Month: April 2018

Kenner man sentenced to life plus 40 years in murder and dismemberment case


Convicted of killing his rival in a Kenner love triangle before dismembering the slain man’s body and discarding the parts in a River Parishes swamp, Viusqui J. Perez-Espinosa was sentenced Thursday (April 26) to spend the rest of his life in prison plus 40 years.

Perez, 45, a Cuban national whose work history included that of a butcher, was convicted as charged last month of the second-degree murder of Alexis Portales-Lara on Nov. 11, 2016. Portales was murdered in the Baylor Place apartment he shared with his lover, a woman who also is a Cuban national and who previously was romantically involved with Perez.

According to trial testimony, Perez hoped to rekindle the relationship, and Portales was in the way.

On the day after he killed Portales, Perez disarticulated the body, stuffed the remains in garbage bags and drove to St. John the Baptist Parish, where he dumped the bags into the swamp near the Reserve Canal off Interstate 10.

For his efforts to conceal his crime, Perez also was convicted as charged of obstruction of justice and was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 40 years in prison.

Portales, a Honduran national, moved to East Jefferson to be close to his young daughter, according to trial evidence.

Portales’ ex-wife provided a statement to the court in lieu of live impact testimony on Thursday, expressing the emotional and financial hardships she and their 5-year-old daughter suffer because of his death.

“With tears in her eyes, she tells me, ‘Mommy, I miss my daddy,’” the mother wrote.

Portales and Perez worked together for a scaffold company in Norco. Portales moved in with Perez’s ex-girlfriend in Kenner. She later allowed Perez to temporarily move in with them after his relationship with another woman ended, according to evidence presented to the jury.

Portales was last seen alive on the evening of Nov. 11, 2016. The Kenner Police Department initially investigated the matter as a missing person’s complaint and found blood in the Baylor Place apartment. That blood was later determined to be Portales’, according to evidence presented during the trial.

Then, on Dec. 29, 2016, a fisherman found a right arm in the Reserve Canal. The following month, pipeline workers who were dredging the canal found the legs and torso. The remains were determined to be Portales, whose head and left arm have not been located.

At trial, the jury heard testimony about Perez sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend in the apartment after Portales went to work. Perez, who denies assaulting the woman, asserted he was defending himself from Portales’ attack. During the scuffle, Perez asserted in trial testimony, Portales stabbed himself in the neck and caused his own death.

Perez testified that the body was too heavy for him to move, so he cut it into pieces. His attorney told jurors that he panicked.

At the end of a six-day trial, a Jefferson Parish jury on March 26 convicted Perez as charged of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice.

After denying defense motions for a new trial and post-verdict judgment of acquittal on Thursday, Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court handed down the sentences, which she ran consecutively.

Judge Kovach noted, “I can think of no worse obstruction of justice than that which occurred in this case.”

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



With an apology, Harvey defendant pleads guilty to killing Shamarie Joseph

As jury selection was about to begin in his trial, an apologetic Romalis Levier pleaded guilty Tuesday (April 24) to inadvertently causing the death of a 15-year-old girl while he was shooting at a rival on a Harvey street.

Levier, 20, of Harvey, accepted the maximum 40-year prison sentence in pleading guilty to manslaughter for the Dec. 22, 2015, death of Shamarie Joseph. She was inside an apartment in the 1600 block of Apache Drive, holding a toddler, when a bullet Levier fired at a teenager on the street punched through a wall and struck her in the chest.

Shamarie’s mother gave tearful impact testimony, telling the court that her daughter was an athletic teen who aspired to be a gynecologist or pediatrician. She stood at the witness seat in the courtroom Tuesday and faced Levier as he sat nearby at the defense table. Levier stood and faced her.

“I forgive you,” she told Levier through her weeping. “I don’t hold no grudges in my heart. I forgive you, but I will never forget, because she is never coming back.”

Shamarie’s aunt also provided impact testimony, telling the court about her pain and reiterating that their family carries no grudges. “We just want to know why. Why? Why there?” she said of the shooting.

Levier later read a prepared statement, in which he offered his apologies to Shamarie’s mother. “I hope you forgive me,” he told Shamarie’s mother.

Seated in the audience by this point during the plea hearing, she responded, “I forgive you.”

Levier was involved in an ongoing dispute with another group of individuals when he opened fire on Emmett Garrison IV in retaliation for a Dec. 9, 2015, shooting in Marrero. Garrison, who since has been convicted of a slew of crimes, was struck by one of the bullets.

