Jury rejects Avondale man’s claim of being framed, convicts him of drug and gun charges

Westley Simmons told jurors that Jefferson Parish deputies framed him as payback for a 2007 crime in New Orleans, where he shot a rifle at a police officer. “They put crack on me, heroin on me and a gun they got out the back,” he testified of his Nov. 15, 2014 arrest in an apartment in Harvey’s Tallow Tree neighborhood.

The Jefferson Parish jury deliberated about 3 1/2 hours on Wednesday night (May 25), finding Simmons guilty as charged of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession of cocaine, possession of heroin, possession of tramadol without a prescription and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Simmons, 26, of Avondale, who declined a pretrial offer this week to plead guilty in exchange for a 10-year sentence as a double offender, will be sentenced on June 17 by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Ray Steib.

He faces 10 years to 20 years for the firearm charge, two to 30 years for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, four to 10 years for each of the cocaine and heroin possession counts and up to five years for the tramadol.

He was barred by law from possessing guns because of his 2007 conviction in New Orleans Criminal District Court of aggravated assault on a peace officer with a firearm. He additionally had convictions of resisting arrest in 2007 and attempted convicted felon in possession of a firearm in 2009.

Wednesday’s conviction stems from his arrest in an apartment in the 1100 Orange Blossom Lane. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies had gotten an alert through a license plate recognition camera of a stolen Ford Explorer in the area and investigated.

The vehicle was parked in front of the apartment, where a man exited and told deputies that the man who drove the vehicle was inside. The deputies went to the front door, which was not completely closed, and knocked. They smelled marijuana smoke and entered, according to testimony.

They saw Simmons standing in the kitchen. Simmons saw the uniformed deputies and tried to run out of the back door, Deputy Chad Gagnon testified. “Once he saw that, he had the deer-in-the-headlights look,” Gagnon testified.

A locked security bar prevented Simmons from getting out of the back door. Deputy Blake Hollifield testified that Simmons resisted, and the deputy noted a hard object in the suspect’s pants waistband. It was a loaded semiautomatic pistol with a round in the chamber, meaning it was ready to be fired, Hollifield said.

The deputies found in Simmons’ pockets two grams of heroin and 5.5 grams of crack cocaine, wrapped in individual pieces, along with a half-gram of power cocaine and five tramadol pills. The deputies also found a digital scale and a cigar roller in his pockets, along with the key to the stolen vehicle.

A second man, Randy Owens, 32, of Algiers, also was arrested in the apartment. He pleaded guilty on April 27 to possession with intent to distribute marijuana and attempted possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Steib suspended a five-year prison sentence and ordered Owens to serve five years of probation.

Assistant District Attorneys Angad Ghai and Blair Constant prosecuted the case.

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