Jury selection is set to begin Monday in a federal racketeering trial for violent New Orleans street legend Telly Hankton, his accused go-to hit man, Walter Porter, and three others.
During a trial expected to last about a month, the chosen jurors from across 13 parishes in southeast Louisiana will hear a Crescent City crime story like no other.
Hankton’s reputed scorn for the criminal justice system includes allegations of hits — one successful — on two witnesses; the murder of a witness’s brother; surveillance and a death threat against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro; planting false alibis at his first murder trial, which ended with a deadlocked jury; and an illegal $1 million bond that allowed Hankton to leave jail and kill again, according to police and prosecutors.
The soundtrack for the trial will include a street rap video from Christopher “B.G.” Dorsey, an imprisoned former Cash Money Records rapper who started out with Lil Wayne, Juvenile and Turk in the rap super group the Hot Boys.
Porter, who grew up with Dorsey on Valence Street near Freret Street, appears in the video, titled “Guilty by Association,” raising a “hush” finger to his lips. Dorsey has an arm draped around Porter’s neck and raps, “N---- get hit 50 times because my n---- Moonie around.”
The bespectacled Porter goes by the nicknames “Moonie” or “Urkel.” Among other shootings, he is accused — along with Hankton and Kevin Jackson — of gunning down Hankton rival Jessie “TuTu” Reed on Terpsichore Street in June 2009 in a barrage of more than 50 bullets.
After the video was filmed — it was uploaded to YouTube in October 2010 — Porter blurted, “I just signed my own indictment,” according to a prosecution witness.
Recently convicted in an unrelated hit job, Porter once suggested in a jailhouse phone call that he had been on his way with Dorsey to kill a rival, but he pulled back when the rapper got too high.
A witness to Reed’s murder, Hasan “Hockie” Williams, had identified Hankton as the first one to get out of a Taurus and start shooting on Terpsichore Street. At the time, Hankton was out of jail on a $1 million bond on a charge of killing Reed’s associate, Darnell Stewart, a year earlier on South Claiborne Avenue.
Williams was gunned down on Dwyer Road on July 4, 2009, two weeks after he witnessed Reed’s killing. Williams had stayed in town for his friend’s burial. Porter also is accused in that killing, which Hankton allegedly orchestrated after he was returned to jail in connection with Reed’s slaying.
Hankton now is serving a life sentence after a second jury, with no alibi to consider, convicted him in 2011 for Stewart’s murder.
Much but not all of what Hankton or his family and associates have been accused of doing — including five killings — will be presented in court as prosecutors lay out a case that Hankton became an Uptown drug kingpin through merciless gun violence.
Five of 13 defendants left
An indictment first handed up nearly four years ago accuses Hankton, who turns 40 this week, and his cousins, mother and alleged associates in drug crimes dating back two decades.
The brutal, vengeful violence that prosecutors pin on Hankton and his family mostly followed Hurricane Katrina.
Eight of the 13 original defendants, including Telly’s mother, Shirley, have pleaded guilty in the case. Remaining are Telly Hankton, his cousin Andre Hankton, Porter, Kevin Jackson and Sana Johnson. Johnson is accused in a perjury scheme, having provided Hankton alibi testimony in his first state murder trial.
Johnson insists she only repeated the story that was told to her by the main alibi witness, Danielle Hampton, another potential figure in the federal case.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman has issued a gag order in the case.
Some of the narrative, including a second video with Dorsey and Porter extolling the virtues of awarding Hankton his freedom, will be left out.
And the jurors will not hear about the jarring recent revelation that federal prosecutors have doubled the murder toll they blame on Hankton. In April, they sought to introduce evidence that Hankton killed five teenagers in a 2006 gun assault that would become known as the “Central City massacre.”
That high-profile attack, which led to the dispatch of National Guard and State Police contingents to New Orleans, had until lately been blamed on Michael “MikeMike” Anderson. He was sentenced to death for it in 2009 before a judge overturned his conviction and sentence on other grounds.
Anderson, an admitted leader of the ruthless “Josephine Dog Pound” gang, later pleaded no contest to five counts of manslaughter in the massacre. That was part of a federal-state plea deal that netted him an 80-year term in state court and life in federal prison. In doing so, though, he maintained he didn’t kill the five teens.
But Feldman last week denied an effort by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office to allow those uncharged allegations to be introduced during the Hankton trial.
“The court is convinced that the notoriety, the media attention and the public reaction surrounding the quintuple homicide create a uniquely troublesome concern of unfair prejudice,” Feldman wrote Thursday. He said he was “unpersuaded that the quintuple murder is an essential chapter in the government’s story of the crimes charged. Indeed, the quintuple murder appears to be its own story comprised of many chapters.”
A jailhouse agreement
Feldman’s ruling came a day after Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Privitera spelled out a remarkable meeting between Anderson and Hankton that allegedly took place behind bars sometime after the former’s 2009 death sentence for the single-gunman massacre, but before Hankton’s life sentence two years later.
At his trial, Anderson’s attorneys argued that he didn’t commit the quintuple murder — it was Telly Hankton, who lived a block down the street, they said. Prosecutors with Cannizzaro’s office dismissed the claim as subterfuge. Yet Hankton and Anderson got together in Orleans Parish Prison, Privitera told Feldman.
