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The suspected ringleader of a major drug trafficking organization based in Baton Rouge has again avoided serious criminal charges and significant prison time when a grand jury met Thursday and found insufficient evidence to support an indictment. 

Martrell Harris, 43, had been arrested in March on two counts of first-degree murder, accused of hiring a hitman to carry out the 2017 slayings of Lorenzo Dixon — a local rapper who performed under the stage name Zoe Realla — and David Walker, 68, who was killed just hours after witnessing a double murder next door to his house in Old South Baton Rouge.

Authorities believe Harris ordered the killings while directing an "extremely violent" drug ring and spinning a tangled web of often dangerous alliances.

Harris was on the run for months before turning himself in on the charges. After his arrest, he was initially held without bail, but was later released on $400,000 bond in May after a judge granted his request for reconsideration. 

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the grand jury pretermitted, meaning Harris was neither indicted nor cleared. Moore said various law enforcement agencies are still actively investigating. If detectives uncover substantial new evidence, the grand jury would reconvene and reevaluate the case. 

Moore said the case exemplifies a larger problem facing his office: making the jump from the probable cause required to support an arrest to the higher bar needed to pursue prosecution. 

"Witness testimony is really the lifeblood of prosecution. But in some cases, people choose not to cooperate for many different reasons, including fear of retaliation," he said. "Those cases become very difficult for us."

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In their motion for reconsideration of bond filed in April, attorneys for Harris alleged a series of holes in the case against him and sought to discredit an informant, saying the "weight of evidence … has deteriorated to the point of negligibility." They argued prosecutors have repeatedly been unable to make charges stick against his co-defendants, who police identified as underlings in the drug ring. 

The alleged hitman himself, Dexter Collins, was arrested last year but later released without charges, also because of insufficient evidence. Collins was accused of accepting money and drugs in exchange for committing the murders. 

Another suspect in the Lorenzo Dixon killing, Kelvin Phillips, was promised a promotion in the drug ring, according to police. He was also arrested but never indicted, and a third suspect was never even arrested — all because the evidence was too weak, based on the testimony of a single cooperating witness with no firsthand knowledge of the crime, attorneys for Harris argued.

That witness was Terrell Anthony, who started cooperating with investigators after being arrested in 2019 for allegedly shooting his girlfriend to death, court records show. When his girlfriend was found dead, Anthony was out on bond after his arrest in the David Walker murder — the second 2017 case that police linked to Harris.

Anthony was indicted in that case, but his charges were later dismissed after he started cooperating, court records show. Police later obtained an arrest warrant for Harris, who they accused of directing his underlings to target Walker after he witnessed the deadly shooting of two men — one of them Anthony's brother. But neither Harris nor anyone else has been arrested in the double murder, his attorneys pointed out. 

After posting bond in May, court records show Harris sought permission to leave East Baton Rouge and attend an athletic recruiting event with his son at Texas A&M. Since the grand jury pretermitted, he will be released from his bond obligations, including a curfew, GPS monitoring and other restrictions.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.