After a dramatic day in court and an emotional address by the family of Arabian Gayles, an 11-year-old girl gunned down in her Pigeon Town home in 2013, an Orleans Parish judge gave stiff sentences Tuesday to two alleged gang members who confessed to taking part in the shooting, saying it was part of an armed robbery gone terribly wrong.
Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman ordered Terry Green and Jacshaun Griffin to each serve 48-year prison sentences. Neither will be eligible for parole.
Based on the terms of their plea deals and state sentencing guidelines, the pair could have gotten anywhere between 40 and 50 years, Herman said. In meting out sentences near the maximum, she said she believed the two were both “sincerely sorry” but that she couldn’t ignore their “inexcusable” and “unacceptable” actions.
“As much remorse as you may have in your hearts, when Arabian Gayles put her head down that night, she didn’t ask for any of this,” Herman said. “And for what? Y’all didn’t get any drugs out of the deal. Y’all didn’t get any money out of it. All y’all got was her brain matter splattered on her couch.”
Gayles’ death in September 2013 shook a city inured to gun violence. The girl, who often went by the nickname “Ray Ray,” was killed eight days shy of her 12th birthday when Green, Griffin and four others opened fire about midnight outside her home in the 1300 block of Gen. Ogden Street.
Bullets penetrated the walls of her home as she rocked her 1-year-old baby cousin to sleep in a house where other young children also were staying. Gayles was hit several times, including in the head, and died hours later at a hospital, according to her mother, Ashley Moffett, 32.
Gayles’ 11-year-old cousin, Paulreiona Cary, was shot in the hand, while 38-year-old Tommy Briggs, who was standing outside the house, was shot in the arm.
On Monday, Moffett addressed an emotional crowd, including about 20 other close and extended family members.
One man carried a large posterboard sign that read “God’s Precious Angel, Arabian Gayles,” with three copies of the young girl’s photograph underneath. Several family members wore shirts showing the same images.
Gayles was smiling in the photograph, her hair styled in braids decorated with white clips and ponytail holders.
As Moffett described the night her daughter was shot to death, several family members ran out of the courtroom sobbing.
She described hearing what sounded like “firecrackers” in her living room, and running to find her son and two other daughters crying.
“My daughter Arabian had my nephew wrapped around her arms, like she was shielding him,” Moffett said, adding that her daughter’s head felt “hot” when she went to take her headphones off. “There was blood on my hand, and I screamed.”
Later, Moffett said, she would collapse on the hospital room floor.
“I was on top of her saying, ‘You’re going to have to take me with her, because I’m not going without her,’ ” she added, describing the moment she learned her daughter had died. “This destroyed me. It destroyed my family.”
Shalonda Cary, the mother of the other 11-year-old who was shot, also took the stand. She said that in the months following the shooting, her daughter, Paulreiona, would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, asking where her cousin was.
“It hurts when you have to get up in the middle of the night, run after a girl who’s running out the door,” Cary said, “saying, ‘They after her.’ And ‘Why they trying to kill her? Why they did this?’ ”
Green and Griffin were among four defendants initially charged with first-degree murder in Gayles’ death. They also were charged with three counts of attempted murder.
Chris Arana and Jermaine Scott were also indicted on those charges, but they took plea deals in early 2015.
Two other men, Ronnell Martin and Roderick Taylor, were charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and being an accessory after the fact. They also took plea deals.
The September 2014 indictment charged that all six men conspired to rob Keith Ward and Cary Bass, though it wasn’t clear if those two were even at Gayles’ home or had a relationship with the girl’s family.
The defendants were reputed gang members at the time of the fatal shooting, authorities said in 2014, identifying Arana and Martin as members of the “Breadwinners (M-Unit)” gang and Green, Griffin and Scott as members of the MMG gang.
On Tuesday, Herman sentenced each defendant to 40 years for manslaughter, 48 years for conspiracy to commit armed robbery and 48 years for three attempted first-degree murders. The sentences will run concurrently.
Just prior to the sentencing, the two men read aloud statements expressing their remorse to Gayles’ family. They said they had been asked to steal marijuana but weren’t sure they had even gone to the correct house on that fateful day in 2013.
Griffin, 19, told the court that had he known there were children in the house, he would have “defused” the situation.
“It just ripped at my soul. I just keep thinking at this. I really didn’t want to face the fact that I was the one … the reason why she is gone,” Griffin said. “I’d just like to say I’m sorry once again.”
Green said he was equally remorseful, describing the horror he felt the next day after learning that he and five others had killed a child.
“The lonely nights you think about … I also cried and tossed and turned myself. I also lost two loved ones close to me from stupidity,” said Green, 22. “If I could give my life to bring Arabian Gayles back, I would.”
Prosecutor Alex Calenda didn’t ask the judge for the maximum sentence. He said there had been an “amazing amount” of cooperation in the case and that he believed the defendants were truly remorseful.
“Them sitting before the family and begging for forgiveness, it shows they do have something left in their souls,” he said.
Calenda did, however, condemn what he called a “ridiculous” gang culture in New Orleans, and he begged that young men stop the “rampant gunfire” responsible for the deaths of at least five children since 2011.
“It’s just a senseless culture of violence,” he said. “Why does this go on? When will people in this city learn?”