Lafayette rapper Eric “Vicious” Johnson was found guilty Wednesday night of inciting retaliatory violence that led to the 2012 shooting death of a 43-year-old bystander during a melee at a Duson apartment complex.
After a two-day trial, the jury deliberated about three hours before announcing Johnson’s conviction on the charge of “inciting a riot with death,” according to the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court’s Office.
It’s the first time the charge has been prosecuted in Lafayette Parish.
Johnson’s public defender, Harold Register, said he’ll seek a new trial.
“I respect the jury’s decision, but at this particular point, I will continue to fight for my client,” Register said Thursday.
Johnson’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Rebecca Seraille, of Lafayette, faces a charge under the same statute, but she was severed as Johnson’s co-defendant. Her trial date has not been set.
The incident on May 18, 2012, occurred at Pontalba Place apartments in Duson. A bullet pierced the back of Ray Ryan, puncturing his lung and exiting through his chest. He died at the scene.
Johnson — who has never been accused of wielding a weapon that night — had gone to Ryan’s apartment building with a crew in tow to fight Ryan’s neighbor. That man had been part of a group that knocked Johnson unconscious the night before, according to statements and testimony during the trial.
Ryan was standing a block away from the altercation when gunfire broke out.
Although only one bullet pierced the window of the targeted second-floor apartment that night, multiple casings from two types of guns were found near the unit, according to Wednesday testimony from Marcus Lemaire, the lead detective in the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the homicide. Evidence of a ricocheted bullet also was found on an apartment building near Ryan’s body.
But no one has been charged with firing the weapon that killed him.
“It’s really a rather unique set of circumstances,” 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes said of the case. “In other homicides, there were probably other crimes used to actually prosecute the offenders, and it wasn’t necessary to search for a statute that covered a specific circumstance.”
The statute goes back to the 1800s, when lynch mobs and riots were happening in Louisiana, said Chris DeLay, criminal justice instructor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The 2012 crime happened in a low-income apartment complex known commonly as “Marigny Circle” — the name of the street surrounding the complex — where anyone who cooperates with the police is considered suspicious, according to witness testimonies made during the trial.
In neighborhoods with that kind of code of silence, it’s difficult to prosecute crimes, DeLay explained.
“Most of the time, these things just kind of go by the wayside,” he said. “They’re just not prosecuted, because the DA can’t get enough evidence to pursue a charge, and he has to depend upon the police or sheriff’s department to give him the info to work with. And if they can’t develop any leads or suspects, then there’s nowhere for the DA to go.”
But prosecutors managed to procure two witnesses who were there that night, including Ryan’s 27-year-old daughter, Terri Johnson, of Carencro, who shared an apartment with her father and said she witnessed the rapper approach her building.
Ryan’s friend and neighbor at the time, however — 43-year-old Kenneth McMayon, of Rosenberg, Texas, who was with Ryan moments before he was shot — was booked into jail last week and forced to testify because he had been avoiding subpoenas, claiming he was working offshore.
Yet neither could offer information on the shooter. So prosecutors first charged Johnson and Seraille on a count of terrorism.
Only in July 2012, when the two were both in jail on the terrorism count, did Johnson name names in a voluntary statement to police after detectives offered to recommend reducing Seraille’s bail.
In the recorded statement, the audio of which was played in its entirety to the courtroom Wednesday, Johnson offered the name of 30-year-old Lee Hill, of Lafayette, as someone he knew had a vendetta against the same man Johnson was after and was at his apartment that day. He also told police he knew Hill had a semi-automatic gun that night and was firing “all over.”
Hill was later questioned and released, and the terrorism charge against Johnson and Seraille was dismissed. But the grand jury that would later indict Johnson and Seraille on the riot charge declined to indict Hill in the case, Lemaire testified.
Yet it was through that statement, made while Johnson was held on a terrorism charge, that his defense appeared to unravel.
In it, he said he was drunk “as hell” and furious that Friday, and he had resolved to march over to the apartment and get his revenge in a fight. Detectives asked Johnson whether the situation that night was less like terrorism and more like a riot.
He replied “yeah.”
The rapper, who’s originally from Lake Charles, has made music and performed in south Louisiana for more than two decades. He’s collaborated with Baton Rouge rapper Lil Boosie and is affiliated with the late UGK rapper Pimp C’s record label out of Port Arthur, Texas.
Johnson was booked into jail after the verdict and will be sentenced within 90 days. He faces up to 21 years in prison.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.