The investigation into the June 20, 2009, murder of Jessie “TuTu” Reed was troublesome almost from the moment the barrage of gunfire ended and a maroon Ford Taurus sped off from Terpsichore Street.
The lone eyewitness, Hasan “Hockie” Williams, identified alleged Central City drug kingpin Telly Hankton as the lead shooter, but told police he couldn’t make out the other two men he said joined in blasting more than 50 bullets at Reed from five guns.
Two weeks later, Williams was gunned down outside his home in New Orleans East.
Police arrested Hankton and another man, Edward “Skinny” Allen, in Reed’s midnight killing. But two years later, Allen walked free from Orleans Parish Prison, thanks to what FBI Special Agent Keith Burriss described from a federal witness stand Friday as “very, very clear evidence” that he was in Texas at the time of Reed’s death.
The former New Orleans Police Department homicide detective who left Allen idling behind bars, Desmond Pratt, is now imprisoned on sex crime charges and is the subject of an FBI civil rights probe for allegedly offering favors - including guns and money - for informants to falsely identify suspects in Reed’s murder and others.
A recent search of Pratt’s storage locker turned up Reed’s cellphone, Burriss said.
Authorities have even changed their story about what Reed was eating that night — fried chicken or Chinese food — when the bullets began flying and he leaped off his porch.
As federal prosecutors began Friday to wrap up their case in the federal racketeering trial against Hankton, accused hit man Walter “Urkel” Porter and two Hankton cousins, they spent much of the day seeking to bolster their delayed allegations that Hankton was joined by cousin Kevin Jackson and Porter in the deadly assault on Reed that night.
They honed in on voluminous cellphone records to counter claims by defense attorneys that the evidence about the killing was weak, based largely on the testimony of two lying women and of convicts seeking freedom in exchange for testifying.
Over a two-week span around Reed’s killing, Porter and Jackson traded 239 phone calls, including 27 on the day Reed was killed, said Burriss, the FBI case agent who spearheaded the Hankton probe. Prior to June 10, ten days before Reed’s killing, there were none, Burriss said.
Jackson, who wore a white sport jacket in court Friday, had a phone registered to “Angel White,” with an address in Armstrong Park, while Porter used a phone registered to his mother, Burriss said.
According to Chuck Williams, a cellphone expert who plotted those calls and others through cell tower “pings,” both men were near Reed’s house in the 2300 block of Terpsichore Street shortly before the murder.
While the cell towers didn’t pick up any activity on Jackson’s phone between 10:34 p.m. and 12:56 a.m., an hour after Reed’s killing, Porter seemed to be traveling around Reed’s neighborhood within 15 minutes of the first call to 911 about the shooting at 11:56 p.m., when the cell records showed Porter’s phone moving westward, in the direction of his home on South Liberty Street, Williams testified.
Burriss said the records fortify statements by witnesses, including Porter’s former girlfriend, Celestine Skia, that he bragged loudly about Reed’s killing and also was twice seen with Jackson, securing payments for the hit, including during a visit to Jackson’s house in Venetian Isles.
Reed’s killing sits at the heart of a 24-count indictment that once named 13 defendants, nine of whom pleaded guilty before the trial.
Remaining on trial are Hankton, Porter, Jackson and Andre Hankton, who is accused of plowing a Mustang into Darnell “Durney” Stewart in May 2008 before Telly Hankton fired 11 shots into him on South Claiborne Avenue.
Prosecutors say Stewart and Reed were business rivals of Telly Hankton who were suspected but never charged in the December 2007 slaying of George “Cup” Hankton — who himself was the subject of a federal wiretap shortly before his death, Burriss said.
Telly Hankton was convicted of Stewart’s murder in state court in 2011. Porter, meanwhile, is accused of joining up with Telly Hankton and Jackson just 10 days before Reed’s killing, a connection allegedly made through a friend of Porter whose sister had twins by Hankton.
According to witnesses, Porter boasted of unloading on Reed using two guns with extended magazines. He is also accused of gunning down Hasan Williams, the witness to Reed’s murder; trying to kill a witness to Stewart’s murder; and then gunning down that witness’s brother, Curtis Matthews, less than a week after a judge sentenced Telly Hankton to life in prison.
Before he was slain, Williams testified before a grand jury that he saw Telly Hankton, whom he knew, leap out of the Taurus and fire first on Reed.
Porter was convicted in March and awaits federal sentencing for a separate hit job in November 2010 on Christopher “Tiger” Smith.
Ballistics links tie several of the murders together through guns that prosecutors allege Porter kept. They ended the week with one government witness, a former NOPD ballistics expert, still to testify.
Earlier Friday, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman rejected a motion by attorneys for the three Hankton cousins to throw out the indictment.
They argued that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence of coercion among witnesses and knowingly allowed several of them to lie on the stand, violating the defendants’ rights.
Feldman agreed that the government should have disclosed to Telly Hankton’s attorneys a jail phone call between a witness — the wife of former Porter associate Gerard Howard — and her jailed brother, in which they discussed his desire to get close to Telly Hankton in Orleans Parish Prison to develop “critical information.”
The judge also agreed to let defense attorneys recall a jailed witness to ask about another previously undisclosed phone call involving a fabricated story by a convicted gang enforcer that he had bought drugs from Jackson.
But Feldman dismissed the idea of aborting the trial or dropping any charges against the four men.
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