An impassioned closing argument by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro may have helped sway a New Orleans jury to swiftly convict a Mississippi man Thursday in the 2006 killing of a New Orleans preacher, in a hit job allegedly orchestrated by the victim’s wife and her beau.
That boyfriend would later become Emma Raine’s next dead husband, in what prosecutors claim was a string of three suspicious deaths attributable to slipping a ring on her finger.
After a short deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men convicted Alfred “Terry” Everette of second-degree murder, finding he fatally shot Ernest Smith, 38, the preacher, twice in the chest outside the couple’s house in a neighborhood of New Orleans East left nearly empty about eight months after Hurricane Katrina.
Everette, 30, showed no emotion as the verdict was read, even as his wife and two sisters sobbed in the courtroom gallery.
He faces a mandatory life prison term. Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings- Davillier set a Jan. 5 sentencing date.
In the meantime, Emma Raine, 50, remains behind bars, awaiting her own murder trial in March for allegedly offering to pay Everette to kill her husband.
Cannizzaro, prosecuting the case alongside his daughter, Laura Rodrigue, told the jury that Emma Raine orchestrated the slaying with her boyfriend, James Raine, who was part of a large Mississippi family into which Everette had been adopted.
Emma Raine loomed large throughout the two-day trial, cast by the prosecution team as a “black widow” who repeatedly disposed of husbands for the insurance money.
Her first husband, Leroy Evans, died in 1994, about a year after he was run over by a car in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and paralyzed, according to Lt. Brad Garrett, a Mississippi investigator who testified this week. Evans choked to death in his sleep, Garrett said. Rodrigue told the jury his feeding tube had been “mysteriously” removed.
Emma Raine later married Smith, whose murder went unsolved as she went on to wed James Raine, her alleged accomplice in Smith’s death, later buying a house in Pearl River County, Mississippi, with the $800,000 in insurance money they had collected on Smith’s death, prosecutors said. James Raine would be shot dead in October 2011 inside that house.
According to Garrett, Emma Raine had raised the insurance level on Smith over a decade from $100,000 to $800,000, with the last increase coming a few months before his killing. By then, James Raine had been listed as the beneficiary for half of it.
The rest was to go to Smith’s estate. As it turned out, under Louisiana law that meant it would go to Smith’s daughter. But Emma Raine got her own biological daughter to pose as Smith’s daughter and forge her signature, then turn over the insurance proceeds to Emma Raine, Garrett said.
The daughter pleaded guilty to forgery in July in Mississippi. Along with a murder charge in Smith’s death, Emma Raine also faces a pending forgery count in Mississippi.
She has not been charged in either her first husband’s death or in James Raine’s. But after Raine’s murder in 2011, suspicious family members confronted Everette. They testified that he admitted that James and Emma Raine had offered him money to kill Smith, and that he’d waited in a car nearby until Smith was alone.
Smith was shot twice in the chest outside his home in the 10700 block of Roger Drive on April 15, 2006.
Emma Raine acted strangely after the killing, a detective testified. She shut herself in a car and then insisted on staying in the house despite the blood splattered inside from where Smith staggered in and collapsed by the stairwell.
Over nearly an hour of closing argument, Cannizzaro laid out the case before the jury, suggesting that Emma Raine was inside the house, flicking the lights on and off to give Everette his “target.”
After Smith was “shot like an animal, shot like some dog,” Cannizzaro said, Emma Raine’s first call wasn’t to 911 but to Ronald Mason, a friend of Smith’s who had just left the house and whom she refused to let see the body.
Cannizzaro harped on Emma Raine’s strange behavior, but he then turned the focus back to Everette, in a case with no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses to the killing.
“We know Emma’s not a good person. I think you could conclude that pretty easily,” Cannizzaro told the jury. “Our argument has always been she solicited (Everette) to carry out this hit. This was a contract killing. Murder for hire, ladies and gentlemen.
“This is one stranger going up to a total and complete stranger and killing him for the hope and expectation that he is going to be rewarded monetarily for this. Possibly the coldest sort of person.”
Just how much money Everette was supposedly promised varied in testimony at the trial, from as little as $8,000 to as much as $100,000. Family members said he told them that what he ultimately got out of the deal was two “clunker” cars.
An adoptive brother, Enoch Raine, and two uncles, William and Henry Fowler, all testified that Everette admitted that he carried out Smith’s murder in a conversation two days after James Raine was murdered in 2011. Everette told them he’d tossed the 9mm murder weapon into Lake Pontchartrain on the drive back to Mississippi, they said.
New Orleans police only picked up the trail on Everette after he refused to “do the right thing” and turn himself in, leading family members to present their suspicions, and Everette’s story, to a police detective. They called New Orleans Police Department cold-case homicide Detective DeCynda Barnes, leading to Everette’s arrest in July 2013.
Everette’s attorneys, Michael Kennedy and Tanzanika Ruffin, argued that the three men might have an ulterior motive — insurance money from James Raine’s estate — if they could convict Everette or Emma Raine. Their stories about what Everette purportedly told them seemed scripted, the attorneys argued.
“It was never about money,” Enoch Raine, a Mississippi firefighter, insisted after the verdict.
“Emma and Terry need to be brought to justice for this,” added William Fowler, the uncle. “It has messed with our family. We wanted justice for this. We also wanted justice for James.”
He said he anticipates charges in Mississippi against Emma Raine for James Raine’s murder. Everette was never suspected in that killing.
Despite turning on Everette, their adopted relative, they said they believe they were saving his life, thinking he could have been next.
Kennedy, Everette’s defense attorney, said after the verdict that his client couldn’t get past the sordid narrative of a serial husband killer.
“The trial was more about her than it was about anyone else. That was a lot to overcome,” Kennedy said. “It’s always disappointing when a jury comes back guilty as charged in the complete absence of physical evidence and no eyewitnesses.”
As he left the courthouse, Cannizzaro declined to discuss the case, noting that Emma Raine remains to be tried. He called the verdict “a very good start” while acknowledging he’d only seen such “black widow” cases before on TV.
“I never thought it would happen in real life,” he said. “It’s sad.”
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.