Potential jurors were already lining up in the Criminal District Court hallway on Monday as Isaac “Ike” Jones, who was accused of killing two men to avenge his father’s death, took a last-minute plea deal and admitted to a raft of crimes.
For New Orleans law enforcement, the case epitomized the type of retaliatory violence they've been focused on trying to prevent for years. It also involved a young boy wounded by stray gunfire.
Judge Laurie White sentenced Jones, 28, to 30 years in prison; under the deal, he must serve at least 20 years. If he had been convicted as charged, he was facing life.
In a statement, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said the reluctance of key witnesses prompted his office to cut a deal.
“When witnesses won't cooperate or come forward to testify for the good of our community, we sometimes are forced to make plea deals we would rather not,” he said.
If those witnesses were skittish — and one has rejected that claim in a lawsuit against Cannizzaro — the seven-count indictment against Jones might explain why.
Authorities said Jones had a hand in at least three killings between May 2012 and April 2013, one of which left an 8-year-old bystander named Daymond Harris wounded.
The first charge involved a member of Jones’ family. He pleaded guilty Monday to aggravated assault with a firearm and illegal discharge of a weapon for shooting a gun in the air during an argument in May 2012 with an uncle, Michael Stern, over what to do with a dead relative's house.
Police said Jones used the same gun to kill Jeremy “MCK Jay” Curry, 25, a suspected member of a street gang called the Mid-City Killers, in August 2012.
Then, Jones’ own father, Isaac "Big Ike" Stern, was fatally shot in the Fair Grounds neighborhood in February 2013. Police said they believed his attackers may have been members of the Mid-City Killers.
Authorities suspected that Jones thought Orlando “Lanny” Rickmon took part in his father’s killing. Jones pleaded guilty as charged to attempted second-degree murder for shooting Rickmon five days after his father died.
Rickmon survived that attack, but he died on a porch in the 4000 block of Baudin Street in a fatal double shooting two months later.
Jones, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to an amended charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, in connection with the fatal shooting of Rickmon, and to manslaughter for killing one of Rickmon’s friends, 22-year-old Desmond Bell.
Investigators believe that a second shooter may have been involved in the Baudin Street attack, according to a law enforcement source.
Harris, the 8-year-old boy, was playing nearby when gunfire from the Baudin Street attack struck him in his stomach and arm. Jones pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder for injuring the boy.
The relatives of Jones’ victims will have a chance to testify on Tuesday. Yet as Jones made clear in court, he is not eager to hear them.
“I don’t want to know how they feel,” Jones said.
“You don’t have to listen to them, but you have to come to court,” White said.
Jones has been in custody since his arrest in May 2013, but his prosecution took a winding road to resolution. On the eve of an August 2017 trial date for the Baudin Street killings, prosecutors obtained a new indictment against him for killing Curry.
John Fuller, one of Jones’ defense attorneys, said the new indictment was a delaying tactic.
Prosecutors said that in addition to a tangled trail of violence, they also had to contend with witnesses who did not want to take the stand.
Michael Stern, Jones’ uncle, dodged subpoenas to show up in court to testify about the aggravated assault charge, prosecutors said.
Another witness, Lazonia Baham, was jailed for eight days on a material witness warrant when prosecutors said she was avoiding them.
Investigators considered Baham, who was the mother of Rickmon's girlfriend, a key witness in the Baudin Street double homicide. But prosecutors said she “cut off all communication” with the District Attorney’s Office after implicating Jones to police.
A victim of domestic violence who was jailed for five days is among a group of people suing Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro a…
Baham told a different story. She said prosecutors sent her a bogus subpoena without a court order before obtaining the material witness warrant.
Baham claimed after she was arrested that she never saw Jones near Baudin Street. She also said she was willing to testify at a trial.
She is a party to a wide-ranging lawsuit against the District Attorney’s Office for its use of aggressive tactics like material witness warrants and so-called “fake subpoenas.”
Cannizzaro’s office has ended use of the bogus subpoenas, but he remains adamant that he must have the power to lock up witnesses who won’t testify. In his statement Monday, Cannizzaro pointed to the Jones case as one of the reasons why.
“While we are pleased to have made our community safer by taking this very dangerous offender off the streets, this case nonetheless shows what can happen when we are placed in a situation where witnesses will not cooperate," Cannizzaro said.
Prosecutors Jason Napoli and Alex Calenda represented the state.
Defense attorneys Fuller, Kevin Boshea and Marcus DeLarge represented Jones.
"We are pleased that after nearly five years of pouring tons of energy and research into this investigation, we can bring this chapter of Mr. Jones’ life to a close," Fuller said.
"Obviously, there are challenges involved when lawyers are charged with defending one who has been branded as a one-man crime spree, but we did so tenaciously and are thankful toward the District Attorney’s Office for the negotiated plea agreement. Most important, we remain prayerful for the affected families."