The last New Orleans killer to be shipped to Louisiana’s death row wasn’t actually guilty of the crime for which he was sent there — gunning down five teens in the infamous “Central City massacre” of 2006, federal prosecutors now say.
It was Telly Hankton all along, according to a recent court filing from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office.
The allegations mark a stunning endorsement of a long-circulating suspicion, backed by witnesses, that state prosecutors had dismissed as a phony diversion when they secured a conviction and death sentence in 2009 for Michael “MikeMike” Anderson.
Anderson, a leader of the “Josephine Dog Pound” gang, was found guilty on five counts of first-degree murder for what remains the most notorious bloodbath in post-Katrina New Orleans.
The jury decided that Anderson gunned down five teens at 4:05 a.m. on a warm June morning at Josephine and Danneel streets. The coroner found 21 bullet wounds among them.
The allegation that it was really Hankton, who lived a block down Josephine Street from Anderson, who carried out the massacre is not contained in a sweeping federal indictment naming Hankton, his mother, Shirley, and 11 others in a decades-long drug conspiracy backed by frequent shootings.
But federal prosecutors want the jury to hear the evidence that Hankton committed the quintuple murder when his trial — now scheduled for next month — gets underway.
Through the entire process — trial, death sentence, appeal, the trial judge’s reversal of the conviction because of prosecutorial failings and later a state-federal plea deal and life prison term — Anderson’s attorney insisted he didn’t do it.
Anderson is expected to participate in the federal racketeering trial against Hankton, who already is serving a life prison term for murder, and the eight remaining relatives and associates in the case.
Hankton committed the mass murder “to maintain and advance the goals of the enterprise, including to protect his specific role as its leader, principal drug supplier and gunman,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Privitera wrote in an April 22 motion.
“On June 17, 2006, Telly Hankton shot and killed five young men on Josephine Street,” the motion states.
“At trial, witness testimony will show that a(n) SUV with the five victims pulled up and one of its occupants got out. At that time, Telly Hankton walked up and shot this person in the head. Hankton immediately turned to the driver of the SUV and shot him in the head.
“The SUV slowly began to roll, and as it did, Hankton walked along the driver’s side and shot inside the vehicle, hitting the remaining three victims. Hankton turned and ran down Josephine Street to his mother’s house.”
According to Detective Jeffrey Lehrmann’s police report, the Ford Explorer stopped against a corner telephone pole. Four of the five already were dead when paramedics arrived.
The slain were Marquise Hunter, 19; his brother, Arsenio “Lil Man” Hunter, 16; Warren “Luv” Simeon, 17; Iraum Taylor, 19; and Reggie “Putty” Dantzler, 19.
A national spotlight
The .40-caliber destruction came less than 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, prompting then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco to order the National Guard and State Police into a city reeling from violence and under a national lens.
Hankton’s name came up at Anderson’s trial as a prosecutor sought to pre-empt an anticipated defense angle, dismissing it as subterfuge.
A statement from a witness, Herman McMillan, to the FBI that he was at the shooting scene and saw Hankton kill the five teens was ruled inadmissible by then-Criminal District Court Judge Lynda Van Davis, a former prosecutor.
Anderson’s attorney, Richard Bourke, claimed in 2010 that McMillan, who also fired a gun that night, was threatened with prosecution.
In 2011, a man named Steven Givens pleaded guilty to perjury — among other charges — for claiming in a written statement that Hankton had confessed to him about killing the five teens while both men were in jail in New Orleans. Givens, 21, also claimed he overheard Hankton and Anderson talking about the murders in a jail shower.
Givens’ guilty plea came a week after an Orleans Parish jury convicted Hankton of second-degree murder in the execution-style killing of Darnell Stewart in 2008 on South Claiborne Avenue.
The shooting of a witness who survived at least 17 shots to testify against Hankton, followed by the killing of that witness’ brother days after he received a life sentence in 2011, burnished Hankton’s violent reputation.
The suspicion that he actually was the perpetrator of New Orleans’ bloodiest attack in more than a decade was well known. However, the court filing last month by Polite’s office, more than three years after Hankton and his alleged associates were first indicted in the racketeering case, is the first time the government has broadcast the allegations.
The filing states: “Witness testimony will also show that in furtherance of the charged conspiracies, Hankton’s co-defendants made statements regarding the wrongful prosecution of Michael Anderson for this crime and that Telly Hankton offered to pay for Anderson’s appellate attorney after he was wrongly convicted for the crime.”
Feds always had doubts
A source familiar with the case said the feds always have doubted that Anderson committed the quintuple murder.
Davis, the trial judge, threw out the death verdict in March 2010, finding that prosecutors in District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office had failed to hand over a videotaped interview with their sole eyewitness in which she partially contradicted herself.