For that, Levier pleaded guilty as charged Tuesday to attempted second-degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Levier also pleaded guilty as charged to obstruction of justice, for which he received a 40-year sentence; conspiracy to obstruct justice, for which he received a 30-year sentence; and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of Tramadol, for which he was sentenced to 30 years and five years, respectively.

In accepting the plea, Judge Danyelle Taylor of the 24th Judicial District Court ran the sentences concurrently, for a total of 40 years.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Blair Constant prosecuted the case.


Man convicted of killing Bridge City bicyclist in hit-and-run case

A New Orleans man was convicted Wednesday night (April 18) of hitting and killing a 65-year-old bicyclist on a Bridge City road.

Taurus C. Hale, 21, who at the time of the incident lived in Marrero, was found guilty as charged of hit-and-run driving causing death or serious bodily injury, in which he killed Bruce McJilton about 10:30 p.m., on Feb. 15, 2017.

Hale was driving his 2003 Honda Odyssey south on Nine Mile Point Road, just north of the Westbank Expressway, when he struck McJilton head-on as he rode his bicycle. The impact caused damage on the front driver’s side of the minivan and its windshield, scattering vehicle debris in the northbound lane.

McJilton, of Bridge City, was thrown onto the side of the road. At about 7 a.m., the following day, a passing motorist spotted McJilton’s body on the grassy shoulder, near his bicycle.

That same day, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators identified Hale’s vehicle as being involved and went to his mother’s home. Hale’s attorney called the Sheriff’s Office, offering to surrender him. The attorney also directed deputies to Hale’s minivan, which was parked in New Orleans.

In a statement to deputies, Hale asserted he thought he was involved in an accident with another vehicle that fled, and he did not report the incident because he had only liability insurance. He said he later saw a report on a news website about a pedestrian being killed on Nine Mile Point Road and suspected that he might have been involved.

The six-member Jefferson Parish jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning its verdict about 8 p.m. Judge E. Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Hale on May 2.

Assistant District Attorneys Matt Clauss and Brittany Beckner prosecuted the case.

Gretna couple sentenced to decades in prison for molesting three girls

A Gretna couple convicted last month of sexually abusing three juvenile girls has been sentenced to prison.

Elvin Villafranca, 40, and Argentina Mesa, 54, were sentenced Monday (April 16) to 60 years and 35 years, respectively, for their March 20 convictions of abusing the girls in their Newton Street home in 2013 and 2014.

The Gretna Police Department investigation began in November 2014, after detectives learned that a 7-year-old girl was molested while being babysat at the couple’s home. For this victim, Villafranca was convicted of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13 and received a 25-year prison sentence.

The victim’s mother later asked a relative whether she had contact with Mesa and Villafranca. That victim disclosed she was sexually abused by the couple at age 13, after the couple gave her alcohol to drink during a sleepover, according to evidence presented at trial.

In connection with this second victim, Villafranca was convicted of attempted forcible rape and was sentenced to 10 years, and Mesa was convicted of sexual battery and was sentenced to 10 years.

A third victim came forward saying she, too, was sexually abused at the Newton Street residence when she was 9 years old. For this, Villafranca and Mesa were convicted of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13 and received a 25-year sentences.

After hearing impact testimony from the mothers of two of the victims and denying post-verdict motions, Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court handed down the sentences. He ran them consecutively, citing the fact that the crimes involved three separate victims and that anything less would deprecate the seriousness of the crimes.

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

‘Grant me the Serenity, Courage & Wisdom,’ on National Crime Victims Rights Week 2018

Nancy Michel, chief of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Assistance Division. (JPDA photo by Paul Purpura)

It was late last year when Nancy Michel and Assistant District Attorney Kenny Bordelon carried out the unenviable task of meeting with the grieving mother of a young man who was fatally shot in Marrero. There was not enough evidence needed to commence a murder case against the man suspected of killing her son, they told her.

In her 17 years with the Victim/Witness Assistance Division of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, Nancy Michel has met with countless crime victims and their survivors, helping them through the most difficult periods of their lives while guiding them as they navigate the criminal justice system.

But this woman’s composure amid receiving the bad news stood out, Nancy Michel recalled.

“She said, ‘There’s nothing I can do but leave you with the words of my son, what he would tell me every time we spoke. He would end our conversation with this:

‘God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

“I was so moved, I was almost speechless,” Nancy Michel recalled. “She left us with those words of the Serenity Prayer.

“And I said, ‘Please don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever lose faith in our system, because even though we can’t go forward, this case won’t get thrown into a pile and never come back. Never give up hope. Maybe someone will come forward with new evidence.’”

