A jury began deliberating Wednesday in a federal racketeering case against three accused members of a St. Roch neighborhood street gang dubbed “Ride or Die” who are charged with committing several murders, shootings and robberies over a six-year span to bolster the group’s violent reputation and drug selling.
The jury had the case for about two hours before leaving the federal courthouse.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan asked them to return at 9 a.m. Thursday to resume deliberations on the allegations against accused ringleader Deloyd “Puggy” Jones, 23, and associates Byron “Big Baby” Jones, 24, and Sidney “Duda Man” Patterson, 24.
Each of the men faces life in prison if convicted on the two main conspiracy charges.
Among the dozens of witnesses the government put on the stand during more than five days of testimony were several Ride or Die members or associates who pleaded guilty earlier under a 20-count federal gang racketeering indictment handed up in 2013, naming a dozen people.
Federal prosecutors told the jury that the three defendants pledged allegiance to the 8th Ward group and were responsible for several murders in its name.
Among them, Byron Jones and Patterson were accused in the Feb. 24, 2010, killing of Travis Arnold, 30, who was shot near Elysian Fields Avenue.
Deloyd Jones was accused of killing Rodney Coleman on Nov. 9, 2010, and then going after the victim’s mother.
Prosecutors said Deloyd Jones also killed Devon Hutton on Jan. 17, 2011, and that he and Patterson then killed Corey Blue with the same gun the next day, believing Blue had cheated them on a crack purchase.
“You’re gonna need a new connect. I just punished Corey,” one witness said he overheard Deloyd Jones saying.
“They want folks in the street to know, they will kill you without hesitation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marquest Meeks argued in his closing statement Wednesday, seeking to tie the three men and various crimes to an organized purpose.
Meeks went on to describe the “sheer and utter destruction of human life at these defendants’ hands.” He also pointed to Deloyd Jones as the taskmaster of the group.
“From 2007 through 2013, the Ride or Die gang terrorized the neighborhood, and when they released their stranglehold of the St. Roch community, their leader ... would whip them back into shape,” Meeks said.
“The message that they wanted to send was crystal clear: ‘If you stand up against us in any way, we will not hesitate to spill blood.’ ”
The indictment was among several issued by both state and federal grand juries in the past few years under a multiple-agency campaign against street gang violence in the city — a menace that authorities blame for an inordinate share of the city’s still-bloated murder rate.
Critics have argued that the state and federal racketeering cases cast far too wide a net, both by reeling in an array of defendants and by stringing seemingly independent criminal acts into a narrative of gang orchestration.
Attorneys for the three men took aim at a rogue’s gallery of government witnesses and argued that prosecutors had failed to prove the defendants coordinated much of anything outside of their tattoos.
Defense attorney Jason Williams, who also is the New Orleans City Council president, argued that the evidence against his client, Patterson, was slim at best.
Patterson may have sold some drugs and carried a gun — state charges to which he earlier pleaded guilty — but federal prosecutors had trumped up his alleged role as a gang soldier, Williams told the jury.
“Mr. Patterson has been shot in his life. It is a rough neighborhood. He has a colostomy bag on one side, a scar on his head where he was shot. That’s a lot to happen when you’re 24 years old. You get in your head that you need a gun for protection,” Williams said.
“It’s a shame and it’s foolish, but it’s no surprise he did not feel safe after having his insides changed forever. I stipulate to the fact Sidney Patterson, my client, is dumb and has made poor choices in friends and associates, but that does not make a conspiracy.”
Deloyd Jones, the alleged leader, already is serving an 80-year prison sentence after a 2012 state conviction on two counts of attempted murder.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.