OPELOUSAS — Harrison Riley Jr. made explicit death threats toward the people he killed and injured, including a teenage girl he fired a gun at during a rampage almost three months ago that began with an argument with his wife over his drug abuse, according to testimony in a court hearing Wednesday.
Riley, 36, appeared in a state courtroom while law enforcement officers and witnesses testified. Judge Jason Meche, of the 27th Judicial District, ruled enough probable cause exists to continue holding the accused killer without bail.
Riley is accused of stabbing and killing his 41-year-old cousin, Shameka Johnson, at her family’s Anna Street home, then wrangling a gun from and shooting and killing Sunset Cpl. Henry Nelson, a cousin who arrived on the scene to control the situation.
Riley also used the gun to shoot and injure his wife, Courtney Jolivette, and he stabbed her as he had, moments before, stabbed and injured his other cousin, 34-year-old Surlay Johnson, and her 66-year-old mother, Jacqueline Johnson, according to statements presented in court.
Sometime before the new year, a grand jury will decide how to charge Riley, who’s been held since the Aug. 26 incident on counts of first-degree murder, first-degree murder of a police officer and five counts of attempted first-degree murder, along with counts of aggravated criminal damage to property, aggravated arson and obstruction of justice.
In addition to the three injured survivors, the other two attempted murder counts stem from an accusation he fired the gun toward Shameka Johnson’s teenage daughter and an accusation he later stole and crashed his wife’s car into the front of the Sunset Mini Mart on Napoleon Avenue, almost injuring a customer inside. The store later caught fire after Riley’s arrest, leading to the other two counts.
Prosecutors on Wednesday played the recorded statement Jolivette, Riley’s wife, made to State Police from an Alexandria hospital bed about five hours after the killings. She and Riley had spent the prior night apart because of an argument, but they followed through with plans to go to New Orleans that day.
When she picked him up, she soon realized he was impaired, accusing him of smoking PCP and embalming fluid, and threatened to leave him if he did it again, she said. Riley then got irate and tried to kick out her windshield before getting out of the car and running away down La. 93, she said.
Riley ran to Anna Street, where he tried to force his way into a neighbor’s home before going into the Johnsons’ house, according to testimony from the neighbor.
His cousin Surlay Johnson, in her recorded statement to State Police made from a Lafayette hospital that night, said Riley arrived at the house seeming out of sorts, so she tried to calm him down and get him water from the kitchen. When she turned around, she said, Riley began stabbing her and tried to cut her throat, and he then went after her mother, Jacqueline Johnson, and sister, Shameka Johnson.
“He was out of his character. He didn’t look like the same person when I looked into his eyes,” Surlay Johnson said.
By the time Jolivette found Riley at the Anna Street home, she said, Shameka Johnson had already been stabbed and was on the ground, after which Riley began threatening to kill Jolivette and the other people present.
“He said, ‘Everybody gon’ die,’?” Jolivette said, then explained how she tried to wrestle Riley to the ground to control him and stop him from hurting her.
Sunset Cpl. Henry Nelson soon arrived at the scene, after which Riley redirected his rage toward the officer.
“He said, ‘I’ma kill me a cop.’ Then grabbed the gun, shot him and started unloading the clip on me,” Jolivette said.
Around that time, Riley fired his weapon toward the teenage girl as she ran across the yard where Shameka Johnson lay dead from six stab wounds and Nelson from three bullet wounds, and where Jolivette lay injured from multiple stab wounds and five bullet wounds.
Lead detective Greg Cormier, of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, reiterated the sequence of events and revealed that Riley’s charge of aggravated arson stems from an officer’s claim he saw Riley try to start a fire inside the mini mart using exposed electrical wires.
After crashing Jolivette’s car into the storefront, Riley holed himself inside the store’s office space, shouting threats and profanities at the horde of law enforcement officers flanking the building during a more than two-hour standoff that involved the deployment of two tear gas canisters and three flash-bang grenades, according to testimony from St. Landry Parish SWAT Commander Lt. Leon Boudreaux.
Deputy Fire Marshal Travis Goudeau testified the fire originated in the office area where Riley hid that day, but no one determined how the fire ignited. The fire was ruled arson based on the officer’s statement he witnessed Riley making sparks in the room. The store ignited more than an hour after his arrest and removal from the building.
Riley is being held at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. He could face the death penalty or mandatory life in prison if charged and convicted of either count of first-degree murder.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook.