An Orleans Parish jury took less than an hour Thursday afternoon to convict Kenneth “Bud” Jones on two counts of attempted murder and a gun charge from a brazen rolling spray of AK-47 fire during a car chase in 2011.
The jury returned with the verdicts about 1 p.m. after a four-day trial in which prosecutors with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office portrayed Jones, 27, as the trigger-happy muscle for the “Back of Town” gang in a Lower 9th Ward feud with the rival “Park Boys.”
The gunfire, from out of the sunroof of a moving blue Monte Carlo on Nov. 22, 2011, targeted alleged Park Boys Jeremiah “Hood” Harris and Merlin “Mitch” Smothers Jr.
Both testified during the trial. Harris, who took a projectile that lodged in the back of his neck, said he saw Jones firing on him but withheld the name from authorities because he wanted to murder Jones.
Smothers denied on the stand knowing who had fired, though he had told the FBI that it was Jones who had shot him two months earlier, striking him three times in the torso as he was selling a dog.
Prosecutors Alex Calenda and Jason Napoli described a violent gang rift that they said ignited with the April 2011 slaying of Jones’ cousin, 23-year-old Everick “E” Mitchell, on Morrice Duncan Drive in the Lower 9th Ward.
Jones, the prosecutors said, hit Smothers in New Orleans East five months later but didn’t kill him. He targeted other Park Boys, as well, and, on Nov. 22, rolled up on Harris, Smothers and two others as they sold heroin out of Harris’ cream-colored Cadillac SUV around Franklin Avenue and Wisteria Street.
Jones sat quietly at the defense table in a checkered shirt and gray sweater as Calenda, in a closing argument, portrayed him as a merciless assailant.
The case, Calenda said, was “about a culture of violence that permeates out of that man’s pores,” he said, pointing to Jones. “It’s about a culture of violence that’s tinged in blood.”
Prosecutors also presented evidence of a “contact” DNA match with Jones from an AK-47 that was recovered following a shooting a few weeks later. The weapon matched the spent bullet casings from the attack on Harris and Smothers, the evidence showed. Authorities said Jones fired at the vehicle at least 11 times.
One of Jones’ attorneys, Charles Washington, argued that three key witnesses in the case, including Harris, lied to secure leniency in their own criminal cases.
“They all have one thing in common,” Washington argued. “They were looking for the deal of a lifetime.”
Harris acknowledged as much on the witness stand this week, noting he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in 2013 to four federal heroin counts, charges that could land him behind bars as a repeat offender for the rest of his life.
“I didn’t want to grow old in prison,” he said.
Washington, the attorney, called it absurd that Harris would look back and clearly identify a shooter who was firing away at him from the sunroof of the Monte Carlo.
But he also said Harris, in taking the stand, was following up on his desire to kill Jones in retaliation.
“He had a smirk on his face,” Washington told the jury. “He was smiling almost, because the man he wants to murder on the street, he can’t murder him because he’s in prison. Now he wants to come to court and murder him.”
As a multiple offender, Jones, who did not take the witness stand, faces 25 to 100 years for each of the attempted murder counts and 10 to 20 on the weapons charge. Criminal District Judge Karen Herman set a May 8 sentencing date.
Jones was arrested in the August 2011 killing of 27-year-old Lakita Brown outside the Duck Off Lounge in the 7th Ward, though Cannizzaro’s office later refused the charge.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.