A Jefferson Parish judge on Tuesday (Dec. 6) sentenced Virgil Masey Wheeler III to five years of active probation, after the defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.
Wheeler, 64, of Metairie, had been charged with two counts of sexual battery of a juvenile and two counts of indecent behavior. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the sexual battery charges were reduced to indecent behavior charges.
After accepting the plea, 24th Judicial District Judge Donnie Rowan heard the victim’s impact statement before sentencing Wheeler to five years in prison at hard labor. Judge Rowan suspended the prison sentence and ordered Wheeler to serve five years of active probation.
Additionally, Wheeler must register as a sex offender for 15 years. Wheeler also will be prohibited from contacting the victim for the rest of his life, according to a restraining order to which the defendant agreed.
Assistant District Attorneys Jenny Voss and Matthew Whitworth prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish judge on Thursday (Dec. 1) sentenced Jagon Eldridge to 25 years in prison for his conviction of possessing child pornography.
Eldridge, 49, formerly of Westwego, was convicted as charged by a Jefferson Parish jury on Nov. 9 of eight counts of possessing pornographic images involving children under age 13.
In February 2017, a special agent with the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crime Unit was conducting an undercover investigation of child pornography on the internet and uncovered illegal images that were tracked to Eldridge.
Special agents arrested Eldridge in May 2018. They searched Eldridge’s Avenue G home and obtained images and videos depicting child victims.
At trial last month, Eldridge asserted a number of defenses, including that the state could not prove that the images belonged to him. The jury, which also heard evidence of Eldridge possessing illegal images in 2010, deliberated about 45 minutes in returning with its unanimous guilty verdicts.
During the sentencing hearing on Thursday, Eldridge pleaded for mercy in a lengthy statement to the court. He asked that he be sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. Possessing child pornography carries a sentencing range of 10 to 40 years in prison.
Noting that the child victims were likely asking for mercy when they were being abused, Judge Stephen Enright of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Eldridge to 25 years in prison on each of the eight counts. Judge Enright ran the sentences concurrently.
Eldridge also will have to register as a sex offender for 25 years after his release from prison.
Assistant District Attorney’s Piper Didier and Seth Shute prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Wednesday night (Nov. 9) convicted Jagon Eldridge of possession of child pornography.
Eldridge, 49, formerly of Westwego, is guilty as charged of eight counts of possessing pornographic images involving children under age 13.
Eldridge was arrested in May 2018, by Special agents with the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crime Unit.
A special agent was involved in an undercover investigation of child pornography on the internet when in February 2017 he uncovered illegal images that were tracked to Eldridge. A search of his Avenue G home yielded images and videos of victims.
Through his attorney, Eldridge asserted a number of defenses, including that the state could not prove that the images belonged to him.
The jury deliberated about 45 minutes before returning with its unanimous verdicts. Judge Stephen Enright of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Eldridge on Thursday (Nov. 17).
Assistant District Attorney’s Piper Didier and Seth Shute prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Wednesday (July 13) found Sherneskie Bell guilty as charged of possession of pornography involving juveniles under age 13.
Bell, 62, of Kenner, downloaded about 2,700 images, videos and GIFs to his mobile phone over a period of months in 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office concluded. The images included children as young as 3 years old.
The Kenner Police Department opened the investigation of Bell in October 2018, following an argument he had with his teenage girlfriend after she heard that he had nude photographs of her on his mobile phone.
She fled to her home with the phone, unlocked it and discovered the pornographic images involving juveniles. Her sister promptly brought the phone to the Kenner Police Department.
Detectives also found a notebook in his apartment in which he listed pornographic websites and search terms for search engines. Bell wrote of marrying girls as young as 12 years old.
In testimony on Wednesday, Bell told jurors that his girlfriend stole his mobile phone and downloaded the pornographic images to frame him. He also asserted that his coworkers sometimes used his phone. Bell also suggested that his girlfriend and her sister manipulated data in his mobile phone to show the images were downloaded over a period of months.
In rebuttal, the prosecution team provided expert testimony from the Sheriff’s Office’s Digital Forensic Unit, showing that it would have been impossible for Bell’s ex-girlfriend to have the expertise to manipulate the download dates in a matter of hours to show the images were obtained over a period of months.
The jury, which was seated on Tuesday, deliberated about 45 minutes in reaching its unanimous verdict. Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Bell on Aug. 10.
Assistant District Attorneys Blaine Moncrief and Lynn Schiffman prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Wednesday night (June 15) found Abraham Aguilar guilty as charged of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13.
Aguilar, 40, of Marrero, committed the crime between Jan. 1, 2020 and Aug. 18, 2020, when the victim was 11 years old. In addition to the felony offense, Aguilar was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery involving the same victim.
Aguilar was tried on both charges simultaneously. Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District Court weighed evidence presented on the misdemeanor offense, and the jury weighed evidence presented for the felony offense.
The jury, which was seated on Monday, deliberated about 2 ½ hours in reaching its unanimous verdict. Judge Kovach is scheduled to sentence Aguilar on June 30.
Assistant District Attorneys Christina Fisher and John Ransone prosecuted the cases.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Tuesday night (May 24) convicted Hoang M. Le of sexually molesting a child over an 11-year period.
