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A jury convicted five members of the Young Melph Mafia on a slew of charges in a sweeping federal gang case Monday, ending a trial that was shadowed by the murder of 5-year-old Briana Allen at a birthday party in Central City in 2012.

Prosecutors said the gang's members sold crack cocaine and spread violence like a “cancer” over the streets of Central City, killing six people and wounding 17 more between 2008 and 2013. 

“The impact of the Young Melph Mafia and its drug dealing and violence is splattered all over Central City, Mid-City and even on the Interstate leading out to Metairie,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Rivera said in his closing statement.

All five men on trial were convicted. Lionel “Lott” Allen, Jawan “Tittie” Fortia, Dedrick “Roy” Keelen, Delwin “Poo Stupid” McLaren and Bryan “Killer” Scott face lengthy prison terms at an undetermined sentencing date.

Henry “Hank” Meyer, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who led the investigation into the gang, stared at the men as the word “guilty” was announced in court 36 times on the total of 40 counts. The defendants showed little emotion except for Scott, who hung his head as his conviction was confirmed.

Allen was pegged as a leader of the group, but he was most notorious as a target. On May 29, 2012, members of the rival “110’ers” gang attacked a party at Allen’s grandmother’s residence on Simon Bolivar Avenue in an attempt to eliminate him, authorities said. His 5-year-old cousin, Briana Allen, was killed, along with 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce.

That shooting led to a famous image of Briana Allen’s father, Burnell “Baldy” Allen, cradling her as she lay dying. Burnell and Lionel Allen were bound by family ties and their work in the drug trade, according to authorities.

Prosecutors unveiled a massive racketeering indictment that charged Lionel Allen with acting as a leader of the Young Melph Mafia in 2015. Eleven other men were charged with taking part in the group’s activities.

By the time the trial began before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt on June 5, only five defendants had refused to enter guilty pleas.

Allen, Fortia and Keelen were labeled as gunmen. Prosecutors said McLaren and Scott sold crack and carried guns.

The men sold retail amounts of crack cocaine on Central City’s streets and shared guns among themselves, according to federal prosecutors. Several group members also engaged in reckless fusillades that left innocent bystanders wounded or killed, authorities said.

The trial featured the testimony of dozens of witnesses, cooperating gang members and law enforcement agents.

The jury of eight women and four men had deliberated since Wednesday. It broke for the weekend and then returned a verdict shortly before 4 p.m. Monday.

Lionel Allen’s defense attorney said the lengthy deliberations likely resulted from the complicated racketeering and conspiracy counts at issue. “I thought they were just trying to work through the complexity of it,” Karl Ludwig said. 

Defense attorneys sought to sow doubt among the jurors about the truthfulness of the government’s witnesses, many of whom acknowledged they hoped to gain leniency in their own criminal cases by agreeing to testify. Two witnesses were admitted killers.

The jury offered mixed verdicts in a trio of killings that prosecutors said were committed by gang members: the April 2012 killing of Vennie “Funk” Smith in his car, the June 2012 slaying of Dashawn Hartford outside a Central City bar and the May 2013 shooting of Travis “Streets” Thomas.

Jurors found Lionel Allen guilty of engaging in murder in aid of racketeering for the deaths of Smith, Hartford and Thomas, but not guilty of causing death through the use of a firearm. Fortia was found guilty of the racketeering count in Smith’s death but also not guilty of causing death through the use of a firearm.

“I think they were just trying to express the fact that they didn’t think Lionel was the shooter. … Lionel wasn’t as big of a gunman as (prosecutors) were trying to paint,” Ludwig said.

The mixed decision was “not much of a consolation,” Ludwig said.

McLaren's and Scott’s lawyers sought to separate their clients from the other defendants by pointing out that neither was charged with shooting anyone. They were nonetheless convicted of drug and gun conspiracy charges.

“It’s not a happy day for anyone,” said Scott’s attorney, Warren McKenna. “Our clients are obviously disappointed with the result, but we respect the jury’s decision.”

Several defense attorneys said they plan to appeal.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

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