Dominique Jenkins

Dominique Jenkins is accused in a fatal drive-by shooting on Frenchmen Street in June 2014. (OPSO)

OPSO

In a dramatic about-face, the key witness against a man accused of shooting into a crowd on Frenchmen Street in 2014 decided to talk on Thursday.

Daniel Bryant stayed silent when he was first called to the stand in state court on Wednesday. But a day and a contempt judgment later, Bryant ditched the mime act to pin the blame on Dominique Jenkins, who is on trial for murder.

“Dominique rolled the back window down, he looked out the window, and then he put the gun out the window and went to shooting. That’s when we ran,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s testimony came a day after Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Paul Bonin sentenced him to six months for contempt for his refusal to talk about the killing, which claimed the life of Bryant’s cousin Julius Dunn on June 25, 2014.

From the start, Bryant was a reluctant witness. When he went into New Orleans Police Department headquarters for an interview the day after the killing, he asked a detective to keep his name out of the case file.

Nevertheless, Bryant told police that it was Jenkins who shot his cousin from the rear seat of a passing SUV.

The incident was caught on video that shows bystanders ducking for cover after two shots ring out in the middle of the crowded Frenchmen Street entertainment district. But the identity of the shooter is not clear in the grainy footage.

Bryant said Thursday that he would never have walked into the courtroom if he had not been snared on unrelated gun and drug charges in Jefferson Parish. A five-year sentence there put him within arm’s reach for Orleans Parish prosecutors as Jenkins went to trial.

After Bryant refused to testify Wednesday, those prosecutors sought to play his taped statements to police in 2014 to the jury. But Bonin, citing a defendant's right to confront his accusers, blocked the move. That prompted a series of emergency appeals up to the state Supreme Court.

When it became clear that Bryant wanted to testify after all on Thursday, prosecutors seemed to have a change of heart about him. Citing threats made against Bryant on social media, they argued that they should be able to play his statement without recalling him.

“He is dictating to the court, your honor. He’s saying when he is ready to testify and when he is not ready to testify. He is making a mockery of the court,” Assistant District Attorney Inga Petrovich said.

“Put your questions to him or forfeit all of these other claims about trying to get his testimony or his prior statements to the jury. Ask him his questions,” Bonin said.

When he finally shuffled to the stand, Bryant claimed he was not afraid of Jenkins and did not refuse to testify earlier because of the threats on social media.

“I just needed some time to think about it. Yesterday, I ain't feel comfortable,” Bryant said.

Bryant said in a quiet lisp that he was with Dunn and other cousins inside the club called Vaso when they encountered Jenkins and another man named Vernon Clay.

“I knew there was going to be something,” Bryant said. “We was outside when I seen them. Me and Dominique passed words … some stuff been going on with us. That’s why we passed words.”

Bryant said his suspicions grew as he walked on Frenchmen Street with his group. That’s when he saw a white SUV with Clay in the passenger seat and another man named Howard Taylor driving, he said.

Two shots rang out and his group started running, Bryant said.

“That’s when my cousin noticed he was shot,” Bryant said. Dunn died soon afterward.

Pointing to the surveillance video, Jenkins’ defense attorney Bradley Phillips questioned Bryant about what he claimed he saw — and whether he could have seen it.

“You’re barely in the bottom of the screen, correct? And you’re moving away from that car?” Phillips said.

“Right,” Bryant said.

Bonin said Bryant's testimony would erase his six-month sentence for contempt. The trial continues Friday.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432