Telly Hankton

Update, 11:20 a.m. Friday: Feds won’t seek death penalty against Telly Hankton

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Seeking to avert a lengthy and complex trial, federal prosecutors have offered a “global plea agreement” to Telly Hankton, the reputed former Central City crime lord, and several of his cohorts charged in a sprawling racketeering case that includes allegations of murder, large-scale drug distribution and other crimes dating back to 1996.

In court records filed under seal, prosecutors and defense attorneys this week told U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman that they have made “substantial progress” toward resolving the 2012 indictment without the need for a jury trial and potentially several weeks of testimony.

As plea negotiations continue, prosecutors urged Feldman to grant the Justice Department an additional 30 days — until Feb. 11 — to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Hankton, one of the most notorious criminals in the city’s modern history, and four of his 12 co-defendants in the case.

The Justice Department now has a Monday deadline to announce whether it intends to pursue capital punishment, but prosecutors argued that a “modest” delay of one month could go a long way toward sparing the public “extraordinary additional costs” that accompany complex racketeering proceedings.

The government has been weighing for months whether to seek the death penalty, and members of its Capital Crimes Unit met with the defendants’ lawyers in September in Washington, D.C., to discuss so-called mitigating and aggravating factors.

Hankton’s defense attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, said prosecutors have yet to tip their hand about whether Attorney General Eric Holder will give local U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office the green light to seek the death penalty. New Orleans-based federal prosecutors expressed an interest during the meeting in pursuing capital punishment, Lemann said, but he described Justice Department officials as “hard to read.”

Hankton, 38, likely would consider a plea deal avoiding death as a legal victory, inasmuch as he is already serving life in state prison for the 2008 murder of Darnell Stewart.

“We’re trying to resolve it,” Lemann said of the federal case. “I think you’re definitely looking at a very lengthy trial. We’re trying to avoid that.”

Feldman last summer warned that the government’s failure to meet the Jan. 12 deadline for declaring its intentions on the death penalty “shall subject those responsible for such decision to personal sanction on a daily basis thereafter.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Privitera, however, argued that the approaching deadline could hamper ongoing plea discussions, citing the “difficulty of deauthorizing the death penalty for a defendant once it is authorized by the government.”

The motion, which appeared briefly in online court records Wednesday evening, doesn’t reveal the particulars of the plea deal but says its “global nature” requires all 10 defendants who received the offer to accept its terms for it to be valid. Prosecutors, in a footnote, added that they expect to be able to resolve the remaining three defendants’ cases “following the resolution of the global plea.”

“The government has made substantial progress toward coming to agreeable terms with each of the defendants,” the motion says, “but the process remains ongoing and unresolved with some of the defendants.”

The racketeering indictment alleges Hankton and his associates operated a drug ring anchored in Central City that made millions of dollars and slaughtered rivals without mercy. It outlines 24 counts ranging from murder in aid of racketeering and possession of a short-barreled shotgun to money laundering and perjury. Other counts include conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and obstruction of justice.

A number of Hankton’s cousins and associates are named in the indictment, as is his mother, Shirley Hankton, who is accused of lying to a federal grand jury, laundering money and hiding Telly Hankton’s cache of cocaine from law enforcement.

Aside from the slaying of Stewart, who was shot four times in the cheek, Telly Hankton is accused of the 2009 killing of Jessie “TuTu” Reed on Terpsichore Street and the 2006 shooting death of Darvin Bessie.

Hankton has been behind bars since his arrest after Reed’s killing.

Also facing a possible death penalty are Hankton’s cousins, Thomas “Squirt” Hankton and Andre Hankton, as well as Walter “Urkel” Porter, the alleged hitman for the Hankton clan, and Kevin Jackson.

The other defendants named in the indictment, besides Shirley Hankton, are Nakia Hankton, George “Black” Jackson, Derrick “Dump” Smothers, Troy Hankton, Netthany Schexnayder, Sana Johnson and Terrell Smothers. The three defendants not included in the government’s “global plea agreement” are Porter, Schexnayder and Johnson, according to court records.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.