A federal judge seemed to hold his nose Thursday as he sentenced two New Orleans brothers who killed a 33-year-old mother while firing at a rival drug dealer in 2011, regretting that plea deals limited their prison terms and saying he had a “gnawing feeling” that justice had been shortchanged.
“Something’s wrong with you, and it’s not just the wheelchair — it’s above the neck,” U.S. District Judge Lance Africk told one of the brothers, Don Brooks, a drug dealer known as “Crip” who also admitted to two other fatal shootings.
Africk sentenced Brooks, 21, to 60 years in federal prison — 20 years for each murder — in keeping with a plea agreement that prosecutors offered in light of “significant evidentiary issues” that made a jury trial seem risky.
“It pains me not to be able to order a life sentence,” the judge said, admonishing Brooks to uncross his arms in court and “be a man” and apologize to the victims’ families.
Prosecutors told Africk that the 60-year sentence likely would amount to a life term for Brooks, who was struck by a bus and sustained spinal cord injuries but managed to commit violence and become a “super predator” on crutches, they said.
Africk was no more forgiving of Antoine Brooks, who reached out of a car window and fired the errant round that killed Tamira Johnson in September 2011 as she walked with her 13-year-old son in the Upper 9th Ward. Under his plea deal, he received a 25-year sentence.
The Brooks brothers admitted they had been aiming for their rival, Roosevelt Rumbley, who was struck in the hand but survived the assault.
“Every day you live will be one more day than your victim lived,” Africk told Antoine Brooks, 23, who apologized to the victim’s family as they wept.
“I know I was wrong,” Antoine Brooks said softly. “I was young at the time.”
The sentences marked a compromise for U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office, which sought to remove from the streets two brothers accused in a broad drug-dealing conspiracy.
Aside from the Johnson shooting, Don Brooks acknowledged gunning down two men, Lamont Phillips and Harry Howard, within a few days of each other in January 2012.
Shell casings at the scene of Johnson’s shooting matched those recovered from the Phillips and Howard murder scenes and the scene of a separate shootout at North Claiborne Avenue and Kerlerec Street, according to court documents.
Howard and Phillips had allegedly supplied the Brooks brothers with crack cocaine, which they dealt “literally steps in front of their house all day, every day, from August 2011 until January 2012,” according to court documents.
Don Brooks said he killed the men during drug deals; 9.2 grams of crack were spilled on the street where Phillips was shot, while investigators recovered 25.5 grams of crack from the scene of Howard’s slaying.
A car matching the description of Brooks’ silver Oldsmobile Alero had been spotted in the street just before Howard was shot in the back on New Year’s Day 2012, and cellphone records showed the brothers were near the scene of the slaying at the time.
Three days later, Phillips was fatally shot in front of his house. A witness told authorities that Phillips had been talking on the phone with a person called Crip. Phillips then went outside to give Crip some drugs when the witness heard multiple gunshots and saw a man standing over Phillips’ body in the street, fishing around in the victim’s pockets.
“Crip did me,” Phillips said in a dying declaration.
The next day, the brothers were involved in a shootout in the 7th Ward in which Antoine Brooks was struck and taken to the hospital. A witness retrieved the brothers’ gun from the scene, and police said they later recovered it during a traffic stop. Ballistics analysis confirmed it was the firearm used in the Johnson, Howard and Phillips murders.
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