Suspect in 2012 triple murder goes on trial _lowres

Jubbard Price

In a compromise verdict, an Orleans Parish jury found 23-year-old Jubbard Price partially culpable Friday evening in a triple slaying two years ago at a drug house in New Orleans East.

The jury deliberated for four hours before convicting Price on two counts of negligent homicide and five counts of simple kidnapping in the bloody rampage inside a house on Devine Avenue.

Price had been charged with three counts of second-degree murder and five counts of second-degree kidnapping. The jury acquitted him in one of the killings, in which the house’s owner, Troy Leslie, was gunned down in a back bedroom.

All three victims allegedly were slain by Donald Johnson, who once lived in the Devine Avenue house. Johnson wore the words “Kid” and “Demon” tattooed on his forehead.

Witnesses said the victims told Johnson to take what he wanted from the house, but he replied, “I want souls.”

Johnson was killed in a shootout with police in Gentilly during a pursuit following the slayings.

The third person involved in the robbery plot, Andrea Price, was Johnson’s girlfriend and Jubbard Price’s cousin. She agreed to a 20-year prison sentence in a plea deal last year that included testifying against her cousin in the weeklong trial that ended Friday.

According to testimony in the case, Johnson hatched a plan to rob the house, where he had once stayed, and enlisted his girlfriend and, through her, Jubbard Price. The two cousins veered off into the garage while Johnson rousted the residents on the morning of Jan. 12, 2012, on the pretense they were going to smoke marijuana together.

He then forced five of them into the garage, cutting one victim’s neck with a knife and bashing her with a gun. Inside the garage area, Jubbard Price wielded a snub revolver and ordered them to the ground, saying, “Get down, I’m in charge!” witnesses said.

Jubbard Price, who did not testify in his defense, said in a taped statement to police that he went to the house to smoke marijuana with his cousin but didn’t know what was going to happen. Andrea Price, however, said he was well aware of the robbery plot.

Because Jubbard Price helped stage the robbery, prosecutors Bobby Freeman and Andrew Decoste argued that under state law, he was guilty of murder as a “principal” to the slayings of Leslie, 37; Keishaune Keppard, 20; and Reyland “Diggem” Berry, 60, despite a lack of evidence that he shot any of them.

The jury appeared to hedge, finding Price not guilty in the shooting of Leslie in the bedroom while Price was in the garage, but guilty of negligent homicide in the killings of Keppard, inside the garage, and of Berry, who had wrestled a gun away from Jubbard Price around the kitchen area.

Defense attorney Nandi Campbell applauded the jury of 10 women and two men for a nuanced decision.

“I think the ‘principal’ theory in Louisiana is a tough pill to swallow, and I was really happy the jury thought it was a tough pill to swallow,” she said. “If you look at what Donald Johnson did and what Jubbard Price did, it’s really kind of hard to pull that plug and say he should have a life sentence. They weren’t comfortable that they knew enough to say he was guilty of second-degree murder or even manslaughter.”

The jury returned its verdict shortly after 6 p.m. Friday.

Price could still be sentenced to as much as 70 years in prison if District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office seeks to have him sentenced under the state’s habitual-offender law. But the jury spared him a life sentence.

Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White is scheduled to sentence Price on June 26.

Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, said it will seek to have Price sentenced as a multiple offender.

“This is a case where a guy is prosecuted for murder who didn’t commit the killings. Those are tough cases, particularly when the person who committed the homicides was killed by police in a shootout,” he said.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.