New Orleanians were horrified when 1-year-old Keira Holmes died in a hail of gangland gunfire aimed at someone else on Dec. 18, 2011, and prosecutors have been trying to convict the killers ever since.
Twice, they sought to build cases against men blamed for the infamous slaying, only to learn investigators had been misled and the defendants were not involved.
But on Friday, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office said it believes it finally has the right group, announcing the unsealing of an indictment charging five men accused of belonging to Central City's notoriously violent 3NG gang with Holmes' murder.
Demetrich "Meechie" Robinson, Darrius "Smooth" Knox, Kendall "Yeezy" Livingston, Christopher J. Collins and Larry "Larry Love" Scott were also charged with the attempted murder of Emmett Allen, who was the intended target in the shooting that claimed Holmes' life.
The men face a minimum punishment of mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Holmes, which was cited as one of the reasons for the creation of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Nola for Life murder-reduction strategy the following year.
Cannizzaro's office also has the option of pursuing the death penalty in the case, but spokesman Ken Daley said prosecutors have not decided whether they will do that.
The latest indictment was handed up by a special grand jury on Wednesday. But it wasn't unsealed until shortly after deputies and U.S. marshals in the Houston area captured Love, 26.
The rest of the men, between the ages of 26 and 34, are already serving prison terms following previous convictions.
"The murder of Keira Holmes just before her second birthday remains one of this city's most horrific crimes," Cannizzaro said in a statement Friday. "This innocent toddler's death has left an indelible stain as testament to the rampant gun violence that has plagued New Orleans."
Holmes was killed and Allen left paralyzed in a shooting that erupted in a courtyard in the housing development often referred to as the Calliope project.
Confessed 3NG enforcer Washington "Big Wash" McCaskill has testified that, less than a day later, he and Livingston fatally shot Charles "Buck" Anderson inside a home in the 2600 block of North Robertson Street.
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Anderson's truck was used in the earlier shootings. McCaskill has said the gang — named after its stomping grounds near the corner of Third and Galvez streets — was worried Anderson felt guilty over the toddler's death and would draw the attention of law enforcement officers investigating the murder.
"Everybody thought Buck was going to tell," McCaskill has testified.
The charges unsealed Friday listed Anderson as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case. Livingston is awaiting trial in Anderson's slaying.
New Orleans police first arrested a man named Narkee Hunter as a suspect in Keira Holmes' shooting.
But prosecutors refused to pursue charges against him after detectives learned there was video showing him at a bar when the killing occurred. The statement that implicated him had been made by an apparently disgruntled ex-girlfriend, officials said.
Prosecutors subsequently filed charges linking 3NG associates Tyrone "T-Bone" Knockum and Terrious "T-Red" Owney to Holmes' murder.
But discussions with multiple cooperating sources convinced investigators that Knockum and Owney weren't involved in Holmes' slaying, paving the way for this week's indictment.
Speaking to a group of residents at the DA's headquarters in October, Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda recalled the bitterness that came with each of the failed attempts to prosecute the people behind Holmes’ death.
Calenda, who specializes in gang-related prosecutions, vowed that authorities would never stop trying to find her killers.
"The murder of a girl who had not even turned 2 will not go unanswered," he said.
Owney has since been convicted of other killings as part of a federal gang case and is serving multiple life sentences. Knockum is serving a 24-year sentence for other gang-related convictions, having cooperated with investigators.
Emmett Allen, the intended target, remains in a wheelchair. One of his brothers was killed in 2007, a second in 2016.
The new charges result from work by members of New Orleans' so-called Multi-Agency Gang Unit, which is made up of local and federal law enforcement officials and is a key component of the Nola for Life campaign.
Holmes, whose father was killed in 2013, was among the youngest murder victims preceding the strategy's creation.
Another is Briana Allen, 5, no relation to Emmett Allen. Briana Allen was killed in a deadly double shooting while attending a birthday party in Central City in 2012.
At one point, McCaskill admitted to killing Lester "Fat Man" Allen in September 2011, when he also shot that man's brother, Burnell "Baldy" Allen.
Burnell Allen was the father of Briana Allen and is now serving a life prison term in connection with a crack cocaine case.
Staff writers John Simerman and Matt Sledge contributed to this report.
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