A 21-year-old Baton Rouge man and a 17-year-old boy pleaded guilty Monday to reduced second-degree battery charges and were sentenced to five years in prison in the 2014 death of a 55-year-old man found unresponsive in the street near his Clear Lake Lane home with a fractured skull.
John Bannon died two weeks later on Valentine’s Day 2014.
Windall Lavel Herring and Donnell Harris, who were 19 and 15, respectively, at the time, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder. They were scheduled to stand trial Monday, but prosecutor Kory Tauzin told state District Judge Tony Marabella that issues arose as he prepared for trial, causing him to reduce the charges.
Bannon’s sister, Susan Smith, a nurse from Tennessee, told the judge her brother also suffered rib fractures and brain hemorrhaging.
“It’s very unfortunate he was left in the middle of the street,” she said. “This has been devastating on us.”
Smith said Bannon lived in Baton Rouge for only five years but spoke highly of the city.
“I’ve been treated like family” by the Baton Rouge community since his death, she said in court.
David Rozas, who represents Herring, called Bannon’s death a “horribly unfortunate event.”
“It’s a terrible loss for the victim’s family,” added Harris’ lawyer, Lindsay Blouin.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Herring and Harris were arrested after a third person, who was not booked, told detectives he was with them on Feb. 1, 2014, and watched them attack Bannon.
Harris told detectives he was at the scene that night but that he only held the victim while the other person and Herring hit Bannon, the district attorney said. Herring ultimately told detectives he was at the scene but only Harris threw punches, Moore said.
Herring, Harris and the third man all admitted to drinking alcohol and smoking synthetic marijuana the night the attack occurred, Moore added.
Moore said the murder charges were reduced because there was no physical evidence and because the only eyewitness who spoke with police was involved in the incident and gave inconsistent statements to detectives.