In a highly unusual case, prosecutors are trying to convince a Lafayette jury that a local rapper who goes by the name of “Vicious” provoked retaliatory violence that led to the 2012 shooting death of 43-year-old Ray Ryan.
The rapper, Eric Johnson, 47, was never accused of pulling the trigger but he was charged with “inciting a riot with death,” an unusual charge that’s never before been prosecuted in Lafayette Parish, according to court records.
It’s the state’s first effort to seek justice in Ryan’s death, as his shooter remains unidentified by law enforcement.
Ryan was shot once in the back on the night of May 18, 2012, outside his Pontalba Place apartment in Duson.
In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney portrayed Ryan as an innocent bystander and Johnson as the leader of a group seeking retaliation that night against Ryan’s neighbor, who was believed to have fought with Johnson the night before.
“Unfortunately for Mr. Ryan, he wasn’t a part of this. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Haney said.
Harold Register, Johnson’s public defender in the case, implored the jury in his opening statement to consider the definition of a riot and whether it can be applied to his client’s case.
“If he’s walking down the street going to fight somebody, is it inciting a riot? Or is it self-defense?” he questioned. He added that the state failed to secure any witnesses involved in the alleged riot.
A riot involves three or more people acting together in “tumultuous or violent conduct” that “results in injury or damage to persons or property,” according to Louisiana law.
The two witnesses who testified on Tuesday — one of Ryan’s daughters and one of his neighbors — recalled trouble was expected that day in the apartment complex, as word had gotten around about Johnson’s fight and the possibility of retaliation.
Both witnesses placed Johnson and a group of people at Ryan’s apartment building when the shooting began.
Ryan’s daughter, 27-year-old Terri Johnson, of Carencro, shared the Duson apartment with her father when he was killed. She testified that Johnson approached her apartment building that night with a group of people, instructed them to kick in the door of the upstairs unit — which they tried to do but didn’t succeed — and later, to fire.
“He wanted it surrounded. He wanted the door kicked in,” she said in court. “He lit it up.”
Terri Johnson said she heard multiple gunshots, went indoors, then heard three more shots fired.
“When I walked in the house, I heard pow-pow — pow,” she testified.
Things quieted down before she went outside to find her father’s body on the ground, she said.
Terri Johnson also placed the rapper’s girlfriend, 22-year-old Rebecca Seraille, at the scene. A grand jury in November 2012 indicted both Seraille and Eric Johnson on the same charge in the case, but she was severed as Johnson’s codefendant. She will be tried separately if prosecuted, Haney said.
Ryan’s friend and neighbor at the time, 43-year-old Kenneth McMayon, of Rosenberg, Texas, testified he was a block away from the disturbance with Ryan when the two of them saw Johnson and the group walking toward their neighboring apartment buildings.
“I was worried about my family getting caught in the crossfire” and asked them to stay away from his building, McMayon testified.
McMayon repeated Terri Johnson’s testimony that some in that group tried to kick in the door of the upstairs apartment unit, but said he did not hear Johnson giving orders.
When the two heard gunshots coming from the scene, they split up and ran.
When he saw Ryan again, “he was barely alive,” McMayon testified, his voice cracking.
Testimony continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the case, with multiple investigators from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office expected to take the stand.
Johnson, who has no prior convictions in Lafayette Parish, faces up to 21 years in prison.
The District Attorney’s Office originally charged him in September 2012 with terrorism in the case, but the charge was dismissed, and a grand jury delivered his current indictment two months later.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.