“We were coming from the gas station. We made a block. We saw Kruga,” Charles “Buddy” Lewis said Thursday about the moments preceding the early morning slaying of Jonathan “Kruga” Lewis in Gentilly in 2012.
“We pulled over and waited for him to pull up to the intersection. When he pulled up to the intersection, Na Na and Lil jumped out and killed him,” he continued.
Dressed in orange jail garb with his hands tightly shackled, Lewis, 22, gave a detailed, chilling account of the killing and its aftermath, during the second day of the murder trial of 18-year-old Sam “Lil” Newman.
Prosecutors allege that Newman, 16 at the time of the killing, was a member of a violent street gang known as the 110’ers and shot Jonathan Lewis with fellow gang member Stanton “Na Na” Guillory because of a beef between rival street clans.
Buddy Lewis, who is serving 10 years in prison for obstruction of justice, racketeering and discharging a firearm in an act of violence, backed up that claim with his testimony.
The admitted gang member chronicled a crime-filled evening that kicked off with a group of young men stealing a car in Metairie, continued with a stakeout of the home of a drug dealer in Gentilly and culminated when the encounter with Jonathan Lewis led Newman and Guillory to spray him with bullets.
Buddy Lewis said that days later the group set the stolen vehicle ablaze in Boutte after they found out police were looking for it.
Newman’s defense attorneys, Bradley Phillips and Stavros Panagoulopoulos, sought to discredit Lewis and other witnesses because of their criminal history and gang affiliation.
“Gang members, as we will learn, are not typically people known for their honesty, for being credible,” Phillips said in his opening statement Wednesday.
Buddy Lewis, who admitted during his testimony that he is a member of a 7th Ward gang, the Young Mafia Fellaz, said he had met Newman only once or twice before June 10, 2012, when the two ended up at a mutual friend’s house in New Orleans East.
Lewis said the group smoked marijuana and then met up with friends at a gas station with the intention to “go hit licks,” slang for breaking into cars.
There was concern that the car they were riding in was “hot,” according to Lewis, so the group decided to drive to Metairie to see if they could steal a different vehicle.
“Why did you go to Metairie?” lead prosecutor Alex Calenda asked.
“Cause white people be leaving their keys in their car,” Lewis said.
The young men hit paydirt when they found an unlocked burgundy Toyota Sequoia with the keys and a bundle of credit cards inside.
They took the car and intended to kill time until early morning, when they could use the credit cards, but Lewis said one of the men got a tip about a drug dealer in Gentilly with a house full of cash and narcotics.
They drove to the home on Franklin Avenue and staked it out until the sun rose, waiting for the man to leave.
At one point, Lewis said, they drove to a nearby convenience station to buy a cigar so they could smoke a blunt. Later, they got gas at the same store.
It was when they left the gas station that they happened to see Jonathan Lewis near Eads Street and Filmore Avenue. According to Buddy Lewis, Jonathan Lewis was a member of the FNV gang, which controlled turf near the intersection of Frenchmen and North Villere streets.
The gang had a grudge against the Young Mafia Fellaz and also the 110’ers.
Lewis said Jonathan Lewis had left his car and was throwing something in a trash can when the men drove by him.
“Na Na is like, ‘I’m about to go get him, let me get him,’ and Lil says, ‘I’m gonna get him, let me get him,’ ” Lewis said. “(It was) like a debate, you could say.”
He said the driver of the car pulled around the corner. Then Newman and Guillory covered their faces with their shirts, charged out of the vehicle and opened fire.
Days later, Lewis said, he was with Guillory and a few other friends in Boutte, hoping to capitalize on the fact that “people there be slipping like leaving guns and (stuff) in their car.”
He said the group got word that surveillance footage released by the police showed the Sequoia was connected to the murder.
“So what do you decide to do?” Calenda asked.
“Blow it up,” Lewis said, describing how the group torched the vehicle and then swiped a nearby Ford truck.
In cross-examination, Phillips attempted to discredit Lewis’s testimony, bringing up his lengthy criminal history and the fact he was promised a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for his testimony.
Phillips said Lewis, as a multiple offender, could have faced up to 100 years on the racketeering charge alone. In exchange for testifying against Newman, Lewis received a 10-year sentence for the state charges against him, which will run concurrently with his expected guilty plea to federal charges.
“Isn’t that just the cherry on top?” Phillips said about the concurrent sentences.
He also told the jury that Lewis was indicted for obstruction of justice in the 2012 shooting death of 5-year-old Brianna Allen and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce.
Lewis admitted he sold a gun used in those murders but denied being present at the time of the killings.
Also testifying on Thursday was Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Steven Keller, who was a former gang intelligence specialist with the New Orleans Police Department.
Keller laid out the city’s constellation of gangs, explaining how the 110’ers were an umbrella group for three separate Uptown gangs: the St. Thomas Youngins, the St. Mary’s Mafia and the Skull Squad Mafia.
Numerous members of the gang were named in a 51-count indictment in 2013 in which 15 gang members were charged with racketeering and other violent crimes in relation to 15 murders. Newman and Guillory were identified in the indictment as participating in the murders of Brianna Allen and Shawanna Pierce.
Newman’s half-brother, Demond “Lil D” Sandifer, was convicted of murder for a 2011 killing in late August.
According to Keller, Newman was a member of the Skull Squad Mafia but also was part of an even smaller subgang, called Team Murder, or TM.
Prosecutors showed enlargements of social media photos, one of which had a roster of the Team Murder squad and others which boasted of gang activity.
“These individuals use these platforms to advertise and broadcast their associations,” Keller said, adding that rival gangs will often become friends on Facebook simply so they can antagonize each other.
Prosecutors asked Keller to translate some of the gang’s lingo, including the contents of a letter Newman sent to his brother, Rico “Max” Newman, while both were in Orleans Parish Prison.
In the letter, which Calenda described as “written in a separate dialect from English,” Keller said Newman boasted about killing Lewis.
He also deconstructed what appeared to be a relatively innocuous rap lyric posted on a Facebook page on the exploits of “TM,’ where gang members referred to “bringing more heat than Wade and LeBron,” “we don’t be stuntin’,” and “winning.”
Keller said “heat” was code for bullets and “we don’t be stuntin’” means the gang doesn’t make idle threats. “Winning,” he added, “means their team has killed more than their rivals.”