Trial begins for alleged shot-caller in Central City shooting over hoops court ‘dibs’ _lowres

Photo provided by New Orleans Police Department -- New Orleans police are looking for Gerard Gray as a person of interest in a shooting Tuesday at A.L. Davis Playground in Central City. ORG XMIT: BAT1407091953459681

Jonterry “Pootie” Bernard told an Orleans Parish jury Tuesday that he just thought it was time to shoot, having been handed a gun and told to act during a persistent argument over basketball court “dibs” at A.L. Davis Park in Central City.

His friend “Melly” handed him the gun before Bernard went to the store for a Sprite and a freeze pop, Bernard testified.

“He was like, ‘Handle that, or we’ll handle you,’ ” he said of the argument on a warm July 8, 2014, afternoon.

Gerard Gray, 25, who is standing trial on two counts of attempted murder, then walked behind him, said Bernard, 23, who is now six months into a 100-year prison term.

“When Melly told me that, he walked off, and as he walked off, (Gray) passed and was like, ‘You heard what he said?’ ” Bernard said.

Prosecutor Michael Trummel argued that it was at the prompting of Gray, whom he accused of being a leader of the “Bird Gang,” that Bernard fired 28 rounds that day, hitting but not killing two victims who said they’d come with their families to the park to shoot some hoops and sweat off a few pounds.

Bernard said he returned from the store and saw Gray walk on the court, proclaiming he was ready to pick his team, while Chris Chambers and Marc Mitchell insisted they were next in line for a game. Chambers grew agitated, Bernard said, and walked toward Gray before someone got in between them.

Then Chambers went “to saying all type of aggressive stuff, real aggressive stuff. Trippin’: ‘You don’t own this park. You don’t pay taxes,’ ” Bernard said.

He said he soon started firing.

Gray “didn’t give me no signal. I looked at him. There was no facial expression, just regular look. Melly gave me a signal, nodding his head like, ‘I guess now’s the time,’ ” he added.

Standing to mimic his downward shooting motion, Bernard said he fired “probably about four or five” shots at Chambers, then kept firing as Mitchell ran.

“You’re taking care of him like Gerard Gray told you to take care of him,” Trummel said.

“Yeah,” Bernard responded.

Jermal “Melly” Jarrell was killed July 2, 2015, at Fourth and La Salle streets, close to the park that some neighbors still call Shakspeare Park.

A jury in 2010 acquitted Gray in a different shooting, along the St. Charles Avenue parade route during the truck parades following Rex on Mardi Gras of 2009.

Trummel described him as “the leader of one of the most murderous gangs in New Orleans.”

Gray faces the same two counts of attempted second-degree murder for which Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White sentenced Bernard in December, handing him two consecutive 50-year sentences.

Gray’s attorney, Robert Hjortsberg, argued in his opening statement that the gang allegations were merely a distraction from a lack of evidence, physical or otherwise, tying Gray to any order for Bernard to fire.

“They gotta do something to muddy him up. They gotta do something to make him look bad,” Hjortsberg told the jury.

Bernard acknowledged he’s hoping for a break from the 100-year sentence he got after a jury found him guilty on two counts.

For him, Hjortsberg argued, “There are two ways out. One of them is in a pine box. The other option is to come in here, save himself and say whatever he’s gotta say so he doesn’t die in Angola.”

Hjortsberg also noted that Bernard changed his story several times over the course of interviews, and he said that Gray and Bernard hardly knew each other, never once exchanging a phone call or text message.

“This trial hinges on whether or not Gerard Gray ordered the shooting of Chris Chambers and Marc Mitchell. Ordered a man he didn’t know to shoot 23, 24 times. It makes no sense,” Hjortsberg said.

But Mitchell and Chambers said it was Gray who instigated the dispute.

Neither said they thought it was much of an argument, however.

“Not until I heard, ‘I hope you make it home, homey,’ ” Mitchell testified.

“The last words I heard (Gray) saying was, ‘You flexing, big man,’ ” Mitchell said. “Chris put his hand out to shake it, and the dude was like, ‘(forget) that.’ ”

Mitchell said he didn’t see Gray signal any order for Bernard to shoot.

“Listen, I got in a verbal altercation with one guy. I got shot by another guy that I didn’t know,” he said.

Both men survived gunshot wounds to their upper bodies.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal for that to be said,” Chambers said about Gray’s alleged threat. “We were just playing basketball.”

Bernard will return to the witness stand Wednesday morning.