Orleans jury convicts Lower Ninth Ward gang member in double attempted murder from 2011 _lowres

Kenneth Jones

Police caught up with Jeremiah “Hood” Harris at Interim LSU Hospital in the wee hours of Nov. 22, 2011.

His Cadillac CTS was parked on the emergency room ramp, its rear peppered with bullet holes. Harris had a bullet from an AK-47 lodged in the back of his neck. He still does.

Witnesses described a blue Monte Carlo chasing the Cadillac around the area of Franklin Avenue and Wisteria Street in Gentilly. A shooter was seen standing up through the Monte Carlo’s sunroof, firing an assault rifle.

Harris gave police a description of the gunman, but he testified Tuesday that he left out one key fact: the man’s name.

Harris wanted to mete out justice himself.

A few months earlier, Kenneth “Bud” Jones had shot Harris’ buddy and fellow heroin dealer, Merlin “Mitch” Smothers Jr., Harris testified. So he kept Jones’ name to himself, he testified, staring down at Jones from the witness stand at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

“I wanted to stay out the way, make money and if I catch Bud, I just wanted to murder him,” Jones said. “I seen Bud standing through the roof of a car shooting an AK at us. I was 100 percent sure it was Bud.”

Jones, 27, is being tried on counts of attempted murder and possession of an assault rifle, accused of trying to kill both Harris and Smothers amid a feud between two rival 9th Ward gangs.

According to the FBI, Harris and Smothers were associated with the “Park Boys” gang, while Jones was aligned with the “Back of Town” gang.

A dispute between the two groups overheated, Harris said, with the killing of Jones’ pal earlier in 2011.

Harris testified that he, Smothers and two other men had hopped in his Cadillac, stopped for some cough syrup to get high and were making a quick heroin deal when the Monte Carlo pulled up behind them, sparking a chase. At least 11 shots were fired into the Cadillac, according to police.

Harris, 32, stood up to show the jury of seven men and five women the spot on the back of his neck where the projectile remains.

He never got a chance to try to kill Jones. Instead, Harris and Smothers were charged in federal court for selling heroin out of Smothers’ grandmother’s house.

Smothers, 29, pleaded guilty to drug counts last year in both state and federal courts, with his longest sentence being five years on a heroin charge.

Harris pleaded guilty in October 2013 in federal court to four heroin counts. He has yet to be sentenced, promised leniency in return for his testimony against Jones.

A father of 10, Harris acknowledged under cross-examination by Jones’ defense attorney, Harry Daniels III, that he is hoping to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison as a repeat federal offender. Harris served 46 months in federal custody on a heroin distribution rap before returning to the streets and the heroin trade in 2011.

“I didn’t want to grow old in prison,” said Harris, dressed in orange St. Charles Parish jail scrubs.

“You don’t want to go to jail for 300 years?” Daniels asked.

“Nah.”

Prosecutors Alex Calenda and Jason Napoli then called FBI Special Agent Chris DiMenna to the stand to testify about a string of suspected shootings by Jones around the same time.

Among them, Jones allegedly fired on a man with an assault rifle at Sam Bonart Park in May 2011 but missed, then fired on another man, Corey Celestine, also with an assault rifle, at Burgundy and Flood streets.

He hit Smothers at Hammond and Lancelot Streets in New Orleans East in September 2011, according to authorities.

Then, authorities say, Jones shot up Mercedes Place in the Holy Cross area with an assault rifle, also targeting Park Boys.

He has not been charged in several of those shootings.

Judge Karen Herman briefly halted the trial Tuesday to evict a group of chatty family members from the courtroom gallery.

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.