Le, 32, of Harvey, is guilty as charged of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13 and sexual battery. Both counts involve the same victim, who was 6 years old when the abuse began in 2009. The abuse continued into 2020, when the victim was 17 and the crimes were reported to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The jury deliberated three hours before returning its verdict about 8 p.m., Tuesday. Judge Frank Brindisi of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Le on Tuesday (May 31).
Assistant District Attorneys Gabrielle Hosli and Eric Cusimano prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday evening (June 3) found Tobe Lawrence Jr. guilty as charged of raping a child during a 7-year period.
Lawrence, 59, of Kenner, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for his conviction of first-degree rape of a victim under the age of 12. The abuse, which occurred between from 2001 and 2008, was reported to the Kenner Police Department in July 2018.
Prosecutors were also able to present testimony from an additional victim who is now 35 years old who was abused by the defendant in a similar manner. That victim was initially reluctant to participate in the prosecution. While Lawrence was not charged for abusing this victim, prosecutors were allowed to present this testimony to show evidence of Lawrence’s commission of another crime, wrong or act involving sexually assaultive behavior under Louisiana law as “lustful disposition” towards a child.
Lawrence, a then volunteer coach in the Kenner Parks and Recreations Department’s Lincoln Manor Gym, denied the accusations and said the victims lied. Of the child he raped, his defense lawyers asserted the victim must have confused Lawrence with a convicted sex offender who lived near their client.
Jurors deliberated just over one hour before returning their unanimous verdict. Judge Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Lawrence on June 30.
Assistant District Attorneys Zach Grate and Lindsey Truhe prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish judge on Wednesday (Oct. 9) sentenced Lionel Smith of Harvey to 13 years in prison after a jury convicted him of cruelty to juveniles upon he and his girlfriend’s children as well as her children from another relationship.
Judge Stephen Grefer of the 24th Judicial District Court also sentenced the children’s mother, Cieara Wilson, also of Harvey, to eight years in prison, suspending all but one year of the prison term.
Smith, 32, was convicted as charged by a Jefferson Parish jury on Sept. 5 of four counts of cruelty to juveniles. Wilson, 33, who was tried with Smith, was convicted as charged of two counts of cruelty to juveniles. The crimes, which occurred over a period of years, were reported to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in November 2016, when the children were ages 3, 4, 12 and 14.
Wilson was the mother of all four children, and she had two of the children with Smith, who meted out severe punishment to all four children while Wilson did little to nothing to intervene, Judge Grefer noted. He ordered the parents to view crime scene photos of the children’s injuries during the sentencing hearing.
“They were severe,” Judge Grefer said of the injuries. “They were intentional. They were repeated.”
Smith inflicted the brunt of the beatings. Wilson also beat her kids but not as severely. Still, Judge Grefer noted, Wilson did nothing to stop Smith. “I don’t see how you can allow that to happen to your kids,” he said.
Assistant District Attorneys Laura Schneidau and Emily Booth prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish judge on Monday (Sept. 30) sentenced Twyena Thomas to life in prison for her conviction of killing her 28-month-old son, Chase Thomas.
On the two-year anniversary of Chase’s death, Thomas, 29, appeared in court to receive the mandatory punishment for second-degree murder. A Jefferson Parish jury on Aug. 22 convicted her as charged for causing her son’s death in their Kenner apartment through blunt-force trauma injuries to his head. Chase also weighed a mere 15 pounds at death.
“Chase’s scars, scabs, bruises, his broken skull and his 15-pound body tell us that you were the hateful monster.”
“Chase died alone in his room, scared not of the imaginary monster in his closet, but you. You were the monster. Chase’s scars, scabs, bruises, his broken skull and his 15-pound body tell us that you were the hateful monster,” 24th Judicial District Judge Danyelle Taylor said in sentencing Thomas to life at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
After denying post-verdict motions for a new trial, Judge Taylor heard letters written by six people and two witnesses before handing down the sentence. The defendant addressed the Court prior to sentencing and stated that Chase “didn’t deserve that.”
Assistant District Attorneys Matthew Whitworth and Jenny Voss prosecuted the case.
A Jefferson Parish judge sentenced Rafael Chinchilla to 60 years in prison Thursday (Sept. 12), for his conviction of sexually abusing a child.
Chinchilla, 33, a native of Honduras, was convicted by a Jefferson Parish jury on Aug. 30 of sexual battery of a juvenile under age 13, indecent behavior with a juvenile under age 13 and indecent behavior with a juvenile.
The abuse began when the victim was 11 years old and continued until she was 13. The crimes occurred in Metairie and Kenner, during which Chinchilla sent her text messages both professing his love for her and threatening her. Police were notified in February 2017, after the victim’s father searched her mobile device and found evidence of the abuse, including audio of the victim telling Chinchilla to stop.
After hearing impact testimony from the victim and her father, Judge E. Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Chinchilla to 60 years for the sexual battery, 20 years for the indecent behavior of a juvenile under age 13 and seven years for the indecent behavior with a juvenile. The sentences were run concurrently.
Judge Adams also ordered that, should Chinchilla be released from prison, he be electronically monitored and register as a sex offender for life.
Assistant District Attorneys Matthew Clauss and Emily Booth prosecuted the case.