GONZALES — The defense attorney for four men facing second-degree murder charges from an April 2014 shootout in Darrow claimed Tuesday that $175,000 of his clients’ cash is missing from their seized Porsche sport utility vehicle — an allegation Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley called “outrageous.”
Attorney Peter John said the money was in vacuum-sealed packages inside a bag in the trunk of the SUV before the vehicle was taken by the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office last year. Sheriff’s evidence lists do not show the money is in the sheriff’s custody, though some show the empty bag.
The April 24, 2014, shootout was one of the more high-profile Ascension Parish slayings last year as deputies reported that gunmen in up to three vehicles pulled up to a home on La. 22 in rural Darrow armed with machine guns, revolvers and pistols with large-capacity clips. Nearly 50 shots were fired, and Isaac “Ike” Prestley, 23, 39035 Saturn Drive, Darrow, was shot in the hip and later died at a hospital.
Another man, Clarence Ruth, who police said was on the opposite side of the engagement from Prestley, was shot in the leg in the barrage and has been accused of shooting Prestley.
John told Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court, that he has subpoenaed the disciplinary records, complaint reports, internal affairs reports and other sheriff’s records related to officer misconduct for any deputies involved in the investigation of the slaying.
John also raised the missing money allegation as one reason — pretrial publicity in which Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley called John’s clients thugs and gangsters was another — that Turner should grant a change of venue for his clients. John argued the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office would have to investigate the missing money allegations or seek a third-party probe so the trial needs to be moved.
John, who acknowledged to Turner that he had no independent proof, other than the claims of his clients, that the money had been in the SUV, argued his clients want to know which deputies may have been involved in taking the money and now may try to testify against his clients at trial while also having an interest in their money.
“It’s the perfect crime,” John said.
Meanwhile, John also claimed other people at the shooting have not been arrested, though he said he had YouTube videos of those men purportedly brandishing guns whose shell casings match those left at the scene.
John represents four men indicted on second-degree murder charges in Prestley’s slaying and attempted second-degree murder charges of four other men who were with Prestley that day. John’s clients are Cprien Nicholas, 30; Demitoris Alexander Sr., 49; Anthony Marquette Clark, 24; and Tachi J. Williams, 29. The case has several other defendants with different attorneys.
Nicholas, Alexander and Williams had been set for trial June 17, but attorneys acknowledged in court that that likely won’t happen.
Nicholas and Alexander, who were in street clothes and are on house arrest, were in court Tuesday with Williams, who remains jailed in Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville.
According to a sheriff’s report, the seized Porsche is owned by Nicholas. He, Williams and Alexander were riding in it with two other men when Gonzales Police officers pulled over the SUV hours after the shooting.
One of those other men, Delano Alexander, 29, Reserve, fled but was later captured, deputies have said.
In an attempt to buttress the missing cash allegation, John told Turner that his clients were raising the issue against their own self-interest, risking further criminal liability.
While John did not say specifically what the source of the cash was, he noted Wiley, in past press statements on the shooting, claimed John’s clients were drug dealers.
Assistant District Attorney Shawn Bush, who is prosecuting the case, successfully pressed Turner for a May 27 hearing date for John to formally argue his change-of-venue motion. Turner did not rule on John’s claims Tuesday.
Sheriff Wiley promised in an email Tuesday evening to examine all of his department’s involvement in the arrest and looks forward to a quick resolution, but he hardly contained his anger and skepticism with a claim he called “outrageous,” saying it’s another example of how criminals and their lawyers “play the system.”
Wiley also took aim at John, who the sheriff said is the “self-proclaimed ‘Thug Lawyer’” who “sports expensive suits and a bad attempt at dreadlocks.”
“Murder charges, convicted drug dealers, and the ‘Thug Lawyer,’ what a group! And waited a year to make the allegation,” Wiley said, “and yet now professional law enforcement officers must defend themselves from these lies.”
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.