A man already in jail in connection to the April shooting deaths of two female Southern University students was arrested again Friday, this time on two counts of murder now that police believe his bullets killed the pair of innocent bystanders.
Baton Rouge police detectives have asserted that Brandon Henderson fired the first shots — although into the air — near a crowd assembled outside a Baton Rouge apartment complex in the early morning hours on April 10.
Police concluded that in response, 22-year-old Ernest Bernard Felton, the man rearrested Friday, fired a Glock 9 mm handgun with an extended magazine, walking 63 feet toward the car Henderson was driving and continuing to pump bullets in his direction.
Felton hit Henderson but also gunned down freshman Annette January and sophomore Lashuntae Benton, according to a Baton Rouge police report released Friday.
Along with the second-degree murder counts in the killings of the two women, Felton also now faces a count each of illegal use of a weapon and obstruction of justice after he ditched his gun and texted to a witness: “Make sure they don’t mention me,” the report says, citing phone records.
Felton’s new arrest, which comes a day after Henderson, 25, was booked on two counts of second-degree murder and a count of illegal use of a weapon, ends nearly two months of anticipation cited by the victims’ families as to whether anyone would be directly blamed for killing the 19-year-old women. Felton had been arrested shortly after the shooting on an attempted murder count and accused of shooting Henderson.
Both Felton and Henderson had attended Southern University. Felton was suspended April 11 — the day after the shooting — from being a part-time student there, and Henderson attended the school from 2009 to 2014 but didn’t graduate, a school spokesman said Thursday. Felton played football for the institution for a season.
Felton’s attorney, Tommy Damico, said Friday he was not surprised his client was accused of murder but said the counts are a mistake.
“When everything shakes out, it’s gonna show that my guy was trying to protect people,” Damico said.
But the five-page police report issued Friday alleges that “Felton’s actions negate any argument of self-defense,” citing evidence that Felton kept pulling the trigger instead of fleeing to safety, “as any reasonable person who feared for his life would.”
Police say that while Henderson initiated the shooting, it was Felton’s bullets that killed his fellow students.
The April 10 attack was touched off by a fist fight early that morning between members and friends of the Southern University track team on one side and Henderson’s brother, Anthony Henderson, along with that man’s girlfriend, on the other side, the report says.
The two groups split up after the fight outside The Cottages, a sprawling apartment complex at 777 Ben Hur Road, the report says, and the track group walked to a separate parking lot in the complex, near where a house party had taken place.
Soon after, Brandon Henderson showed up driving a white Chevrolet Sonic, his brother in tow, the report says. Brandon Henderson admitted to firing the initial shots, all of which were in the air, emptying the six bullets in his Kel-Tech 9 mm handgun, according to the report.
“(Brandon) Henderson did not fire at any human being,” the report alleges. “No person, vehicle or structure was shown to have been struck by any other projectiles other than those fired from a Glock brand firearm.”
Felton responded by firing at Brandon Henderson, who drove around a curve and into a dead end in the parking lot, the report says. Felton walked toward the dead end and waited for his opponent to return, according to the document.
Emptied of his ammunition, Brandon Henderson turned around and drove out of the parking lot in an attempt to flee. Felton, in his second volley of bullets toward the white car, shot Benton and January, the report says.
Brandon Henderson also was struck in the leg and torso.
Felton eventually fled the scene in a black Chevrolet Camaro, the report says.
Shell casing evidence shows Felton, armed with the Glock, “advanced and fired upon (Brandon) Henderson’s vehicle as it drove away,” according to the document.
McKneely said police have not recovered either of the weapons. Anthony Henderson stashed his brother’s gun under some bushes in the apartment complex, the report says, and Felton disposed of his firearm, possibly in response to a text he received eight minutes after the shooting, which read, “Throw it in the river,” the report says, citing phone records.
Bullets recovered from the women’s bodies, from Brandon Henderson’s torso and from the scene show a polygonal rifling pattern specific only to Glock firearms, the brand of gun Felton is believed to have owned, the report says. There were 26 Hornady brand 9 mm Luger shell casings at the scene that were determined to have all come from the same Glock handgun, and police found an empty box of Hornady brand 9 mm Luger bullets in Felton’s bedroom, the report says.
A witness told authorities he or she had gone to dinner with Felton a few days prior to the shooting and saw him with the Glock and also saw Felton discharging the handgun during the incident in question, according to the report. Another witness said Felton showed him the Glock at the party prior to the shooting.
Immediately after the incident, a witness said Felton called, saying, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me,” the report says.
Recorded phone calls Felton placed while being held in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison reveal he admitted to firing his weapon at the Ben Hur shooting and stated that the gun isn’t registered, according to the report. In one call, Felton tells a friend, who was in New Orleans during the shooting, to pretend that he was at the scene and to defend Felton to police.
“Detective asserts that Felton’s intent was to take the life of another human being, specifically Brandon Henderson, and although it was the lives of Benton and January that were taken by Felton, the intent to kill still existed,” the report says.
Under Louisiana’s second-degree murder statute, the crime can occur if an offender has the “specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm.”
In Felton’s case, detectives appear to be using a concept called “transferred intent” in explaining Felton’s culpability under second-degree murder, said Ken Levy, a criminal law professor at LSU’s law school.
Second-degree murder also can be prosecuted under the felony murder doctrine. For instance, if someone commits a felony like first-degree rape and another person dies in the incident, the offender could be convicted of second-degree murder, even if the offender wasn’t trying to kill anyone.
Levy said one example of felony murder is a bank robbery in which a robber pulls out a weapon and an officer fires in response, inadvertently killing an innocent third party. The robber still could be convicted of second-degree murder in that person’s death, Levy said.
Brandon Henderson is accused of second-degree murder linked to his commission of an “assault by drive-by shooting” in the incident, according to a report issued Thursday.
Anthony Henderson, the brother, is wanted on unrelated drug counts and has eluded police, said Baton Rouge police Cpl. L’Jean McKneely. Authorities want to question him in relation to the shooting, he said.
Brandon Henderson was assigned a $525,000 bail, while Felton’s was set at $517,500, according to records.
The Advocate has not been able to make contact with family members of Brandon or Anthony Henderson. Mike Mitchell, the East Baton Rouge Parish public defender, said as of now, his office is not representing Brandon Henderson.
Efforts to speak to January’s mother or Benton’s mother were unsuccessful Friday.
On Thursday, Benton’s mother, Theresa Tillman, said she was relieved Brandon Henderson had been arrested. Last week, she held a rally at the State Capitol to demand justice for her daughter and January.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.