Tag: domestic abuse

Metairie man convicted of domestic abuse by strangulation

A Jefferson Parish jury has found Jose Sagastume guilty of strangling his wife during an argument in their Metairie home.

Sagastume, 34, was convicted as charged of domestic abuse by strangulation for the Sept. 15, 2019, incident.

According to evidence presented at trial, Sagastume returned home from a night out drinking and accused his wife of being unfaithful. The ensuing argument escalated to violence, when Sagastume tackled her, put his hands around her neck and began strangling her, according to trial evidence.

As the argument unfolded, the wife telephoned her cousin and asked him to go to their home. Amid the attack, the cousin arrived and knocked on the door, which enabled her to escape and call 911.

The jury heard testimony about a prior incident involving a physical altercation over jealousy.

Sagastume denied strangling his wife, an assertion the jury rejected after deliberating for about two hours on Tuesday (Nov. 9).

Judge R. Christopher Cox of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Sagastume on Monday (Nov. 15).

Assistant District Attorneys Rachel Africk and Stephen Downer prosecuted the case.

Law enforcement, court officials learn new law helping keep guns out of domestic abusers’ hands

Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Sunny Funk, chief of the Family Violence Unit, and Lt. Valerie Martinez-Jordan of the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office are engaged in a statewide effort to help train law enforcement officers and others on Louisiana’s new firearms divestiture law. (JPDA photos)

With a new Louisiana law designed to further protect domestic violence victims taking effect in coming weeks, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office is engaged in a statewide effort to educate law enforcement and court officials to ensure that certain offenders are not possessing firearms.

In addition to helping with the training seminars, the DA’s Office on Wednesday (Sept. 12) hosted a regional training session in its Media Room. It was the second of seven such regional events that are scheduled at sites across Louisiana before the law, Act 367, takes effect on Oct. 1.

Based on legislation authored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans during the 2018 legislative session and signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in May, Act 367 requires that local authorities coordinate in developing policies on how to remove firearms from people who are prohibited from possessing them because of civil and criminal protective orders and domestic violence convictions.

“There has to be a bit of statewide uniformity in this process,” Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Sunny Funk, chief of the Domestic Violence Unit, told about 50 attendees during Wednesday’s session in the JPDA Media Room in Gretna.

The law requires, for instance, that the sheriffs’ offices, clerks of court and district attorneys shall develop forms, policies and procedures by Jan. 1, 2019, detailing how the process is conducted.

Lt. Valerie Martinez-Jordan of the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, who has taken on a leadership role in Louisiana in ensuring that her colleagues among the state’s 64 parishes are implementing the protective measures for victims of domestic violence, told Wednesday’s attendees that they’ll return to their jurisdictions and adapt their processes to the new law.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter process for every parish,” Lt. Martinez-Jordan told the attendees.

Among other mandates, the law requires that licensed firearms dealers notify local sheriff’s offices if a person prohibited from possessing firearms attempts to purchase them. The law also imposes criminal penalties on dealers who provide firearms to prohibited people knowing that they are barred from having guns.

Judges also are to order the transfer of firearms to local sheriffs’ offices from defendants when they are convicted of certain offenses, such as domestic abuse battery and battery of a dating partner. Such defendants are required to turn over to the sheriff’s office all their firearms within 48 hours of the conviction or within 48 hours of their release from incarceration.

The firearms can be transferred to a third party or transferred to the sheriff’s offices, which in turn can place them in storage and charge the defendants “a reasonable fee” to cover the cost of storage.

Starting with the first session in Thibodaux on Friday (Sept. 7), ADA Funk, Lt. Martinez-Jordan and East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court Judge Pamela Baker, in connection with the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, are traveling across the state, meeting with local officials to help them implement Act 367’s mandates.

On Wednesday, law enforcement officials from Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Washington parishes converged on the DA’s Office Media Room for the daylong session.

Sessions are scheduled for sites in Scott, Baton Rouge, Pineville, Bossier City and Ruston. An eighth session is under consideration in New Orleans.








‘My mother was a wonderful woman,’ daughter writes as dad sentenced to life for her murder

A New Orleans man who was convicted this month of killing his ex-wife in front of their children was sentenced Thursday (Jan. 25) to a mandatory life sentence in prison.

Ronald Mitchell Sr., 39, shot Derice Bailey, 35, in the head and chest as they stood in the kitchen of her Aero Street home on Dec. 2, 2016.

The couple, which was attempting reconciliation, were arguing over Mitchell’s accusations of her infidelity. Her friends went to the home to attempt to mediate the dispute. Mitchell brandished a .38-caliber revolver and ordered the friends out of the house. They called 911.

