact testimony, Judge Kovach said the tragedy could have been easily avoided had both men disengaged.

Assistant District Attorneys Shannon Swaim and Seth Shute prosecuted the case.

Marrero man pleads guilty to social media hook-up armed robbery

With jury selection underway, a Marrero man cut short his trial Tuesday (March 6) and pleaded guilty as charged to robbing a man he met through a social media dating application.

Randell Mason, 27, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for robbing a 21-year-old New Orleans man of his car just before 2 a.m., on March 17, 2016. He also pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, for which he received a 15-year sentence.

Using the name “Aaron,” Mason met the victim days prior to the crime through the Badoo dating app, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. They exchanged cell phone numbers and communicated through text messages, eventually agreeing to meet in the 5000 block of Mount Rushmore Drive, according to the Sheriff’s Office incident report.

There, Mason got into the victim’s 2013 Chrysler 200C. They traveled to the 5000 block of Grenoble Court, in Marrero, where the victim believed Mason’s aunt lived. As they walked through an alley, Mason brandished a semiautomatic pistol and ordered the victim to give up the car keys. The victim complied, and Mason drove away.

Within hours, detectives identified Mason as the suspect through his photograph on the Badoo app. The U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force located and arrested Mason on April 9, 2016, in an apartment in the 5000 block of Mount Rushmore Drive.

When confronted with the Badoo account, Mason asserted someone created the fraudulent site by stealing his photograph from social media. He eventually said he planned to meet the victim for a sexual encounter but found the victim to be unattractive and began yelling at him.

The victim, Mason asserted, felt intimidated and simply gave him the keys to his car. He said drove home in the victim’s car and then he gave it to “a crack head” on Mount Rushmore. He also said the cell phone with which he communicated with the victim belonged to the same “crack head.” He also denied having a firearm during the encounter.

Jury selection began Tuesday morning. With prospective jurors selected and the victim waiting to testify against him, Mason offered to plead guilty to the two charges. He also pleaded guilty to being a double offender because of a prior carjacking conviction.

Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court accepted the plea and ran Mason’s sentences concurrently, for a total of 15 years..

Assistant District Attorneys Lynn Schiffman and Zachary Popovich prosecuted the case.