In early June 2010, Baton Rouge, state and federal law enforcement leaders crowded behind a podium to tout a stunning series of indictments, charging seven young men — most just teenagers — with a string of south Baton Rouge murders and nonfatal shootings.

Weeks later, the same probe ensnared popular Baton Rouge rapper Torence “Lil Boosie” Hatch, accused of hiring Michael “Marlo Mike” Louding and another man to execute Terry Boyd, a 35-year-old Baton Rouge man gunned down inside a house. It was a case that featured tales of rival up-and-coming rappers and a teenage hitman whom prosecutors portrayed as hellbent on shooting his way into Hatch’s inner circle.

But, in the end, just Louding ended up convicted of murder, sentenced in July 2013 to spend the rest of his life in prison. It was a remarkable turn of events, as Louding at the beginning of the case turned on his alleged former associates, cooperating with prosecutors right up until he testified at Hatch’s first-degree murder trial. While in the witness chair, he reversed course and told jurors that neither he nor Hatch had anything to do with Boyd’s killing.

Hatch was acquitted after a weeklong trial and paroled in March after serving 52 months in state prison for drug-related offenses. Since then, he’s been on tour, appearing at arenas all over the country, including a return to Baton Rouge Thursday to perform at Southern University.

Many of Louding’s former co-defendants took deals, pleading out to 15- to 20-year sentences — the final one last month — that will see some released from prison in their 30s. Without Louding’s cooperation, prosecutors dismissed all of the charges against two men entirely: Jared Williams, accused in the April 2009 killing of Marcus “Gangsta” Thomas and Johnathan Rogers in the April 2010 slaying of Charles “Nokie” Matthews and Darryl “Bleek” Milton.

At the end of a four-year saga, the mixed bag of results raises one key question: Did the District Attorney’s Office err in putting all of its eggs in one basket — relying so heavily on the word of a man they considered a serial hitman?

“We didn’t have any other baskets,” District Attorney Hillar Moore III said in an interview last week. “We are dealt the facts and the circumstances of the cases that come to us; we don’t make them.”

But Williams’ attorney, Robert Tucker, said the Louding flip-flop shows the inherent danger in rooting a case largely in one person’s statements.

“That’s the danger of it all, by implication,” he said. “You have one person who makes broad statements against others. That’s the danger of our system. It’s a constant danger. It’s something defense counsel always have to be leery of.”

Tucker, though, said he doesn’t blame Moore’s office.

“I can’t fault anybody about it. They were doing their job,” he said, adding that Williams, who spent two years behind bars awaiting trial on his first-degree murder charge, is “doing fine” and is “well adjusted.”

Rotten to the core

Prosecutors alleged that Louding’s string of murders began in February 2009 with the killing of local rapper Chris “Nussie” Jackson. But after he was sentenced in the Boyd case, the DA’s Office dropped the first-degree charges against him in the Jackson slaying, as well as in the Thomas case and the double-murder of Matthews and Milton. A second-degree murder charge against Louding in the December 2009 killing of Michael Smith also was dismissed.

Moore and Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings, who handled the prosecutions of Hatch, Louding and the others, point out that Louding — whom state District Judge Trudy White labeled “rotten to the core” when she sentenced him — will spend the rest of his life at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. They called the 15- to 20-year prison terms for the five others named in the 2010 indictments substantial.

“We can focus on the fact that Boosie was acquitted, but look at all the consequences that came out of that line of cases,” Cummings said during the July 2 interview.

“I think we did all the right things the right way. The effort was outstanding,” Moore said. “I’m satisfied that we did the best that we could do.”

The prosecution came to a close June 5 when Kendrick Johnson, who was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the Matthews-Milton slaying, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Adrian Pittman, who was charged with first-degree murder in Boyd’s death, pleaded guilty last year to manslaughter as the getaway driver and testified against Louding.

Pittman, who has a picture of Hatch and the word “Boosie” tattooed on his chest, received a 20-year sentence.

Ryan “Sneaks” Carroll and Reginald Youngblood, both originally charged with murder, pleaded guilty in two previous attempts on Matthews’ life. Carroll was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Youngblood, who like Hatch was charged later than the others, got 20 years, which also included time for a weapons charge. Another man, Eddie Stewart, who was just 16 at the time of the indictment, pleaded guilty in one attempt on Matthews’ life and was sentenced to 15 years.

A $25,000 bounty?

Jackson, a Baton Rouge rapper striving for greater fame, was shot to death through a closed window as he sat on a sofa inside a home on America Street. Louding, who sat down with police a month before his indictment, told detectives he shot Jackson while hoisted on the shoulders of Michael “Ghost” Judson. Judson was killed in January 2010, and his murder remains unsolved.

