An Orleans Parish jury convicted an accused Central City gang leader Wednesday on two counts of attempted murder, finding that Gerard Gray furnished a gun for an acquaintance and directed him to fire on two men at A.L. Davis Park during a dispute about who had next “dibs” on the basketball court there.
Jonterry “Pootie” Bernard fired two dozen bullets on July 8, 2014. Six of them struck Marc Mitchell and Chris Chambers, the two men who had been arguing with Gray over use of the court.
Bernard, who was tried separately, was convicted in October. Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White sentenced him to consecutive 50-year prison terms on two attempted murder counts.
White is scheduled to sentence Gray, 25, on June 3.
The jury deliberated for just under two hours before reaching its decision Wednesday, following two days of testimony that was headlined by Bernard and the shooting victims.
Prosecutors Michael Trummel and Matt Hamilton argued that Gray was the leader of a street gang, called the “Byrd Gang,” that claimed the park at Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street as its turf.
The prosecutors leaned on Gray’s rap videos and lyrics to press the case that Bernard, 23, had good reason to fear the consequences if he refused to shoot the two men when ordered to do so.
Gray allegedly had threatened Chambers on the court just before Bernard started firing.
Bernard said the order to shoot came from a friend named Jermal “Melly” Jarrell, who has since been killed, but that he understood that it was Gray’s message.
Shortly before the shooting, Jarrell told him, “Handle this, or you get handled,” Bernard said. He said Gray then walked by, saying, “You heard what he said?”
Returning to the witness stand Wednesday, Bernard claimed he repeatedly lied to police out of concern for his family.
“I regret doing it. Now I’m in jail for a long time,” Bernard said of the shooting. “I was scared for me and my family.”
Bernard acknowledged under questioning from defense attorney Robert Hjortsberg that he expects to receive a reduction in his prison sentence based on his testimony against Gray.
In his closing argument, Hjortsberg scoffed at Bernard’s testimony. He pointed out that Bernard admitted lying over the course of at least three interviews with police, first denying that he did the shooting, then denying Gray was at the park that day.
The two victims told the jury that Gray instigated the dispute on the basketball court, but neither man said he saw Gray signal to Bernard that it was time to shoot.
“They’re asking you to throw this man’s life away, put him in a cage, over Jonterry Bernard,” Hjortsberg told the jury. “How could you believe him? The only thing that’s consistent about every statement is that Jonterry Bernard is always trying to help himself.”
The jury, however, bought Bernard’s account.
Trummel, the prosecutor, described Bernard as a “flunky” for Gray who had proven himself willing to swallow a criminal charge for a friend. Gray’s status as a leading gang member, he argued, weighed on Bernard’s decision to open fire.
The only absurdity in the case was that “we have to continue to fear for our lives in the parks of our city,” Trummel said.
“It’s not the six bullets that scare me,” he said. “It’s the other 22 bullets that missed Marc and Chris. Because those two bullets had a different person’s name on them. I’m sick. I’m exhausted of continuing to see violence at a park.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.