They hatched an agreement, she said: Hankton would pay for Anderson’s appeal lawyers, while Anderson agreed to use a contraband cellphone to order a hit from jail on Hankton’s behalf.
After the killing of Hasan Williams, who already had testified before a grand jury, Porter and Thomas Hankton, who has pleaded guilty, were alleged to have gone after a witness who identified Hankton in the killing of Darnell Stewart a year earlier, in spring 2008.
John Matthews was set to testify that he saw Hankton run past his Jazz Daiquiris lounge at South Claiborne and Louisiana avenues just seconds after Stewart was gunned down under nearby streetlights.
Andre Hankton is accused of chasing Stewart down South Claiborne in a Ford Mustang. Stewart bailed out of his car and started running, but the Mustang hit him and sent him flying 25 feet, according to prosecutors and a witness at Hankton’s 2011 trials.
Stewart lost his pants and his underwear got stuck on a utility pole staple before Telly Hankton ran up and fired 11 shots, including four across Stewart’s cheek, the jury decided.
Matthews, the witness, survived at least 17 gunshots (the doctor stopped counting, he said recently) during an attack at his home in October 2010. He fired back, then twice testified against Hankton.
As for Anderson, Hankton seemed to have remorse over the fact Anderson was facing a death sentence for a quintuple homicide Hankton knew he committed, Privitera argued about his alleged offer to pay for Anderson’s appeal.
“I would argue that he feels badly,” she said.
“It really does start sounding like a Russian novel,” Feldman replied.
The role of a ‘dirty’ cop
Federal prosecutors will be forced to acknowledge that a good portion of the Hankton storyline came from an allegedly “dirty” cop.
Desmond Pratt, a former New Orleans Police Department homicide detective, is the subject of a federal civil rights probe, accused of spoon-feeding informants with details about crimes in order to identify targeted suspects, in return for favors to the informants, prosecutors have said.
In the investigation of Reed’s murder, Pratt is accused of laying out the story to two people and offering one of them cash and an SKS rifle in trade for false statements.
Pratt now is coming to the end of a three-year prison term after pleading guilty to sexual battery and carnal knowledge of a juvenile. He exercised his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at a recent hearing about Matthews’ identification of his assailant.
Pratt’s investigation helped lead to the arrest in Reed’s murder of both Hankton and Edward “Skinny” Allen, who spent four years in jail before the case against him was dropped and federal authorities switched course.
The October 2012 indictment names Hankton, Porter and Kevin Jackson as Reed’s assailants. Pratt allegedly had heard the name “Skinny,” then wrangled a false identification of Allen to justify his arrest.
The FBI had been investigating Hankton and his associates for years, overlapping Pratt’s reports. Federal prosecutors now date a feud between Hankton and the tandem of Reed and Stewart to the early 2000s.
That was years before Reed and Stewart were suspected but never charged in the 2007 slaying of a beloved relative, George “Cup” Hankton, a standout figure in Hollygrove.
That’s when Telly Hankton’s wrath exploded, federal prosecutors allege in a list of 101 “overt acts” under the main racketeering charge.
Prosecutors say Porter fired on Hasan Williams with two of the same .40-caliber pistols that were used to kill Reed. Police ballistics reports also show that a 9mm pistol used in Reed’s killing was fired in three other homicides and two shootings, including the attack on John Matthews, the witness in Stewart’s killing, who fired back.
Shadowing the DA?
Recently, federal authorities also cited a confidential informant who claims that in 2011, after Hankton’s murder conviction, Porter and another man followed Cannizzaro, the district attorney, to his Lakeview home and to a French Quarter business while targeting the DA and his daughter, Laura Rodrigue, an assistant DA, “to be killed.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurice Landrieu, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s brother, described the threats against Cannizzaro and Rodrigue in an Oct. 27, 2011, application for a judicial order to secure cellphone data that might reveal the identity of Porter’s associate, whom the informant knew only as “Teedy.”
The confidential informant, Landrieu wrote, indicated that Porter and “Teedy” had “conducted surveillance and followed the district attorney to his Lakeview residence and to an establishment in the French Quarter within the last 10 days.”
The warrant for the cellphone data is dated two weeks after Hankton was sentenced to life for Stewart’s murder, and shortly after Porter allegedly killed Curtis Matthews, the witness’s visiting brother, near the same spot where the jury found Hankton had killed Stewart.
The informant also told authorities about killings allegedly committed by Porter, and Landrieu wrote that the information provided about those killings checked out with ballistics evidence.
Porter was convicted in federal court in March for carrying out a $20,000 paid hit on Christopher Smith, who was gunned down in his Algiers doorway on Sept. 10, 2010, over a theft of jewelry.
The man who ordered the hit, former LSU wide receiver Nemessis “Nemo” Bates, was convicted earlier.
That hit was separate from Porter’s alleged misdeeds for money on behalf of the Hankton clan. But it’s likely to come up as prosecutors seek to portray Porter as a proven, heartless killer.
Feldman said he wants to wrap up jury selection by late Monday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.