The legend of accused Central City crime kingpin Telly Hankton reportedly spurred a local daiquiri shop to name an extra-potent frozen concoction after him, and it prompted a former New Orleans homicide detective to render Hankton’s mug artistically in thousands of spent bullet casings.
Yet any myth-making about Hankton and his allegedly cold-blooded exploits, in local media or elsewhere, isn’t enough to warrant a change of venue for Hankton, his mother or eight other defendants seeking an outside jury for a trial slated for June, a federal judge ruled Monday.
In a 23-page order, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman denied a motion by 10 of the 13 defendants in a massive federal gang racketeering case to be tried outside of the eastern district of Louisiana. Feldman also denied a bid by several defendants in the case to overturn his previous order to keep the jury anonymous.
Prosecutors accuse Hankton of running a violent drug ring that has been in business since at least 1996, with various family members and associates contributing to the bloodshed or attempts to skirt law enforcement.
Relying on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, Feldman found no “extraordinary local prejudice” to warrant moving the trial out of the district. The defendants failed to show that the federal jury pool has been poisoned by “what they have seen, read or drunk about Telly Hankton,” the judge wrote.
Feldman dismissed the impact of what defense attorneys described as a prejudicial flood of news accounts since Hankton, 39, stood trial twice in 2011 and was ultimately convicted in the 2008 murder of rival Darnell Stewart in front of the Jazz Daiquiris lounge on South Claiborne Avenue.
The frequency of news reports on the Hankton case has slowed of late, Feldman wrote.
“Moreover,” he added, “the court notes that the press coverage has been mostly fact-based reporting on charges and events, although many of the charges ... lend themselves to sensationalism.”
Seeking a change of venue were Hankton; his mother, Shirley Hankton; accused New Orleans hit man Walter “Urkel” Porter; and several others whom federal prosecutors have tied to what they describe as a bloody family drug gang prone to retaliatory killings.
Hankton was sentenced to life in prison for Stewart’s slaying, in which prosecutors claim a cousin, Andre Hankton, ran down Stewart before Telly Hankton stood over him and pumped a line of bullets into his face.
The indictment includes two dozen charges that involve several murders and other bloody violence.
Among the allegations are that members of the clan schemed to provide false alibi testimony at Telly Hankton’s first trial for Stewart’s murder, which ended with the jury deadlocked.
Porter is accused of shooting a key witness who survived to testify against Hankton at both murder trials, and then of murdering that witness’ brother, Curtis Matthews, outside the same daiquiri shop shortly after a judge handed Telly Hankton a life sentence.
Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley once described Telly Hankton as the city’s most dangerous criminal, and his attorneys argue that Mayor Mitch Landrieu perpetuated that mystique when he called out the Hankton clan at a news conference following Curtis Matthews’ killing in 2011.
Hankton “is depicted as a sui generis character in modern America who more closely resembles fictional criminals like Tony Soprano or Keyser Soze or historical ones like Al Capone than any mere New Orleans criminal defendant,” wrote Billy Sothern, an attorney for cousin Thomas Hankton, in seeking the venue change.
Feldman noted that the June trial date will be more than three years after the last of the Hankton clan’s alleged criminal exploits. He wrote that extensive questioning of potential jurors will show whether a fair jury can be seated for the long-anticipated trial.
There is no indication that any of the 13 defendants in the case has entered a guilty plea.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.