An Orleans Parish jury convicted a 24-year-old New Orleans man Friday in the killing of Gervais “Gee” Nicholas, who was gunned down in the wake of a brawl that broke out inside a Tulane Avenue teen club more than seven years ago.
Joseph Morgan was a day over 17 when Nicholas was slain on Jan. 12, 2008, two days before his own 17th birthday.
Morgan now faces a mandatory life prison term. Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter set an Aug. 31 sentencing date.
The jury deliberated for close to three hours before returning a unanimous guilty verdict on a second-degree murder count about 6 p.m.
During three days of testimony, jurors heard from three witnesses who claimed Morgan, now 24, and another man fired on Nicholas in the median outside the Chat Room after club security tried to break up a fight and lock down the club, just five blocks from the courthouse where Morgan stood trial this week.
But shifting testimony from one witness, club bouncer Sandy Ruffin, stymied District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office for years in its bid to prosecute both Morgan and an accused second shooter, Taivon Aples, for the killing.
Ruffin had identified the shooters in photo lineups but recanted at a hearing in 2012, just before Aples was set to go to trial, saying he had been “coerced” by Detective Catherine Beckett when he made his photo identification of Aples.
Cannizzaro’s office let Aples quickly plead guilty as an accessory to murder and go free on credit for time served. Prosecutors said they would turn their attention to Morgan.
But Ruffin again pivoted in 2013 as Morgan was slated for trial, claiming he never actually saw the shooting. Hunter sent potential jurors home.
By then, Morgan was free, released on a motion by his attorneys after the continual delays.
Between then and the trial this week, Morgan was arrested again, this time with two others in the April killing of 18-year-old Herbert Tennessee, who was fatally shot while running down Constance Street in the Irish Channel.
Morgan watched this week as Ruffin returned to the witness stand and stood, pointing down at him as the one who shot first, and then again, firing into Nicholas’ back.
Ruffin was forced to explain his conflicting testimony, taking the witness stand in an orange jumpsuit after being jailed on a material-witness bond that he blamed on a miscommunication with the DA’s Office.
“Isn’t it true that every time you come into this court you tell a different story?” defense attorney Tom Shlosman asked.
“I wouldn’t say a different story. I’d say I’m scared for my life,” Ruffin responded. “After seeing that night what was going on, it was wild.”
Shlosman pressed, asking if Beckett had pressured Ruffin over his identification of the shooters.
“I was under pressure, yes,” he replied.
“And that pressure was coming from Detective Beckett, correct?”
“From the whole case. My being scared for my life, terrified. Pressure from all over, not just from her,” Ruffin said. “I had to hold the child in my arms when he passed away. That’s pressure.”
Beckett, now an investigator with Coroner Jeffrey Rouse’s office, called the allegation of coercion “absolutely not true” during her testimony Wednesday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.