Some residents of the 13th Ward in Uptown New Orleans describe a natural geographic split that official maps leave out.
“There were two sides,” Celestine Skia testified in federal court Wednesday. “The money side and the murder side.”
Her then-boyfriend, Walter Porter, was proudly planted on the latter.
Porter lived on South Liberty Street, kept a cache of weapons and, according to another witness who testified Wednesday, would kill people for as little as $1,500 apiece.
But he never fired just one bullet, or even a few, according to several witnesses who have taken the stand during the first seven days of testimony in the federal racketeering trial for Porter, accused Central City crime boss Telly Hankton and two Hankton cousins.
Porter’s signature move was to unload a double-fisted barrage of bullets into his victims, then brag about it, they said.
When the June 2009 murder of a Hankton rival, Jessie “TuTu” Reed, appeared on the evening news, one of Porter’s running partners, Gerard Howard, seemed to recognize the handiwork of Porter, who often went by the nickname “Moonie,” according to a second woman who testified.
Howard “made a comment that he felt it was Moonie (who killed Reed) because there were a lot of shell casings or markings,” she said. “They had a lot of cones out there.”
A few days later, Porter was bragging about Reed’s killing as he held a trusty black handgun to his lips, she testified.
“He was saying this bitch hadn’t let him down yet, and he made a gesture to kiss the weapon,” she said.
Within about a week, the witness said she watched as a Hankton cousin, whom she identified as Thomas “Squirt” Hankton, delivered a bundle to Porter.
Thomas Hankton was among nine co-defendants who pleaded guilty before the trial began in the sweeping racketeering, drug and gun conspiracy case, she said.
But the witness was forced to admit Wednesday that she once lied on the stand to help Howard win acquittal on a state gun charge, though she said she did so at Porter’s request.
She testified that in early 2009, just before Reed’s killing, she had become friends with Porter.
She described him as “dead-set on meeting Telly (Hankton).” Porter’s goal, she added, was to “do jobs with him, take hits.”
Skia told a similar story on Wednesday, saying her then-boyfriend was eager to get in Hankton’s “good graces.”
“He had hoped to hopefully build a relationship with Telly so he could have a consistent daily supply” of drugs, Skia said. “He had hoped to move out of the city, live his own life.”
Skia pleaded guilty in 2012 and received an 18-month sentence for making false statements about straw gun buys she made for Porter at a local gun show, though she insisted that one of the two assault weapons she bought — a .223 Kel-Tec rifle — was a gift to herself.
Hankton’s attorneys, Majeeda Snead and Emily Ratner, took aim at the two women on Wednesday, suggesting to the jury that Porter was so eager to please Hankton that he freelanced, killing on spec for the approval of a man they called “Third” — for Hankton’s 3rd Ward stomping grounds around Josephine Street.
“Moonie (would) kill people to impress someone, or for his own motivation?” Ratner asked.
“That’s the way it seemed,” the second woman responded.
The 24-count federal indictment pins five murders on the Hankton clan, including three allegedly involving Porter.
Among them was the October 2011 killing of Curtis Matthews, the brother of a key witness who had survived 17 gunshots to testify against Telly Hankton over the 2008 murder of rival Darnell “Durney” Stewart on South Claiborne Avenue.
Matthews was gunned down just days after a judge handed Telly Hankton a mandatory life sentence. Federal prosecutors say Porter, now 39, carried it out.
Whether prosecutors believe Porter acted on Hankton’s orders or on his own — possibly to make up for failing earlier to kill the witness, John Matthews — remains an open question as the trial reaches the halfway point. The federal indictment names only Porter in Curtis Matthews’ murder.
Porter was convicted in March and awaits federal sentencing for an unrelated hit job he committed in 2010 on behalf of former LSU wide receiver Nemessis Bates. He also faces pending federal charges from a pair of 2011 bank robberies that netted $134,000.
Skia acknowledged waiting in the car during one of the bank jobs, though she insisted she wasn’t armed.
The trial will continue Thursday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.