The hit-and-run killing of New Orleans police Officer Rodney Thomas in 2013 and an alleged attempt to hide the damaged sports car involved in the death are now the least of the troubles for Kenneth Halley and John Chambers.
An Orleans Parish jury this week convicted the two men, both 31, of second-degree murder in a pre-Katrina slaying in the Lower 9th Ward, returning the verdict after more than three hours of deliberations.
Prosecutors said Halley and Chambers each fired an AK-47 in broad daylight on April 5, 2005, killing 21-year-old Joseph Lucien.
Halley bowed his head when Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman read the verdict Wednesday night. Chambers stood silently, twitching his leg.
Herman set a Jan. 4 sentencing date for both men, who face mandatory life prison terms.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office resurrected the murder case a month after Halley and Chambers were named among six suspects in the July 2013 hit-and-run case.
Former District Attorney Eddie Jordan’s office had refused to prosecute them for the 2005 murder after two key eyewitnesses “did not wish to testify,” First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin testified Wednesday.
But Eugene Mackey and Ryan Rogers took the stand this week to implicate Halley and Chambers in Lucien’s murder on Alabo Street.
Another witness, federal convict Adrian McDaniel, also testified, claiming Chambers admitted to Lucien’s killing during an encounter in the medical unit of Orleans Parish Prison.
McDaniel acknowledged that in return for his testimony, he was hoping for a reduction in the 15-year sentence he received after he pleaded guilty as an accessory to murder after the fact in a 2004 carjacking that went bad.
Chambers’ attorney, David Belfield, sought in vain to cast doubt on the motives of all three witnesses — the crux of the state’s case against Halley and Chambers. Why, Belfield asked the jury, would Chambers and Halley kill Lucien and then drive away, leaving neighbors who knew them from the 9th Ward alive?
Assistant District Attorney Taylor Anthony told the jury that Halley and Chambers were leaders of the Deslonde Boys gang and that Lucien had just gotten the better of a friend of theirs in a fistfight.
“Kenny and John took it on themselves to bring a gun to a fistfight,” Anthony said. “Joe Lucien — his body has waited 10 years for justice.”
Prosecutors said Halley fired first and Chambers returned to finish the job with the same assault weapon after seeing that Lucien hadn’t died.
Eight years later, authorities say, Halley and another man, Justin McKey, were driving in Halley’s $80,000 Porsche Panamera when it struck Thomas on the freeway after the NOPD officer had left his truck to check on a stalled car.
Police later found the Porsche at a body shop on Broad Street, close to the Criminal District Court building.
McKey and Halley were booked on manslaughter and obstruction counts in that incident, while Chambers and three others faced charges related to the alleged attempt to hide the high-priced evidence.
Those three other defendants, including auto shop owner Bill Cager, have since pleaded guilty. Prosecutors claimed Cager, too, was a Deslonde Boy.
Herman has not yet set a trial date in the hit-and-run case.
Halley and Chambers also face charges filed in March accusing them of battery after a fellow Orleans Parish Prison inmate went to the hospital with broken bones, records show.
The jury vote for Halley’s guilt was 11-1. Ten jurors agreed Chambers was guilty.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.