Five to receive Monte M. Lemann awards _lowres

Kenneth Polite Jr

On the same day a federal jury convicted three members of the 8th Ward “Ride or Die” gang on racketeering, conspiracy, murder and other counts that will mean life prison sentences for each, a federal grand jury Friday issued a new racketeering indictment against six members of a notorious Central City gang, the “Young Melph Mafia.”

The activity in federal court drew an upbeat response from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite, who together touted a 3-year-old anti-gang offensive at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was part of the city’s Katrina anniversary commemoration.

“We can’t be stopped. We can’t even be slowed down,” Harrison said. “You’re not seeing this in other parts of the country, but you’re seeing it here.”

Even with police response times at dismal levels, the result of a steep drop in manpower at the NOPD, the officials boasted of achieving firm traction in a coordinated attack on street-level gangs, which they blame for a disproportionate share of the city’s bloated murder rate.

That murder rate, which topped the nation several years over the past decade, saw significant declines over three years before surging in the first half of 2015.

Harrison recently acknowledged that, at least in troubled Central City, street gangs remain a persistent source of gun violence.

The verdict in the “Ride or Die” case ended a two-week trial in which prosecutors described defendants Deloyd “Puggy” Jones, Byron “Big Baby” Jones and Sidney “Duda Man” Patterson as central figures in a band of gun-wielding drug peddlers who rode roughshod over the St. Roch neighborhood from 2007 until their indictment in 2013.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marquest Meeks and Nolan Paige painted Deloyd Jones as a ringleader for the group. Even before Friday’s conviction, he was serving an 80-year sentence from an earlier state conviction on two counts of attempted murder.

The three men, all in their early 20s, face life prison terms and then some, according to Polite’s office. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan set a Dec. 10 sentencing date.

Deloyd Jones was convicted on nine of 11 counts, Byron Jones on all nine counts he faced and Patterson on seven of 11 counts. The jury found all three guilty on the main counts of racketeering, drug conspiracy and gun conspiracy.

Testifying against them were several Ride or Die members or associates who had earlier pleaded guilty to charges in a 2013 indictment that once numbered a dozen defendants.

Federal prosecutors told the jury that the three men were responsible for several murders committed to bolster the gang’s influence in the neighborhood.

Among them, Byron Jones and Patterson were accused in the Feb. 24, 2010, killing of Travis Arnold, 30, who was shot near Elysian Fields Avenue.

Deloyd Jones was accused of killing Rodney Coleman on Nov. 9, 2010, and then going after the victim’s mother.

Deloyd Jones also killed Devon Hutton on Jan. 17, 2011, and he and Patterson then gunned down Corey Blue with the same weapon the next day, believing Blue had cheated them in a crack deal, prosecutors said.

Attorneys for the three men took aim, to little avail, at a rogue’s gallery of government witnesses. They also argued that the racketeering and conspiracy counts were an overreach for young men who they said never coordinated much of anything beyond the “8” that some members tattooed on their faces in a show of neighborhood allegiance.

That argument didn’t wash with a jury, culled from across the Eastern District of Louisiana, that deliberated for more than a full day.

“These defendants were responsible for terrorizing the St. Roch neighborhood over a series of years,” Polite said. “The message is clear: If you are involved in this type of violence on our streets of New Orleans, your day in prison is coming. It’s coming very soon.”

The latest gang racketeering indictment ties six alleged Young Melph Mafia members to several crimes from 2007 to last year, including several killings around the group’s stomping grounds at the old Melpomene public housing complex, now known as the Guste Homes.

The 31-count indictment replaces an earlier one that named 11 defendants in a drug and gun conspiracy case but did not include the racketeering charge. The new one names all of those who did not plead guilty and one new defendant: Lionel Allen, the only one eligible for death in the case, according to Polite.

Allen is believed to have been a key intended target of since-convicted members and associates of the St. Thomas-area “110’ers” gang when gunfire erupted outside a birthday party one evening in May 2012.

Five-year-old Briana Allen was killed by a shot from an AK-47, as was 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce, who had been driving a rental car through the neighborhood.

Indicted along with Lionel Allen were Jawan “Tittie” Fortia, Dedrick “Roy” Keelen, Delwin “Poo Stupid” McLaren, Bryan “Killer” Scott and Jeffrey Wilson.

Fortia, Keelen and McLaren also were believed to be the targets of the 110’ers gunfire that claimed the lives of Briana and Pierce, according to witnesses.

Briana’s father, Burnell “Baldy” Allen, recently received a life prison sentence in the same federal courthouse for his role in a drug conspiracy centered at the house in the 1200 block of Simon Bolivar Ave., owned by Briana’s great-grandmother, where Briana was shot on the porch.

Lionel Allen pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in that same case, receiving a 10-year prison sentence. He faces much worse under the new indictment.

Polite said prosecutors have not decided whether to seek death for Allen. For now, he, Keelen and Fortia face mandatory life prison sentences if convicted of committing murder “in furtherance” of the alleged racketeering.

Allen and Fortia are accused in the April 22, 2012, slaying of Vennie “Funk” Smith while shooting at Smith’s girlfriend.

Allen also is accused in the killing, six weeks later, of Dashawn Hartford in the 2500 block of Dryades Street.

Keelen is named as the killer in the Dec. 16, 2012, slayings of Lawrence Burt and Vivian Snyder in the 2400 block of St. Andrew Street.

And, according to the indictment, Lionel Allen also killed Travis “Streets” Thomas after an “encounter at a nightclub” on May 16, 2013. Thomas was shot dead while traveling on Interstate 10 near Metairie Road.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.