An Orleans Parish jury convicted two men of second-degree murder this week in the March 9, 2013, slaying of 19-year-old Xavier University freshman Bertrand Dezara III in what prosecutors described as an execution outside a New Orleans East apartment complex.
Witness statements and ballistics tests proved enough for the jury to find Glynn Hawkins and Alex Lewis, both 22, guilty of second-degree murder after about three hours of deliberation late Wednesday.
Each faces a mandatory life prison term at a sentencing that Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman set for Oct. 22.
Dezara, a premed student, was found face-down in the 5100 block of Bundy Road, fatally shot outside the apartment of a woman he’d gone to see.
Corielle Brown wasn’t there at the time, but she testified this week along with a relative, Lance Stewart, who was in the apartment when authorities say Dezara was ordered outside and killed. Stewart identified the two defendants in photo lineups.
Over a three-day trial, prosecutors with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office also presented evidence matching gunfire from the bloody murder scene to a weapon that was discarded two days later in another episode of gunfire, this one at South Claiborne and Washington avenues. The shooter in that case — prosecutors said it was Hawkins, who was there — tossed the weapon onto the neutral ground.
Attorneys for Hawkins and Lewis tried to seize on discrepancies between statements that both witnesses gave early on to police, when they denied even knowing Dezara, and later statements that helped lead police to the two men.
A third co-defendant, Jerrel Bryer, still awaits trial in the case.
Herman allowed Assistant District Attorneys Inga Petrovich and Taylor Anthony to introduce evidence of prior acts involving Hawkins, who sat at the defense table Wednesday in a crisp maroon dress shirt.
The jury was allowed to hear that Hawkins had served a one-year jail sentence after pleading no contest to an accessory charge in the April 2012 murder of 28-year-old Jeffrey Dominique, who was gunned down inside his vehicle on Jackson Avenue near Carondelet Street.
Police reports suggested Hawkins had driven a rental car used in that shooting. He also was wearing an electronic ankle monitor that put him at the scene and prompted his arrest.
Dezara’s murder took place just 39 days after Hawkins’ release from Orleans Parish Prison on that conviction, Petrovich noted. The prosecutor urged the jury to connect the dots to Dezara’s murder.
“We’re not looking at just the homicide of Bertrand Dezara,” Petrovich said. “We’re looking (at) a crime spree basically that occurred throughout the city of New Orleans. Two young men ended up dead as a result of that.”
Attorneys for Hawkins and Lewis argued that the key witnesses in the case — Stewart, in particular — couldn’t be trusted. Hawkins’ attorney, Tom Shlosman, chided prosecutors for leaning on what he described as an unrelated, already adjudicated shooting.
“They don’t have enough evidence to prove this case. If they make (someone) look dirty enough, you will convict,” Shlosman argued.
He said Dezara had been shot as recently as a few weeks before he was killed but never reported it to police. The suggestion: Dezara was up to no good.
Disputed during the trial was whether Dezara was associated with the “Young Melph Mafia,” a gun-happy street gang named for their turf around the former Melpomene public housing complex. A social media post and words from Brown suggested the possibility, according to evidence presented in the case.
Along with the murder count, the jury found Hawkins guilty of obstructing justice and discharging a firearm during a violent crime — for the gunfire two days later on Claiborne.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.