A few feet away, the grandmother and sister of Valan May, a slain University of New Orleans film student and Navy veteran, sat quietly in the front row.
Still grieving for the living and the dead, they listened as a prosecutor described a shocking armed robbery spree in 2012 that left May dead and Sandy Kaynor mute and bound to a wheelchair, a plastic tube jutting from his throat.
Four months after a co-defendant, Byron “Poodie Man” Johnson, accepted a 45-year prison sentence in a plea deal for his role in the deadly spree, trial got underway in Criminal District Court for Charles Carter Jr., another of three alleged members of the “Marley Gang” implicated in both shootings.
The third man, Devante “Tae Banger” Billy, still awaits trial.
Carter was 16 when authorities claim he joined Johnson and Billy in a string of stickups — one fatal, another nearly so. His attorneys deny his involvement in those crimes.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office chose to prosecute Carter as an adult. Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli, who identified Carter by a nickname, “Mob Chuck,” called the case a no-brainer.
Carter, now 19, faces charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated burglary and three counts of armed robbery.
The murder count, which carries a life prison term, was for the execution-style killing of May, 24, inside his car in New Orleans East 17 days after a bullet severed Kaynor’s spine. The burglary count was for allegedly ransacking the Kaynor home on Camp Street while Grace Kaynor and their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, were inside it.
Kaynor, an attorney with the Jones Walker firm, lay shot and bleeding outside. The robbers stepped over his body and fled in the family’s Cadillac SUV, Napoli said,
Kaynor wore a polo shirt, plaid pajamas and slippers to court Tuesday. He has no chance at a significant recovery, his wife has said.
“Make no mistake about it. On Oct. 2, 2102, Mob Chuck and his friends gave the entire Kaynor family a life sentence,” Napoli told the jury in his opening statement.
“It wasn’t enough just to take one family’s lives from them. They moved on to Oct. 19” and the gunpoint robbery of May, he said. “By the end of this, you will see Mob Chuck for what he really is. He is a cold-blooded killer.”
It was only because Kaynor was rendered mute, Napoli said, that authorities aren’t sure who pulled the trigger to shoot him.
According to Napoli, the trio’s crime spree started on Sept. 30, 2012, when Johnson stole a truck and they drove to the 200 block of Bellaire Drive. Billy pointed a gun at a woman’s head as she got out of her car, Napoli said.
A neighbor chased them in his car, and the trio got in an accident, ditching the stolen car in New Orleans East. They stole another truck on the night of Oct. 2, making their way to the 3400 block of Camp Street, the prosecutor said.
Kaynor was outside his house. One bullet entered his chest, tearing through organs. The other slashed into his back. Grace Kaynor told authorities that her husband, then 58, managed to identify the assailants as three teenagers, two of them with guns.
“It’s never going to be OK,” she said he told her before a brain hemorrhage stole his voice.
Police found two spent shell casings and a bandana by Kaynor’s body. DNA testing found matches to both Johnson and Carter on the rag, along with Kaynor’s blood, Napoli said.
Two weeks later, May, the UNO student, received a call from a girl, whom Napoli described as Billy’s girlfriend, inviting May out to New Orleans East. That’s where Carter “did what he does,” Napoli said. “He goes to the driver’s side, puts a gun on that young man and demands his property.”
May turned over a few dollars, and Billy ripped a GPS tracker out of May’s car before Carter handed him a gun to fatally shoot the student in the back of the head, Napoli said.
Carter’s fingerprints turned up in one of the stolen vehicles with a credit card of an earlier robbery victim, Napoli told the jury.
Defense attorney Gregory Carter sought to lay the blame for the spree on Johnson, calling it unfair for prosecutors to seek a life sentence for a then-16-year-old boy while allowing Johnson to cop a plea for less. Prosecutors lack any evidence that Charles Carter directly participated in the crime spree, he said.
“No one says my client’s out there committing these crimes, just that his fingerprint ends up in the car. My client’s fingerprints and DNA are not found within the Kaynor home,” Gregory Carter added.
He also suggested that Charles Carter has suffered from a learning disability since first grade.
“We all want the Kaynor family to see justice,” the attorney said, “but justice isn’t done by throwing away a 16-year-old because the district attorney wants to close a case.”
Napoli said Charles Carter first denied, then admitted being on the scene of May’s killing but claimed a man he barely knew shot the student over a marijuana deal.
The trial is expected to run through the week before Judge Laurie White.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.