Burnell “Baldy” Allen stared from the witness stand toward the three men accused of gunning down his young daughter nearly three years ago, just before he ran to her aid as little Briana lay bleeding on his grandmother’s front porch in Central City.
“It’s unexplainable. It can’t be explained what I’m going through,” he told the jury.
Yet Allen, dressed in red jail scrubs, refused to play along with a prosecutor from Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office in the trial against alleged members and associates of the brutally violent 110ers clan.
Allen, 35, himself awaits a life prison sentence, convicted in federal court in November of being part of a family-run drug ring centered on the same house where Briana was shot while attending a cousin’s 10th birthday party. He also faces a murder charge in the alleged retaliatory killing of a 21-year-old man just 11 days after Briana’s death.
He said he had other plans for his daughter’s killers.
“You want justice for your 5-year-old daughter, fighting in your arms, calling for her daddy?” Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda asked.
“I want my justice,” Allen answered repeatedly.
“And what is your justice, sir?”
Allen, forced onto the witness stand under subpoena, fell silent.
Rocking back and forth, he rebuffed a series of questions about the gunfire that claimed Briana on May 29, 2012; about his own criminal history; and about whether he recalled the presence that day of several members of the Young Melph Mafia, the suspected targets of the gunfire that killed Briana and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce. He even refused to identify known family members.
One of Newman’s attorneys pressed him.
“And you want to be the one that pounds out justice in this case?” Bradley Phillips asked.
“Yes sir,” Allen mumbled.
His balky testimony came on a day when prosecutors in the sprawling gang racketeering case against Sam Newman, 19; Demond Sandifer, 19; and Tyron Harden, 21, turned squarely to the double killing at the center of the case.
Briana was killed during a shooting spree on a sunny evening in Central City as numerous suspected gang members, Allen family members and children mingled at a birthday party at the home of elderly family matriarch Deloris Allen in the 1200 block of Simon Bolivar Avenue.
Pierce, driving a rental car to the Central Business District, took a stray bullet from an AK-47 to the head more than two blocks away and died instantly.
Prosecutors claim that a web of evidence, including boastful jail phone calls, social media posts and a litany of testimony from co-defendants and other convicts, points to Newman, Sandifer and Harden as the three men who jumped out of a silver Nissan with tinted windows and opened fire in a melee that stunned the public.
A year later, after initially arresting another man, Leo “Nitty” Riles, authorities unleashed a grand jury indictment accusing 15 alleged members and associates of the St. Thomas-area 110ers in a racketeering conspiracy wrapping together 15 murders, along with several armed robberies and attempted murders over several years.
Most of the defendants have pleaded guilty. Newman and Sandifer, meanwhile, each were convicted of murder and sentenced to 1 ½ life terms without the possibility of parole after separate trials last year for killings pulled from the gang indictment.
The three defendants sat quietly as the mothers of both Briana Allen and Pierce offered weeping testimony over their losses — in sharp contrast to Burnell Allen’s combative turn on the stand.
Dianne Pierce could barely get out a word as she sobbed in a wheelchair over her oldest child’s death.
Pierce said she knew the Allen family, and authorities have said a boy she raised as a son, Delwin “Pooh” McLaurin, was a Young Melph Mafia member who was there on the neutral ground the day Briana was shot on the porch at Simon Bolivar near Clio Street.
But the grieving mother said she knew nothing of that as she recalled first hearing her daughter, a mother of three, was dead.
“I was talking to my neighbors, telling them she’ll be right back, and that’s the last time I heard my child’s voice,” she wailed. She added that she knew of the Young Melph Mafia, or YMM, from way back, around the Melpomene housing project.
“That’s been going on in the Melph since the end of the ’90s. That name’s been floating around. That’s an old name,” she said.
She also denied knowing the Allens were involved in dealing drugs.
“I used to talk to the Allens. We were good friends,” she said. “I can’t say what they did.”
Briana’s mother, Formeka Pollard, testified about spending the day at work before arriving to a scene of chaos as her daughter lay dying on the porch. The gunshot pierced Briana’s hip, passed through her abdominal cavity and tore through an artery in her pelvis. She made it into surgery before dying.
“I jumped out of my car and ran to the porch where she was at. Just blood everywhere, her intestines hanging out. She’s crying, she’s calling for her daddy. Her daddy’s right there with her,” Pollard said.
Later, Emanuel “Duke” Casame testified as part of a plea deal for his part in the federal drug conspiracy case involving Burnell Allen and several other family members.
An admitted drug dealer, Casame said numerous YMM members were hanging out near the birthday party when the Nissan circled a few times before three men got out and started firing. He identified Newman as the man who shot him in the face, below his left eye.
“I’m sure that’s him,” he said, pointing toward the defense table.
Casame acknowledged, however, that he did not identify Newman as the gunman until just before agreeing last year to his plea deal. He is due to be sentenced in April.
Attorneys for the three defendants argue that the evidence against them is slim and that there were plenty of people with reason to have a grievance against members of the Allen family.
The trial is expected to run into next week.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.