For years, “everyone was friends on Josephine,” Latoya Stewart testified Wednesday about the Central City street where drug dealing was common.
Telly Hankton dealt in bulk cocaine, she said, while she, her brother Darnell Stewart and some others sold lesser quantities of street drugs in the neighborhood.
But then, in the early 2000s, Brian “Pluck” Broussard branched out and started pulling in thousands of dollars a day in the area, and Hankton took violent exception, she said.
“Pluck was telling us Telly was telling him not to sell heroin around there no more. We didn’t know why. I used to see them laughing and talking,” Latoya Stewart said. “He was like, ‘Where else am I going to go?’ ”
Two days later, Broussard and another man were shot.
So began a series of shootings and murders, retaliatory hits between rivals and killings of witnesses that prosecutors have pinned on Hankton and his alleged associates, lending him notoriety as one of the city’s most ruthless killers.
On the third day of the federal racketeering conspiracy trial for Hankton, two cousins and accused hit man Walter Porter, prosecutors introduced the jury to a parade of former acquaintances, drug customers and police officers as they traced the origins of a neighborhood blood feud and depicted the Hankton saga as one of seemingly capricious terror.
Among the victims of that feud was Hankton’s beloved cousin, George “Cup” Hankton, who was slain in December 2007, allegedly by Darnell Stewart and Jessie “TuTu” Reed.
According to prosecutors, Telly Hankton took his revenge, killing Stewart on South Claiborne Avenue five months later and then, while free on $1 million bail, gunning down Reed in June 2009.
Hankton is serving a life prison sentence for Stewart’s murder after he was convicted by a state jury in 2011.
He sat in court in a pale blue suit jacket and bow tie Wednesday as prosecutors methodically recounted his allegedly bloody wrath before the jury.
They said cousin Andre Hankton, a co-defendant in the case, drove the car used in Stewart’s killing. They said Porter and another Hankton cousin, Kevin Jackson — the two other co-defendants on trial — joined Telly Hankton in killing Reed in a rampage of more than 50 bullets from five guns.
But the feud began well before Hurricane Katrina, prosecutors alleged, as Hankton went after Broussard, Stewart, Rodney “Doo Doo” Robinson and others in a bid to solidify his hold on drug dealing across the neighborhood.
Even Hankton’s kin were not immune, they claimed. As early as 2000, Hankton allegedly shot at, or had someone shoot at, his uncle Frank Hankton, over stolen drugs or money, according to the indictment. Frank Hankton’s daughter Venice Brazley, one of the alleged thieves, was shot and killed soon afterward.
The violence heated up in 2005 as Telly Hankton’s beef with Broussard, Stewart and others ripened, prosecutors said.
The indictment accuses Hankton directly of three murders: of Stewart, Reed and, before them, Darvin Bessie on April 19, 2006.
Bessie had earlier shot a Hankton ally, according to Latoya Stewart.
Calling police to investigate the attacks wasn’t an option, she said.
“At that time, we lived by a code,” she said. “You can’t go to police. You could not speak about it because you’ll get killed.”
She said she was at her father’s house at First and Clara streets one night in May 2008 when her younger brother Darnell, whom she called “Durney,” called to say he was coming by.
“We heard gunfire. When I ran outside, I just saw a blue Mustang turning the corner,” she said. Moments later, up the street, there was more gunfire, and she soon learned that her brother lay dead beside a telephone pole on South Claiborne Avenue.
After a rolling, high-speed gun battle, prosecutors said, Andre Hankton rammed Stewart with the Mustang, and then Telly Hankton strode up and fired multiple rounds into her brother’s face.
Latoya Stewart stopped and wept on the witness stand as she recalled that night.
“Right now, today, I would have thought (Hankton) would have left him alone,” she said.
She insisted her brother “never used no guns. He never shot anyone,” and that it was Reed and Karim Peters who fatally shot Cup Hankton. She acknowledged, though, that her brother was there.
“Cup knew they was coming, too,” she said. “They met up at a barber shop, and they got into it. Cup was calling some of his boys from the 17th (Ward). Tutu and Karim walked behind Cup and shot him. Durney was in the car.”
Peters was slain in 2014.
About eight months before Cup Hankton was killed, prosecutors said, Telly Hankton and Troy Hankton fired inside a car at Reed, Stewart and Peters on Clara Street.
Two other witnesses testified Wednesday that, while fearing a threat from Telly Hankton, they sought help from his mother, Shirley Hankton, as a go-between. Shirley Hankton was among nine co-defendants in the case who pleaded guilty before this week’s trial.
According to the indictment, in the years prior to Hurricane Katrina, Telly Hankton was buying about 10 pounds of cocaine every two weeks from a local supplier.
Latoya Stewart, 34, said she couldn’t understand his clampdown on her brother and others.
“Would Telly sell drugs to crackheads on the street?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Privitera asked her.
“No, he wouldn’t do that,” she replied.
Editor’s note: This story was updated June 9 to correct the date of Darvin Bessie’s murder.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.