Rondell Lasalle sentenced to 35 years for Harvey manslaughter conviction

A Jefferson Parish judge on Thursday (June 30) sentenced Rondell Lasalle to 35 years in prison for his conviction of shooting a man in the back during a fight in a Harvey apartment.

Lasalle, 30, of Marrero, was convicted by a jury on April 6 of manslaughter in the death of James Cole, 27. Lasalle also was found guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

On the night of March 8, 2020, Lasalle and Cole were in an apartment in the 1100 block of Orange Blossom Lane when an argument escalated to a physical altercation. During the fight, Lasalle shot Cole in the back. Cole died the following day.

Shortly after he was shot, Cole told a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy that Lasalle was the shooter. Other people who were in the apartment did not see the fight but heard the ruckus and two gunshots. One witness also saw Lasalle leave the apartment immediately after the gunshots.

Soon after, the Gretna Police Department detained Lasalle after seeing him walking along a drainage canal bank that marks the city’s municipal boundary with Harvey and is two blocks from Orange Blossom Lane.

Lasalle carried a backpack, in which there was a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. A fired casing was jammed in the slide, making the pistol inoperable, according to testimony.

Lasalle asserted self-defense, and his attorneys argued the shooting was accidental. Lasalle testified that during an afternoon of playing video games, he teased Cole about the mother of his children. The friction led to an argument that escalated to a fist fight and culminated with Cole brandishing a pistol, Lasalle testified.

He told jurors that he twisted Cole’s arm behind his back in trying to disarm him, and that’s when the pistol fired. Fearing retribution from Cole’s friends, Lasalle said he picked up the pistol and fled instead of calling 911 and trying to help the dying man.

Both men’s DNA was recovered from the pistol. Lasalle’s DNA was recovered in far greater amounts, suggesting that the pistol was his, according to testimony.

Prosecutors put on rebuttal witnesses to refute Lasalle’s self-defense assertion. Evidence showed that Cole was shot in the back at a distance, meaning the pistol was not mere inches from his back when the trigger was pulled, as Lasalle described in testimony. Also, the trajectory that the bullet followed through Cole’s body further refuted Lasalle’s version of the shooting, according to testimony.

By law, Lasalle was prohibited from possessing firearms because of his criminal history. Jurors heard of a simple burglary conviction and that he was previously convicted of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

For killing Cole, Lasalle stood trial on a charge of second-degree murder. The jury deliberated just over two hours in finding Lasalle guilty of manslaughter, a lesser homicide offense that carries a punishment of up to 40 years in prison.

On Thursday, Judge Michael Mentz of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Lasalle to 35 years for manslaughter and 20 years for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Judge Mentz ran the sentences concurrently.

Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Sanderson and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.