Nine months ago, Tomica Newman pleaded guilty to attempted murder, accepting blame and a 10-year prison term for ramming her car into a romantic rival’s friend outside a 2013 hip-hop concert after-party.
The impact pinned Monique Allen against a brick wall. When the car backed away, Allen took a step and dropped to the pavement, both of her knees crushed and dislocated.
“I didn’t intentionally try to hurt or kill anyone,” Newman, 39, wrote to Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras, pleading for a lenient sentence. “I’m not a violent person.”
But Newman took it all back three weeks later, claiming her former attorney scared her into a plea deal.
Buras let her withdraw the guilty plea. And in a trial this week, the McDonald’s manager testified that she never struck Allen and never even saw her among the rowdy crowd in the parking lot off Downman Road in New Orleans East on Jan. 31, 2013.
Her gambit paid off, at least for now. A jury deadlocked Wednesday, ending a trial in which Newman, who lives in Algiers, faced a minimum 20-year prison sentence in the event of a guilty verdict, thanks to three prior felony theft convictions.
The jury of five women and seven men couldn’t reach a decision on the attempted murder charge, filed by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. Nor could they settle on a verdict of attempted manslaughter or aggravated battery.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before telling the judge they were hopelessly split.
The deadlock came after two days of testimony about the fighting that broke out after a concert featuring Monica and Young Jeezy at the UNO Lakefront Arena.
The case against Newman suffered for lack of a key piece of evidence — a videotape that supposedly captured the alleged assault in clear view — that a New Orleans police detective apparently lost.
On Tuesday, Newman took the witness stand to claim innocence. She testified that as she was leaving the party about 4 a.m., a woman she had grown up with, Loma “Pebbles” Small, smeared a slice of cake in her face and snapped, “Bye, bitch.”
“She says it was a joke. I said, ‘I ain’t the birthday girl, so why the joke on me?’” Newman testified.
They got into a scuffle that was broken up, and Newman said she returned to her Acura coupe, but her friend started fighting with Small. Her friend got in the car as a crowd surrounded it, Newman said. One man beat on the car with a gun while others ripped at the windshield wipers. Newman claimed she heard several gunshots amid the chaos and maneuvered her way out, unscathed.
“Boom, boom, boom. I just went out the parking lot,” she said. “People were everywhere, running, cursing. It was just wild. I’m happy I survived and got to a safe place.”
“I never saw Loma Small” in the parking lot, Newman testified. “Neither Monique Allen.”
Prosecutors claim Newman not only saw them but took aim and hit the gas.
Allen testified that she stared right at Newman, pleading for her to pull the car back as she stood pinned against a wall.
“The only time I looked her in the face was when I was asking her to back up off me,” Allen said.
Allen acknowledged circling the wrong woman’s face in a police photo lineup, creating a doubt that Newman’s attorneys, John Fuller and Gregory Carter, seized on with the jury.
They also railed at Detective Christian Recile for losing a video that he said showed the incident clearly. Fuller insisted it would have cleared Newman. Recile was left to testify about what he recalled from the footage.
“It shows clearly that the vehicle drove directly into the individual, then backed out and drove away,” Recile said. “It was a nice piece of evidence.”
Assistant District Attorney Andrew DeCoste admitted that it “was not the best investigation that your Police Department has ever put together. You should be frustrated. I’m frustrated. You rarely see video of the entire incident. They had it, and they lost it.”
Allen, the victim, expressed her frustration from the witness stand, saying, “I did my part. I wouldn’t be sitting here if the video would be here.”
DeCoste told the jury that Allen has undergone 10 surgeries on her legs and remains unable to shake the effects of the violent incident, physically or mentally.
“Her legs are full of steel, screws, plates and rods,” DeCoste said. “She is legitimately, for all intents and purposes, part machine now, thanks to Tomica Newman.”
Prosecutors claimed Small was Newman’s intended target in a dispute over a married man.
“She got in that car, she aimed it like a missile, at Loma, and tried to kill her, but instead she crushed Monique Allen’s legs and crushed her life,” DeCoste said.
Newman struggled to explain why she described it as an accident in her letter to the judge, telling the jury it wasn’t an admission of guilt.
In his closing argument, Fuller declared Newman innocent.
“I don’t mean she’s innocent in the sense of a baby,” Fuller said. “I say she’s innocent because she did not do this.”
Carter, her other attorney, added after the verdict that the jury likely weighed Allen’s physical plight in failing to acquit Newman.
“When you have a live victim coming into court who has such serious injuries, it’s hard not to just naturally feel bad. As a human being, you want to see some kind of justice,” Carter said. “We know Tomica didn’t do this. We intend to fight this until we clear her name.”
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, said the office plans to retry Newman.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman