NEW ORLEANS — Two defendants in a 2014 shootout in Ascension Parish that left one man dead and another wounded — in a scene a sheriff described as the "OK Corral” — have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in a New Orleans courtroom.
The case, which had been moved out of Gonzales over concerns about security and pretrial publicity, centered around a shootout in rural southern Ascension involving at least seven guns. Isaac "Ike" Prestley, 23, died and his now-convicted killer was wounded.
The tangled court case, with a murder scene complicated by the sheer number of weapons present, is more than 4 years old and has involved a shifting number of defendants, charges lodged by prosecutors and extended delays due to a federal drug investigation involving some of the same men.
Tachi "Little Tachi" Williams, who investigators suspected of ordering the shooting, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and possession of a firearm by a felon, receiving a 20-year sentence under an agreement with prosecutors, his lawyer said.
The guilty plea from Williams, 32, of Gonzales, meant that he would not have been able to invoke his right against self-incrimination against his co-defendant, Clarence Ruth Jr.
Shortly after Williams accepted his guilt, Ruth, 24, of Darrow, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. His sentence will be left up to the judge and will depend on a report on his background, Ruth’s attorney said.
The men pleaded guilty Monday but the developments were not immediately logged onto the court's online repository. Their pleas came after more than a half-day of jury selection in New Orleans and short-circuited a trial that was expected to last a week and featured unusually heavy security provided by Ascension Parish deputies.
Prosecutors in Ascension refused any comment this week while other defendants still awaited trial.
Williams was already serving a 9-year sentence on federal gun charges, and with credit for time served and good behavior, he may serve less time than his 20-year sentence.
His defense lawyer said that another man, C’prien Nicholas, 33, of Gonzales, was set to testify against Williams after pleading guilty to gun and drug charges in federal court, and a reduced charge of principal to manslaughter in the 23rd Judicial District Court in connection with the April 2014 shooting.
In the hours and days after the shooting, the family of Prestley and Ruth, then 19, insisted that they were good friends who lived a block and a half from each other in the Astroland neighborhood.
Ruth's father disputed then that his son would have shot Prestley, but sheriff's deputies insisted otherwise at the time, based on witness statements.
The factual basis in Ruth's and Williams' separate agreements with prosecutors, which were filed in Ascension Parish after the pleas Monday, say Williams "instructed" Ruth to fire his gun into a group of men hanging out off La. 22.
Ruth, Williams, Bruce James, Nicholas and "several other people" had just arrived in Darrow to confront another man, but not Prestley, over a prior dispute, the plea agreements say. Those men also knew that the sport utility vehicle that Nicholas had driven to the area had weapons inside and knew about the "impending confrontation" with that man.
Once there, Williams told Ruth "to do it," the plea agreements say, and Ruth fired an assault rifle several times, hitting and killing Prestley.
Other unnamed defendants also fired toward a group of men around Prestley, the plea agreements say. Ruth was shot in the leg in the exchange of gunfire.
Ruth’s attorney, Susan Kutcher Jones, said he had never been in trouble before the shootout.
“He was the youngest of everybody out there,” she said.
Williams had been charged with second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life without parole sentence.
“It was certainly determined, given the fact that he was already serving a federal 9-year sentence, that this plea was clearly in my client’s best interest,” Williams’ attorney Kevin Boshea.
Although the venue of Williams and Ruth’s trial had been moved to the Orleans Parish Criminal District courtroom of Judge Arthur Hunter, it was still to be overseen by Judge Alvin Turner Jr. of the 23rd Judicial District Court in Gonzales.
Williams’ father, Demitoris "Big Tachi" Alexander, and Bruce James, additional co-defendants in the shooting, await trial in the case and are scheduled to appear in court on Monday in New Orleans.
During pre-trial proceedings in 2015, one of the defense attorneys then representing Nicholas and three other defendants charged in open court that deputies stole $175,000 from Nicholas' seized SUV. The Sheriff's Office disputed the allegations at the time, calling them "outrageous." State Police have refused to release the results of their investigation into the allegation while shootout cases are still pending.
David J. Mitchell reported from Gonzales.