“What we heard from all sources was that there was a beef between Boosie and Nussie,” Cummings said. “The word on the street was that Boosie would pay $25,000 for Nussie’s execution. It was word on the street. That’s all. Mike Louding didn’t even know Boosie at that time, had not met him, but took it upon himself to, I guess, win his admiration and obtain the $25,000.”

Elvin Howard, a Baton Rouge police detective who interviewed Louding several times in May 2010, testified at Louding’s trial that the teenager implicated Hatch in the killing of Jackson and the fatal shooting of Marcus Thomas on April 25, 2009.

Thomas was driving his truck in the 600 block of West McKinley Street when he was shot to death. Louding told detectives he fired from a vehicle into Thomas’ truck but believed Thomas was already dead because others also fired from the vehicle into the truck.

Cummings referred to the Thomas killing as an “alleged Boosie hit.” The supposed motive? Thomas had disrespected Hatch, she said.

Jason Williams, one of Hatch’s attorneys during his criminal trial, said last year on the anniversary of Hatch’s acquittal that there is no evidence linking Hatch to the murders of Jackson, Thomas or Boyd.

“The whole concept that he had a reason to do harm to Terry Boyd or these other folks just didn’t add up,” he said.

Williams also complained that prosecutors continued to implicate his client in the killing despite the acquittal.

“In this country, when you are charged with a crime, you’re entitled to a jury trial, and when the jury speaks, you’re supposed to respect that. That’s got to work both ways. You’ve got to respect the decision of the jury. They spoke,” Williams said.

Cummings argued at the Hatch and Louding trials that Hatch paid Louding to assassinate Boyd on Oct. 21, 2009, because Hatch learned from a convicted killer at Angola that Boyd — who had just been released from prison — planned to do Hatch harm.

Like Jackson, Boyd was shot and killed through a closed window as he sat on a sofa inside a home. “The way he (Louding) committed the homicides was particularly scary to me,” Cummings said in her interview. “Every time I sat in my living room and watched TV I thought about how these people had died, just sitting on your couch. He so gutlessly shot through the windows. It was not just that he was killing people, it was how he was doing it.”

Michael Smith was the final alleged Louding-related shooting victim of 2009. He was found shot to death behind a residence in the 1700 block of Wisteria Street on Dec. 18, 2009.

“Louding always claimed that Smith and his cohorts shot at him first,” Cummings said. “We didn’t substantiate this.”

Prosecutors allege the Louding-related killing spree ended April 1, 2010, when Matthews and Milton were fatally shot inside a parked Cadillac in the 1400 block of Monte Sano Avenue.

Louding told police he was the getaway driver, and he implicated Johnson, Rogers, Carroll and Youngblood in the crime.

“Louding actually took us back to that scene the night he was arrested and showed us where everything was,” Moore said.

In closing arguments, Louding’s attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, emphasized that there was no physical evidence linking Louding to Boyd’s murder and urged jurors not to convict solely on her client’s videotaped confession to detectives.

Although Louding admitted his involvement in the murders, he took it all back at Hatch’s trial. Lagattuta said her client was with police for eight hours before they turned on the videotape that was played during court proceedings. And she said Louding didn’t understand that he was a potential target for the police.

At the Hatch trial, Louding testified he lied about the rapper’s involvement to both detectives and a grand jury because Baton Rouge police threatened to lock up his mother and stepfather and told him he would die by lethal injection.

After Louding was sentenced to life, Matthews’ mother, Nancy Booker, said Louding “only has one life to give.” She and Milton’s mother, Patricia Milton, said the prison term represented closure for their families.

A safer south Baton Rouge

Moore said he considered Louding believable.

“Every time we spoke with him, except for the first time, he was with his lawyer, and his story was always consistent. I found the kid to be really articulate and a smart kid,” he said.

“And by all accounts a good shot,” Cummings interjected.

With Louding and some of his accomplices behind bars, Moore and Cummings contend lives have been saved and the streets of south Baton Rouge are safer.

“No question. Absolutely no question. Especially with Michael Louding off the streets,” Moore stressed. “He was a kid who was familiar with guns, not afraid to use guns, kill people. There’s no question; I think some lives have been saved.”

A jailed Louding wrote to Hatch in April 2013 — three months before he was sentenced — and stated, “I miss them good ol days. ... I wish I was still in that world to lay the law down.”

Moore said his office isn’t barred from prosecuting any of the untried murder cases if additional information comes forward.

But he added, “There’s nothing active whatsoever to my knowledge by any agency.”