Their children, then ages 9 and 13, remained inside with their parents, pleading with their father as he shot their mother. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies responding to the 911 call were outside the house and heard the gunshots. Inside, Mitchell put the pistol down, walked out of the house and surrendered, later confessing to his deed, according to trial evidence.

At trial, Mitchell’s attorney argued that it was a case of self-defense, saying a man he could not identify was hiding in the garage.

The jury deliberated less than 15 minutes on Jan. 12, in finding Mitchell guilty as charged of second-degree murder and of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

The couple’s daughter, who witnessed the homicide with her younger brother, wrote a letter to the court as impact testimony, telling the judge that she loves her mother and father.

“My mother was a wonderful woman. If you met her you would have thought the same thing,” she wrote to 24th Judicial District Judge E. Adrian Adams.

Judge Adams then sentenced Mitchell to the mandatory life sentence for the murder and 20 years for the firearm charge. Judge Adams ran the sentences concurrently.

Mitchell was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a 2003 conviction of the simple robbery of a Metairie business. He received a 5-year prison sentence for that crime.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Molly Massey prosecuted the case.

New Orleans man convicted of murdering his ex-wife in Metairie

A New Orleans man with a history of domestic abuse was convicted Friday (Jan. 12) of killing his ex-wife in her Metairie home, ignoring their young children’s pleas before shooting her in the chest and head.

Ronald Mitchell Sr., 39, faces spending the rest of his life in prison for the second-degree murder of Derice Bailey, 35. Mitchell’s history of domestic violence and drug abuse in the relationship dated to 2007 in both New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, but Bailey repeatedly gave him second chances, according to evidence presented during the trial.

In Bailey’s final days, Mitchell accused her of cheating, a baseless accusation that culminated Dec. 2, 2016, with his shooting her as she stood in the kitchen of her Aero Street home and professed her love for him, according to trial evidence.

“He obsessed about his ex-wife cheating on him. And lo and behold, his ex-wife wasn’t cheating on him. What a tragic, tragic mistake he made,” Assistant District Attorney Kellie Rish told jurors in closing argument.

“He looked at her. He aimed at her and he fired. And he fired again. His own words shows intent: ‘If I’m going to jail, I’m going for a reason,’” Assistant District Attorney Molly Massey told jurors. “He wanted this breakup to be the last, and that equals murder.”

Mitchell also was found guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, for retrieving a .38-caliber revolver he stashed at a vacant house before going to Bailey’s home. He was prohibited by state law from possessing firearms because of a 2003 conviction of the simple robbery of a Metairie business, for which he received a 5-year prison sentence.

Mitchell and Bailey were divorced. In the months before her death, she and Mitchell were attempting reconciliation. On the night she died, several of her friends went to her home to attempt to mediate the ongoing dispute over his accusations of her infidelity, according to trial evidence.

In the home, Mitchell brandished the revolver and forced the friends out of the house, leading them to call 911. He tried to force out their children, then ages 9 and 13, but they remained with their mother. The children begged their father to not shoot their mother.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived but were unable to get inside the house. The deputies heard the gunshots. Moments later, Mitchell emerged from the house with his arms raised and surrendered, telling the officers he was “tired of her cheating,” Rish said. Deputies found his revolver inside the house.

Mitchell later confessed to Detective Jean Lincoln, telling her that Bailey did not deserve to die as she did.

“He said he loved her to death. He loved her to death,” Rish told jurors, recounting Mitchell’s confession.

At trial, however, Mitchell’s attorney told jurors he was defending himself, suggesting he felt threatened by a man hiding in Bailey’s garage, and that the killing was justified. Mitchell did not testify in his own defense.

At the time he killed Bailey, Mitchell was awaiting trial on charges of domestic abuse battery and making harassing phone calls in Jefferson Parish, both involving his ex-wife as the victim.

The jury of eight women and four men that was seated on Tuesday deliberated 15 minutes before returning with the verdicts at 5 p.m., Friday.

Judge E. Adrian Adams of the 24th Judicial District Court is scheduled to sentence Mitchell on Jan. 25.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Molly Massey prosecuted the case.







New Orleans man sentenced to life in prison for killing JPSO Sgt. Tracey Marshall

Three days after he was convicted by a Jefferson Parish jury, an eastern New Orleans man was sentenced Tuesday (Feb. 21) to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his ex-girlfriend, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tracey Marshall.

James Darby, 49, will serve the life sentence at hard labor with no benefit of probation, parole or suspended sentence. He executed Sgt. Marshall as she was returning to her Terrytown condominium on Dec. 13, 2015, after a date with another man. She was 47.

Sgt. Marshall ended the couple’s tumultuous 12-year romantic relationship on the month before she died. At the time, she was assigned to the JPSO bailiff squad at the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna. She was employed by the Sheriff’s Office for about 10 years.

