Two weary mothers made their voices heard Thursday inside an Orleans Parish courtroom.
One of them stared down her son’s killer, pleading for a hint of remorse.
The other tore into the image of her son as a cold-blooded, murderous gangster, even as he sat gazing at her from a few feet away, showing little emotion as she vouched for his good soul.
In the end, two half-brothers and fellow members of the notorious “110’ers” gang got what they expected. Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier sentenced Demond “Lil D” Sandifer, 19, and Sam “Lil” Newman, 19, to 1½ life sentences each without the possibility of parole for committing separate murders, one in 2011 and the other in 2012.
Both were 16 at the time of the killings. Separate juries convicted Sandifer in August and Newman last month.
They are slated to be tried again, together, in January, along with others accused in a slew of murders and violent crimes detailed in a 51-count gang racketeering indictment handed up last year.
The indictment names 15 defendants as associates in what prosecutors describe as a ruthless enterprise based in the area around the former St. Thomas housing complex. Their trade, prosecutors say, wasn’t so much selling drugs as it was pure violence and intimidation.
Most of the 15 have accepted lengthy prison terms in plea deals, including a few who went on to testify against Newman and Sandifer.
At the indictment’s center is the May 29, 2012, gunfire that claimed the lives of 5-year-old Briana Allen, who was attending a relative’s birthday party in Central City, and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce, who caught a bullet while driving a rental car through the neighborhood.
Newman, Sandifer and two others are accused in those killings, which are among 15 alleged murders cataloged in the indictment. Some of them took place within weeks of the gunfire that killed Briana and Pierce, including the June 11, 2012, murder of 21-year-old Jonathan “Kruga” Lewis.
A jury deliberated for little more than an hour last month before convicting Newman of second-degree murder in Lewis’ killing, prompting his sentencing on Thursday.
Lewis’ mother, Monique Lewis, stared down from the witness stand at Newman, who was clad in gray Orleans Parish Prison sweats.
“You just have to show some kind of remorse. I looked at you the first day I came (to court). You just have a blank look on your face, like it just doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “I can only ask that the Lord have mercy on your soul. That’s it, because my child is gone and I have to deal with that for the rest of my life.”
She added: “I have to wake up next Saturday. He’ll be 24 years old. I won’t get to call him. I have to put flowers on a grave. It’s a horrible feeling.”
Under questioning from Newman’s attorney, Stavros Panagoulopoulos, Monique Lewis acknowledged her son had made mistakes, with an arrest record that included drug and gun offenses. He also never got to atone for them, she said.
“Yes, Jonathan was a child, basically, just becoming a man,” she said. “I wish he had a chance to learn from those mistakes. He didn’t get that chance. It was taken from him.”
Panagoulopoulos argued in vain that Newman, too, should be allowed a slim shot at redeeming himself behind bars, with a chance at parole down the line.
He urged the judge to allow for “a little light at the end, the possibility of getting out of jail, because then it allows for the possibility for growth.”
But Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda noted that Newman, along with Sandifer, was offered a chance to plead guilty and cooperate in the case, but he refused.
Newman was with another alleged 110’er, Stanton “Na Na” Guillory, and others riding in a stolen car around Gentilly when they came upon Lewis. Among them was Charles “Buddy” Lewis, who took a 10-year sentence in a plea deal and wound up testifying against Newman.
Calenda hinted that Guillory and others still await justice in the killing.
“Sam Newman has been given choices since he was 16 years old. He’s been given choices to right the wrongs he perpetrated in this city, to show remorse for the murder spree that he unleashed,” Calenda argued. “He made grown-man choices, and now he has to face grown-man repercussions. Let him grow into a man in Angola State Penitentiary.”
Next up was Sandifer, who again refused Thursday to cut a deal that could slash his sentence. He sat in the jury box in orange jail scrubs while his mother, Charlene Sandifer, railed at the prosecution, saying, “These young men, my son included, are so naive to believe they would have fair due process in answering these charges.”
She then turned to defending her son from the perception surrounding the 110’ers.
“Regardless of what people may think he is, he’s sweet. He caring. He loves his sisters, his family,” she said. “He was always outgoing. He did what he was supposed to do. That’s all I could ask for as a mom.”
“I just think some things, it paints a picture when the picture is not really there,” she added. “To say he’s this cold, sociopathic person? I want the court to know that he does have a heart.”
Sandifer was convicted of gunning down 22-year-old Milton Davis, shooting him three times in the back on a hot August night in 2011.
Calenda cited an Instagram message from Sandifer, who was affiliated with a 110’ers offshoot known as “Team Murder,” or TM. “My N*****s kill for no reason,” the message read.
Evidence at the trial showed that Sandifer bragged about the killing to his half-brother, Rico “Max” Newman, in a jailhouse call. The jury also saw homemade rap videos featuring a gun-wielding Sandifer, shot in Clay Park, and a photo of Sandifer posing outside the killing scene in the 2500 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“The streets keep calling me,” goes the refrain in one of the music videos.
“The streets aren’t calling him anymore, your honor,” Calenda said. “Angola State Penitentiary is calling him.”
Attorneys for Sandifer and Newman complained that neither man could testify on his own behalf, fearing any admission would be used in the pending gang racketeering case hanging over them, with a January trial date fast approaching.
Flemings-Davillier handed both Sandifer and Newman life sentences for the murders. She also sentenced them for killing “in furtherance” of criminal gang activity. Those convictions carry half of a life sentence, to run consecutively to the life sentences.
In addition to Lewis’ murder and the killings of Briana and Pierce, Newman is accused in the killing of Kevon Robinson on June 14, 2012, three days after Lewis’ murder, according to the indictment. Sandifer is accused in a total of seven murders.
So far, eight of the 15 defendants have pleaded guilty, including six men who accepted sentences of at least 10 years in prison and as much as 40 years.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.