More than two years after 11-year-old Arabian Gayles was hit by a barrage of stray bullets while she rocked her baby cousin to sleep, the case against the alleged gang members charged in her death is coming to a close.
The last two defendants remaining in the case have taken deals from prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the 2013 shooting.
Both men, Terry J. Green and Jacshaun Griffin, were scheduled to go on trial Monday for first-degree murder in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Instead, they pleaded guilty to lesser manslaughter charges, as well as two counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and the attempted first-degree murder of three people.
Green, 22, and Griffin, 19, each face up to 50 years in prison. The state agreed on 40 years for the manslaughter charge, but additional time for the other charges will be determined in a sentencing hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, where the defendants are expected to address Gayles’ family, said Judge Karen Herman.
“Take a lot of consideration tomorrow about what you will say to that family,” Herman told the defendants in court Monday, adding that she made “no promises” to be lenient.
Gayles, who often went by the nickname “Ray Ray,” was killed just eight days shy of her 12th birthday when the gunmen opened fire about midnight outside her home in Pigeon Town.
The bullets penetrated the walls of her home in the 1300 block of Gen. Ogden Street on Sept. 2, 2013, as she rocked her 1-year-old baby cousin to sleep in a house where two other young children were staying. She was shot several times, including in the head, and died a few hours later at a hospital. The baby’s life was spared.
A neighbor at the time recalled hearing at least six gunshots followed by the sound of a car speeding away. 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.
Green and Griffin were among four defendants initially charged with first-degree murder in Gayles’ death, as well as the three counts of attempted murder.
Chris Arana and Jermaine Scott also were indicted on those charges but 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 both took plea deals in 2014.
The September 2014 indictment charged that all six men conspired to rob two people named Keith Ward and Cary Bass. It wasn’t clear, however, whether Ward and Bass were at Gayles’ home or had a relationship with the girl’s family.
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 street gang.
At the time, federal and local authorities said the drug-dealing MMG gang had “operated within the 8th Ward of New Orleans and committed numerous shootings and homicides,” according to a warrant.
On Monday, Griffin’s attorney, Eusi Phillips, said the state intended to present evidence during a trial showing the fatal shooting stemmed from “an armed robbery involving narcotics.” Phillips said he didn’t think the defendants intended to kill anyone.
Regardless, the shooting spurred condemnation from city leaders. Both Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Councilwoman Susan Guidry pointed to multiple instances of children under 16 who had been murdered because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“The entire city mourns with you,” Landrieu said at Gayles’ funeral at the Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ.
Gayles’ funeral brought an estimated 500 people, including Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the principal of Lafayette Academy, where Gayles had hoped to make the dance team.
On Monday, Phillips said the young girl’s family had requested a formal apology from the defendants and that the judge’s sentencing decisions scheduled for Tuesday all depended on whether the pair showed remorse.
“Any time you have someone admitting to some type of involvement in something like this, then really the ball is in the court of the victim, to be honest with you,” Phillips said. “But at the end of the day, there really are no winners in this case because you have two families whose lives have been changed forever.”