Davis also ruled that Cannizzaro’s office should have revealed a plea deal with a jailhouse informant for his testimony in the case.
Anderson cut a deal in 2011 to skirt the death penalty. He pleaded guilty in federal court to running a drug ring, shooting at a cop and other crimes, and accepted a life sentence.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of murder in aid of racketeering for the July 14, 2005, killing of Ronnie Meade.
In state court, Davis handed Anderson 80 years after he pleaded no contest to reduced manslaughter charges in the massacre, conceding only that the evidence to convict him was strong.
“Michael Anderson denies any responsibility for those killings,” Bourke, his attorney, said then. “He maintains his innocence of it. He was willing to take responsibility for things he’d actually done.”
Federal prosecutors filed notice of their plans to introduce the allegation of five more murders by Hankton as “intrinsic evidence.” The government needs to show the massacre was “inextricably intertwined” with any of the racketeering, drug or gun conspiracy counts that Hankton faces in addition to multiple murder counts.
The government cited a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said such evidence of other, unindicted crimes is allowed when it is “inextricably intertwined” with the charged crimes, or “both acts are part of a ‘single criminal episode’ or were ‘necessary preliminaries.’ ”
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman has barred the attorneys from talking about the case publicly.
Hankton’s attorneys, Emily Ratner and Majeeda Sneed, filed a motion opposing the late inclusion of “arguably the most notorious crime in the history of post-Katrina New Orleans” into the Hankton case.
They said the feds are offering “bizarre rationales” for introducing the massacre into the case.
The feds’ aim, they said, is to “broadcast highly inflammatory evidence to the jury of an uncharged and irrelevant crime so that the jury may determine Mr. Hankton is a man of bad character, and may convict him on a crime that ‘shocked the nation.’ ”
No grand jury has ever indicted Hankton in the quintuple murder, they noted, allowing prosecutors to make the allegation without needing to prove it “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Hankton’s attorneys accused the government of a warped logic that would make federal prosecutors part of the alleged Hankton conspiracy.
“As the government would have it, Mr. Hankton was confident Mr. Anderson was innocent because Mr. Hankton knew that he himself had committed the crime, and it was critical to the furtherance of Mr. Hankton’s charged conspiracies that he exonerate a man whose defense was entirely based on painting Mr. Hankton as the true perpetrator,” the attorneys wrote.
“Under this reasoning, it would then appear that the Orleans Parish district attorney and the government are the unindicted co-conspirators of the ‘Hankton organization,’ as the global plea deal they struck with Mr. Anderson helped him to avoid a second death penalty trial, an end which apparently furthered the conspiracies of the nefarious ‘Hankton organization.’ ”
Bourke did not return a call for comment. Neither did a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami, said Hankton may not have been charged with the massacre because the case against Anderson involving the Josephine Dog Pound had wrapped up only months before the Hankton clan was indicted in October 2012.
Also, “If you charge it specifically and can’t prove it up, the jury may find there’s a hole in the theory of the conspiracy and acquit the entire conspiracy,” Weinstein said.
‘Effective and fair’
At the time of Anderson’s guilty pleas in state court, Cannizzaro’s office issued a statement that said Anderson, “who savagely shot five young men to death on the streets of Central City, was the beneficiary of every safeguard our system indiscriminately offers to the innocent and guilty alike.”
Noting Anderson’s 80-year state sentence as a habitual offender, Cannizzaro said, “The citizens of New Orleans should be reassured that our new criminal justice system is both effective and fair.”
Hankton’s attorneys filed a motion last week to delay the June 6 trial date, citing the additional work needed to investigate the Central City massacre case. Feldman has not ruled on that motion.
Also, they cited evidence that former NOPD homicide Detective Desmond Pratt, now imprisoned on sexual battery and carnal knowledge charges to which he pleaded guilty, may have contaminated the scene of another alleged Hankton murder: that of Jessie “TuTu” Reed, who died in 2009 in a hail of bullets from five guns on Terpsichore Street. A search of Pratt’s storage locker turned up a cell phone removed from the scene of Reed’s murder, Hankton’s attorneys said. Pratt is now the subject of a federal civil rights probe.
Hankton, his alleged hit man Walter Porter and Kevin Jackson are accused of gunning down Reed using five guns, firing more than 50 bullets. At the time, Hankton was free on $1 million bail in Darnell Stewart’s killing.
Reed and Stewart were Hankton rivals and were suspected but never charged in the December 2007 slaying of close relative George “Cup” Hankton.
The U.S. Justice Department last year took the death penalty off the table for Hankton and four other defendants in the racketeering case.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.