In the weeks before he killed her, Darby stalked her and harassed her with text messages, according to trial evidence. On the night she died, he followed her as she was on a date that included dinner at a St. Charles Avenue restaurant. He followed her to her home, where he fired eight .45-caliber bullets at her as she sat in the driver’s seat of her truck, striking her five times. Her body was found the following morning.

A Jefferson Parish jury on Saturday deliberated less than 40 minutes in finding Darby guilty as charged of second-degree murder. He was returned to Judge Nancy Miller’s courtroom on Monday morning for his sentencing hearing, during which he said nothing to Sgt. Marshall’s parents and friends who were in the audience.

“I want to hate this person. I want to, but I don’t.” – Barbara George White, Sgt. Marshall’s mother

Before sentencing Darby, Judge Miller denied defense requests for a new trial and a post-verdict judgment of acquittal.

Sgt. Marshall’s mother, Barbara George White, provided impact testimony, tearfully recounting the grief she feels. “I want to thank everybody who tried to help her, and every day I can see her,” Mrs. White testified. “She was a good and decent and loving person.”

She said she thinks of her daughter often. “It’s been very difficult,” she testified. “I can hardly sleep. I go to work, and it helps me a little. But when I’m by myself, I see her. I love her. She was a very good and decent person. She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t playing anybody. She was trying to get away from it. I couldn’t help her, because she didn’t tell me. I failed her in that.”

In handing down the sentence, Judge Miller told Darby that he robbed Mrs. White of her love for her daughter. And to the grieving mother, the judge said, “Ms. White, you did not fail your daughter. You raised her to be the person she was. And she was loved by everybody.”

Mrs. White, in her impact testimony, recalled the last family gathering two months before her daughter was murdered. Her family misses her, she said. “I won’t remember her for this. I will remember her for the person she was. I won’t let this be a label, because she was a really good person. I loved her, and her family loved her.”

Throughout her testimony, she spoke of Darby only in the third person. “I want to hate this person. I want to, but I don’t,” she testified, breaking into sobs.

Assistant District Attorneys Kellie Rish and Megan Gorman prosecuted the case.

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Marrero man who ran over ex-girlfriend’s mother with SUV sentenced to life in prison

A Marrero man was sentenced Thursday (Dec. 1) to life in prison as a habitual offender, for a criminal history capped by his recent conviction of running over his ex-girlfriend’s 61-year-old mother with his large sports-utility vehicle on a Harvey sidewalk last year.

Earl Harris, 43, was convicted by a Jefferson Parish jury on Aug. 26 of aggravated second-degree battery. That case stems from the Sept. 15, 2015 incident in the 1100 block of Clydesbank Drive, in the Scotsdale neighborhood.

The victim, who is the grandmother of several of Harris’ children, testified during the trial that she had walked to a cousin’s home on Clydesbank Drive to borrow diapers for one of her grandchildren. She was returning to her nearby home from that errand about 11 p.m., accompanied by a friend, when she noticed the headlights and heard the engine of the SUV being driven up from behind her on the sidewalk, she testified.

Harris used the SUV to strike her before he circled around across lawns for a second strike. He ran over her on the second pass, crushing her left leg. He circled around a third time and stopped, and the victim then noticed that Harris was the driver.

“He looked over at me on the ground and smiled,” she testified during the trial.

Harris circled again a fourth time, aiming at the victim’s friend, who was not injured. The victim’s friend and a nearby resident, meanwhile, called 911.

For the conviction of aggravated second-degree battery, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court sentenced Harris on Thursday to the maximum 15 years in prison at hard labor. “I think you were lucky they didn’t charge you with attempted second-degree murder,” Judge Regan told Harris.

The court then proceeded into a multiple bill hearing, with the state seeking an enhanced sentence under the state’s habitual offender law. Four of Harris’ prior felony convictions were used:

  • In 1999, Harris was convicted of distribution of cocaine, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • In 1997, Harris was convicted of distribution of a false controlled dangerous substance, or fake cocaine, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
  • In 1995, Harris was convicted of second-degree battery and was sentenced to three years in prison.
  • In 1991, Harris was convicted of armed robbery and was sentenced to five years in prison.

After hearing testimony from a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office latent fingerprint examiner, Kortni Sinon, Judge Regan ruled that prosecutors met their burden in proving that Harris is the same person who was convicted of the previous crimes.

Judge Regan then vacated the 15-year sentence he gave for the aggravated second-degree battery and resentenced Harris to mandatory life sentence in prison without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Harris had been scheduled to be sentenced for the aggravated second-degree battery conviction in September, but the hearing was postponed to October after he told the judge in arguing a pro se motion for a new trial that his constitutional rights were violated. He alleged he was not allowed to cross-examine the victim during the trial, a request he made before his trial but one he did not revive as the victim began testifying. Harris was represented by a public defender who aggressively conducted the cross-examination.