Bordelon recalls the meeting with the woman and family members. “She helped me remember why I do this job,” he said. “Her strength, determination and love for her son was evident. My hope was that we could provide her with the support and guidance to assist her and her family through this tragic time in their lives.”

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2018 is April 8-14. It’s an event recognized nationwide to focus attention on everything from resources for crime victims to the victims and survivors themselves.

This year’s theme is “Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims,” emphasizing how the crime victims field can better ensure that every crime victim has access to services and support, and how professionals like Nancy Michel and her team of Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinators can work with other organizations to reach all victims.

Having helped organize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week events in the past in Jefferson Parish and the region, Nancy Michel, who has been chief of the Victim/Witness Division for the past decade, said she was inspired this year by the grieving mother in deciding her theme for this year. Like they did last year, she and District Attorney Paul D. Connick, Jr. have started a wristband campaign.

This year, the words “Serenity Courage Wisdom” are inscribed in the wristbands, giving a nod to the grieving mother.

“It’s not only applied to every victim, it’s applied to everyday life, to everyone’s circumstances,” Nancy Michel said.

“A victim needs eventually to find serenity, some sense of peace,” she said. “Serenity. They need courage to get through the process, to confront the person who harmed them. And that’s where the advocates come in. That’s the role of the advocate, and their families, for the support. That’s what gives them the courage to get through this.

“And wisdom,” she said. “I say wisdom because a lot of victims who’ve gone through something so traumatic or through tremendous violence, in my years of experience here, question their faith, or question why this happened to them. They question the system. They question so many things.”

That’s where the Serenity Prayer applies, she said.

“Grant me the wisdom to understand,” Nancy Michel said. “Help me understand why I became a victim. Grant me the wisdom to understand why my loved one was taken from me. Help me understand why I have to relive again this in court. Help me understand why it was guilty and I feel bad that the person’s going away for a long time.

“The wisdom can mean many different things,” Nancy Michel said. “Some victims ask, ‘Why do I feel sorry for this person who harmed me?’ Others ask, ‘Why don’t I feel sorry?’ Or why can’t I forgive them?’”

“And I say to them, ‘No one can tell you how to feel. You have to take this one day at a time in your journey of healing.’ I don’t think victims of violence ever get closure, especially survivors of homicide victims. Justice is not closure. It is the ending of a chapter in their grieving process.”

Look for the wristbands worn at the Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish district attorneys’ offices, the Jefferson Parish and Plaquemines Parish sheriff’s offices, the Gretna, Westwego, Jean Lafitte, Harahan and Kenner police departments, the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Aside from the wristband campaign, a second annual mass will be dedicated to crime victims, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday (April 10), at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 8968 Louisiana Hwy. 23, in Belle Chasse. Refreshments will be served following the mass.

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office joins with the Plaquemines Parish District Attorney’s Office and the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office in hosting the mass.

Read about the Louisiana Crime Victims Bill of Rights by clicking here.

The District Attorney’s Office is distributing wristbands free of charge at its main office, 200 Derbigny St., Gretna, during business hours, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Ask the receptionists to speak with a Victim/Witness Assistance Coordinator. For information, call the Jefferson Parish DA’s Victim/Witness Assistance Division at 504.361.2860.

Terrytown teen sentenced to life with parole in Westwego murder

A Terrytown teen was sentenced Wednesday (April 4) to life in prison with the benefit of parole eligibility for killing a 15-year-old boy in Westwego.

Chamid Davis, 19, committed the second-degree murder of Kevin Thomas Jr., on Oct. 19, 2015, a Jefferson Parish jury decided last month.

Davis, who was 16 years old at the time, lured Thomas out of his family’s apartment in the Tanglewood complex in the 1000 block of Sycamore Drive, under the guise of a marijuana transaction, according to evidence presented at trial.

Evidence showed Thomas was shot three times in his back as he ran back up to his apartment, where he died in his mother’s arms. According to prosecutors’ theory of the case, Thomas was targeted over a stolen gun.

With Thomas’ father standing by her side in court Wednesday, Thomas’ mother provided impact testimony, thanking the Westwego Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office. “You destroyed a whole family, not only ours, but yours,” she told Davis.

Because he was under age 18 at the time of the offense, Davis is eligible to seek parole after serving 25 years of his life sentence. After denying defense motions for a new trial and post-verdict judgment of acquittal, Judge Henry Sullivan of the 24th Judicial District Court announced the sentence.

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