A Jefferson Parish jury of nine women and three men deadlocked Friday night on whether to convict Alcus “Bug” Smith of second-degree murder in the 2013 shooting of Donte Hall in Marrero.
But while 10 of the 12 jurors couldn’t agree on that charge, they delivered guilty verdicts on the remaining 11 counts of racketeering, drug and gun crimes that Smith and co-defendant Robert “Lil Rob” Williams were charged with in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna.
At 9:20 p.m., after the jury was sent back to the deliberating room to fill out the verdict form properly, Judge Henry Sullivan read a note from jurors that said one of them “panicked” and changed his or her verdict, though it was unclear whether it changed the outcome on that charge.
Jurors took three hours to reach their verdicts in the first trial involving the Harvey Hustlers, a notorious West Bank street gang that prosecutors say funneled drugs from Houston to the Scottsdale area of Harvey, distributing marijuana, cocaine and heroin on local streets and spreading violence and mayhem that included seven murders.
Williams and Smith were among 39 people indicted earlier this year at the state and federal levels. Since then, eight have pleaded guilty at the federal level and four have pleaded guilty in 24th Judicial District.
The two men will be sentenced Nov. 18. While Smith avoided a mandatory life sentence because of the hung jury on the murder charge, the racketeering charge against each man carries up to 50 years in prison, and both men have prior felony convictions that could affect their sentences on the drug and weapons charges.
Smith can be brought to trial again on the second-degree murder charge.
Williams was found guilty on one count of racketeering, two counts of being a felon in possession of a weapon, one count of illegal possession of a stolen firearm, one count of distribution of cocaine and two counts of conspiracy to distribute.
Smith was found guilty of racketeering, two counts of conspiracy to distribute and one count of distribution of drugs.
During three hours of closing arguments Friday afternoon, Williams’ attorney, Eddie Jordan Jr., told jurors his client was not the leader of the Harvey gang, saying Williams had not been proven to be anything more than a bystander in a crowded Manhattan daiquiri shop parking lot where police and FBI investigators say Williams and others bought $5,000 worth of cocaine in November 2013.
Jordan said Williams was simply the brother of David “Mr. Harvey” Williams, a local rapper and reputed gang leader shot and killed in 2010. He said their brother, Clifford Sonnier, who was indicted along with the rest earlier this year, is the real leader of the Harvey Hustlers.
He said recorded phone conversations that prosecutors say implicate Williams in a drug-running scheme were, in one case, an embarrassed young man trying to save face and, in another, a young man bragging to make himself look better.
As for the 2011 murder of Albert Bullock, which Williams was accused of having paid Raheem Robinson $10,000 to commit, Jordan said Robinson had 60 reasons to lie during his testimony earlier this week — “one for each year that he could get cut from his sentence.”
Robinson, 24, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and, in exchange for his testimony, is hoping to get only 30 years in jail, rather than the life sentence he would have gotten if convicted of second-degree murder.
While evidence concerning the killing linked to Williams was introduced only to bolster the racketeering charge against him in this trial, his co-defendant, Smith, was accused of second-degree murder for allegedly pulling the trigger with two other shooters and killing Hall in Marrero in 2013 in a dispute over a prior drug deal gone bad.
Smith’s attorney, Matthew Goetz, however, told jurors to examine carefully the shape of the headlights of Smith’s car in a photo and contrast them with those in security camera footage from the street where Hall was killed. He also noted that witnesses said Hall was wearing a jacket, while one was not found on his body.
He warned jurors to be skeptical of the testimony of Nathan Carter, a Harvey Hustler who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges last month and said during the trial that Smith wanted to kill Hall, and of Hall’s friend Leroy Bird, of Bridge City, who said he warned Hall not to meet with Smith the night he died.
Goetz said there was no evidence that Smith, who was not followed by police the night of the alleged daiquiri shop drug deal, possessed drugs with intent to distribute them in Jefferson Parish. Smith was arrested in Houston with about $13,000, while an associate in another car had several kilos of cocaine they were accused of planning to run back to Harvey.
Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Seth Shute, however, told jurors that while the case had many details, they added up to a simple conclusion: two or more criminal acts committed to further a criminal enterprise.
And the purpose of that enterprise, they said, was to make money.
“It seems almost wrong to boil all this down to such a simple statement, but that’s what it’s about,” Freese said.
“Why is Alcus Smith sitting next to Robert Williams?” Freese asked, recalling a question posed earlier to the jury by Goetz. He said both were the heads of businesses “that did serious damage to this community.”
While Goetz said no one testified Smith was a Harvey Hustler, Freese said they became part of the same criminal enterprise when Smith’s group started supplying drugs to Williams’ gang.
The Harvey Hustlers, he said, “can’t be drug dealers if (they) don’t have drugs to sell.”
“That’s why he’s here,” Freese said, raising his voice. “He is the root of problems in our community and the people he was in business with!”
Freese told jurors Williams had the power to have people killed and used it, not just Bullock but the intended target in a botched execution attempt at the Lapalco Court Apartments in April 2013, when four members of the Harvey Hustlers shot into a living room, wounding two elderly women and three toddlers.
“He doesn’t have to hold a gun; he doesn’t have to pull the trigger. But he is a killer,” Freese said, pointing at Williams.
Freese cited the numerous audio recordings jurors heard of tapped phone calls in which Williams spoke about the gun police seized that, as a convicted felon, he wasn’t allowed to have. He also mentioned calls he said showed Williams and others speaking about hits on rival dealers and setting up drug sales, including the daiquiri shop deal after which the car Williams was in was chased by police across the West Bank. Investigators say $5,000 worth of cocaine and a gun were thrown from the window.
Freese addressed the defense’s characterization of using convicted gang members to testify as “cutting deals with cold-blooded killers.”
“Is there anything you’ve heard us say that makes you think we’re going to let anyone skate?” he asked the jury. “Do you think we’re done here after this trial is over?”
“There will be much more to come when this case is over, but this is a darn good place to start,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.