GONZALES — Prosecutors said a former Baton Rouge man who faced a manslaughter charge in a June 2013 shooting death actually fired his gun in self-defense and on Monday allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser drug charge.
Ledell Maxwell, 39, now of 2963 Maxwell Lane, Liberty, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to one count of prohibited acts with a controlled dangerous substance.
As part of the plea agreement with prosecutors, Judge Jason Verdigets, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, gave Maxwell a five-year suspended prison sentence and placed him on five years of supervised probation, plus fines, court costs and fees.
Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi said Tuesday witnesses recounted that either the victim, Bernard Solomon, pulled a gun on Maxwell first and Maxwell responded, or that they did not contradict the account.
“That is classic self-defense,” said Buquoi, who is with the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Maxwell was in street clothes Monday at the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales when he entered his plea. He was released from Parish Prison near Donaldsonville in April after he posted a reduced bail of $25,000, deputies said.
Solomon, 20, 907 Pine St., Donaldsonville, was gunned down June 5, 2013, during a deal to buy liquid codeine. He was found lying in the intersection of Ellem and Stevenson roads near La. 73 in Geismar.
A day later, deputies arrested Maxwell, who was selling the liquid codeine, also known as “lean,” and booked him with a first-degree murder count in Solomon’s death.
After his arrest, deputies said their investigation found that Solomon pulled out a gun first, then Maxwell pulled out his gun and shot Solomon.
When the first prosecutor on the case filed a bill of information, he reduced the charge against Maxwell to manslaughter.
Buquoi said when she got the case, she reviewed the entire investigation. While she agreed with the deputies’ findings that Solomon pulled out a gun first and Maxwell responded by shooting him, she determined that Maxwell’s actions were self-defense.
When asked why the deputies, the first prosecutor and she all had a different take on what happened, she said she could not say how much information the investigators and other prosecutors had earlier in the case.
“I believe it was self-defense. That is the decision I made. As far as what decision other prosecutors or the Sheriff’s Office made, you have talk to them,” Buquoi said.
Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Bacala said several people pulled guns at the June 2013 shooting, but he deferred what charges should be filed to prosecutors.
“Our interpretations may be different than theirs. They have the case. They are prosecuting it,” Bacala said.
Five others at the scene on that day in 2013 also were arrested on first-degree murder counts, but none of them ended up being charged in Solomon’s shooting death, either.
All but one of the five, Marcus Sterling, 28, of Donaldsonville, pleaded guilty last year to an attempted drug possession charge or to criminal mischief and received probation with suspended or deferred prison time, court minutes say.
Sterling’s trial on attempted possession of liquid codeine is set for 9 a.m. April 28.
Maxwell’s defense attorney has had medical issues and could not be reached for comment. Rusty Messer, who stood in as Maxwell’s attorney’s in court, said he could not speak to what led to the plea agreement.
Maxwell declined comment Monday as he left the courthouse.
The 23rd Judicial District encompasses Ascension, Assumption and St. James parishes.
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