Judge Regan denied Harris’ new-trial request and re-set the sentencing and multiple-bill hearings for Thursday. In multiple bill hearings, fingerprint experts match newly obtained prints to those obtained in the prior criminal cases. The intent is to prove that the defendant is the same person who was convicted of the previous offenses listed in the multiple bill.

On Thursday, Harris, who is 6’7” tall, refused to be fingerprinted voluntarily in court for this process, asserting that doing so would violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination. So Judge Regan ordered corrections officers to escort Harris back to the parish jail to be printed. Deputies escorted him back to court peacefully shortly after for the sentencing hearing.

In August, Harris disrupted his trial in front of the jury by creating a disturbance moments after the victim began testifying against him. That led Judge Regan to grant the defense request for a mistrial. Prosecutors prevailed in having that mistrial order overturned at the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal. The trial resumed with the victim’s testimony, and Harris was convicted the following day.

Assistant District Attorneys Brittany Beckner and Andrew DeCoste prosecuted the aggravated second-degree battery case.

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Marrero man convicted of running ex-girlfriend’s mother over with SUV

A Marrero man who twice used his full-size sports-utility vehicle to hit his ex-girlfriend’s 61-year-old mother, knocking her to the ground on a Harvey street during the first strike and running over her leg on the second pass, was convicted as charged Friday night of aggravated second-degree battery.

Earl K. Harris, 42, faces zero to 15 years in prison for the incident on Sept. 11, 2015, when about 11 p.m., he struck the great-grandmother of three as she walked in the 1100 block of Clydesbank Drive in the Scotsdale neighborhood.

The woman, who uses a cane to help her walk and requires more surgery, was returning to her home after walking to a cousin’s house on Clydesbank Drive, to borrow diapers for one of her grandchildren.

She had a friend accompany her, and as they walked the sidewalk back to her home, she noticed the bright lights and loud engine of an SUV coming up from behind them, she testified Friday. “It was coming fast,” she said.

She testified the SUV struck her, and its driver circled around across homes’ lawns and ran the vehicle over her left leg. He circled around for a third pass. That’s when she recognized the driver, Harris, looking at her through the passenger-side window.

“He looked over at me on the ground and smiled,” she testified.

The victim’s companion and a nearby resident called 911, and the jury heard recordings of the calls. In the companion’s call, the victim is heard wailing in pain – and identifying Harris as the driver who injured her.

“Earl Keith Harris. Please, he’s coming back,” she told the 911 operator. “I need to go to the hospital. Please, please.”

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Justin McLin testified that he arrived to find the woman lying partially in the street. “She was screaming for help,” he testified, adding that the victim identified Harris as the driver. McLin noted fresh tire marks on the grassy lawns on both sides of Clydesbank, showing Harris’ path.

The victim was rushed to Ochsner’s West Bank emergency room, where the treating physician, Dr. Elizabeth Skeins, noted one of the woman’s tibia bones was “broken into several pieces,” she testified. The injury required immediate surgery, Skeins testified.

Harris denied he was the driver, and his public defender suggested that the morphine and hydromorphone the victim was given by paramedics and hospital staff adversely affected her memory. The defense also argued the area of Clydesbank was poorly lit at night, calling into question whether the victim could see who was driving.

From the witness stand, she stood by the identification. “He know[s] he hit me, and I know he hit me,” she insisted during the contentious cross-examination.

Harris made an apparent attempt to derail his trial on Thursday, minutes after his victim began to testify against him the first time. He suddenly stood from his seat at the defense table and, in front of the jury, he interrupted her testimony and created a disturbance.

Citing the potential life sentence in prison Harris could receive as a habitual offender, given his convictions that include armed robbery and narcotics offenses, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court granted a defense mistrial request. “The court does not want to grant a mistrial, because the court is of the opinion the defendant was acting out. But out of an abundance of caution, the court is going to grant a mistrial,” Judge Regan said Thursday.

He stayed the trial to allow prosecutors to file an immediate appeal. The District Attorney’s Office prevailed at the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, which on Friday morning reversed the trial court’s mistrial decision and ordered the trial to resume. In their appeal, prosecutors asserted that Harris attempted to “short-circuit” his own trial through his outburst. The victim resumed her testimony on Friday and insisted that Harris was the driver who injured her.

The jury deliberated more than 2 ½ hours before delivering the verdict after 7:30 p.m. Judge Regan is scheduled to hand down the sentence on Sept. 16.

Assistant District Attorneys Brittany Beckner and Andrew DeCoste prosecuted the case. Assistant District Attorney Darren Allemand handled the appeal.

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