Washington “Big Wash” McCaskill was 11 or 12 when he started toting a gun around the streets of New Orleans, he told a jury this week.
By 13, he stood 6 feet tall and netted $400 to $500 a day selling crack on the streets of Central City and Uptown, stashing the proceeds inside the rubber soles of his tennis shoes.
The real money (thousands of dollars a day) and the murders (at least five) came later, McCaskill said, following a jailhouse invitation he received to hang around Third and Galvez streets, ground zero for the notorious “3NG” drug gang.
Now 37 and hoping to shave time off an 80-year state prison term, the confessed gang enforcer was the last in a parade of admitted gangsters to take the witness stand the past two weeks in the trial of Kentrell “Black” Hickerson, 36, an accused 3NG leader charged with racketeering, drug crimes and two killings.
State prosecutors wrapped up their case late Thursday, with closing arguments and jury deliberations to start Friday.
Day by day, the witnesses have offered blunt testimony about a kill-or-be-killed culture on some of the Crescent City’s most blood-stained streets, where merely being suspected as “the weakest link” — the most likely to squeal — can spell violent death.
“We demand respect. Either you roll with us, or you get rolled over,” McCaskill told the jury. “You see me, you acknowledge me, or stay out of my way.”
The testimony from McCaskill and others has tied together some of the most jarring killings in the city’s recent history, including the slaying of toddler Keira Holmes in the courtyard of the B.W. Cooper housing complex in 2011 and the December 2010 murders of local bounce rapper Renatta “Magnolia Shorty” Lowe and Jerome “Man Man” Hampton in a torrent of bullets in New Orleans East.
Hickerson isn’t charged in either of those killings. Instead, he faces counts of gang racketeering and drug conspiracy, along with allegations that he killed Durrell “Duke” Pooler in October 2008 and Omar Breaux five months later.
But that hasn’t stopped his former cohorts from attaching his name to other murder victims.
Hickerson is the last remaining defendant among 20 men who were named in a 30-count state indictment issued three years ago. It was among the largest of several gang racketeering prosecutions brought by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office as part of a federal-state campaign.
All but Hickerson have pleaded guilty in the 3NG case, while McCaskill and others also have pleaded guilty in a separate federal prosecution centered on the “39’ers,” a gang authorities describe as a hybrid force of 3NG and a 9th Ward drug gang, “G-Strip.”
Unusually heavy security has surrounded Hickerson’s trial before Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras. New Orleans Police Department gang unit officers are manning the courtroom door. Spectators must sign in to enter the courtroom, a rare procedure at the courthouse at Tulane Avenue and South Broad Street.
Meanwhile, the Police Department’s 6th District brass have been bracing for violent fallout.
“Our real, real main focus for the remainder of this week, and until this trial ends, is keeping Central City under control,” 6th District Lt. Nicholas Gernon said at an NOPD Comstat meeting this week.
McCaskill credited Hickerson’s rise to the top of 3NG to his role in the 2002 slaying of Alexis “Slam” Williams, a feared force in the former Calliope housing project, which was renamed B.W. Cooper before its demolition after Hurricane Katrina.
Scores of Calliope residents gathered by his corpse, eating and drinking in apparent celebration of his demise, according to news accounts at the time.
Williams “was spinning, trying to kill us” and already had shot “a few other of my homeboys” before Hickerson and two other gang members took him out, McCaskill said.
“Slam tried to run. (Hickerson) grabbed him by his dreads and stuck a gun in his face, stood over him,” said McCaskill, who didn’t see the shooting directly but said Hickerson and others talked about it. “That put him on top of the food chain ’cause it was our No. 1 target.”
The killing garnered the gang more respect, McCaskill said, and Hickerson “called the shots.”
“How do you get to the top of the food chain when you’re part of 3NG?” prosecutor Alex Calenda asked.
“By killing,” McCaskill said.
Hickerson, dressed in a dark suit and tie, flipped through papers at the defense table as McCaskill testified.
McCaskill, dressed in St. Tammany Parish jail scrubs, stole a few quick glances toward the alleged gang boss during his several hours of testimony.
He choked up and held a tissue in a shackled hand as he described killing his buddy, Charles “Buck” Anderson, the day after a shooting spree in the B.W. Cooper neighborhood left Keira Holmes dead before her second birthday.
Anderson’s truck was used in the shooting, and gang members feared he’d start talking.
Three months earlier, McCaskill had come to Anderson’s aid in a fight outside a Dryades Street bar. McCaskill killed Lester “Fat Man” Allen and shot his brother, Burnell “Baldy” Allen — the drug-dealing father of 5-year-old Briana Allen, who was slain a year later in a killing that rattled the city.
“We voted. He was the weakest link. We had to get rid of him ’cause they said he was going to tell. It was to get out of the situation for killing the baby in the Calliope,” McCaskill said of killing Anderson — “my homey” — the next day.
It was one killing he regrets, McCaskill said.
“I felt like I was manipulated. I felt like I shoulda did something different instead of killing him. I shoulda let it play out, seen what would have happened,” he said.
McCaskill said he took on a new nickname for his safety: “People trying to kill ‘Wash.’ But a lot of people don’t know how I look. I told them to just call me ‘Dumplin’.”
Under questioning from defense attorney Kevin Vogeltanz, McCaskill also acknowledged killing federal informant Michael Marshall and others, but he declined to reveal any killings beyond the five he has admitted in federal and state plea deals. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month in the federal case.
Also testifying this week was Rico “Freaky” Jackson, who has admitted participating in the fatal assault on Lowe and Hampton. Jackson said Hampton had threatened earlier to kill him.
“If someone is trying to kill you, what would you do? But you can’t answer that because you don’t come from where I come from,” Jackson told Vogeltanz.
“So everyone you killed deserved to die?” Vogeltanz asked.
“Except for Renatta Lowe. Everyone else,” Jackson replied.
Jackson, 34, who pleaded guilty in both state and federal court in November, claimed Hickerson was with him when he killed one man and directed him to track down another to kill.
Prosecutors date the violence of several members of the group to the 1990s.
“There ain’t no gang rules like in California,” Jackson said. “If you’re from the neighborhood, we all looked out for each other. That’s what it was.”
Staff writer Matt Sledge contributed to this story.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.