A Honduran man who stepped outside his Staring Lane apartment Sunday night to smoke a cigarette was robbed of his cellphone, then fatally shot by a Baton Rouge teenager, the Sheriff’s Office said.
East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested the suspect, James Fitzgerald Mills Jr., 18, at his Gardere-area home Monday morning in the death of Hancy Sanchez, 24, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Deputies booked Mills into Parish Prison on counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery and illegal use of a weapon. As of Monday afternoon, his bail had not been set.
Mills was recently released from Parish Prison after he spent two weeks in the facility when his mother accused him of stealing her debit card from her purse, arrest and bond records show.
Mills told his mother, Alfreda Mills, on Monday that he was near Sanchez’s home at the time of the robbery but that he did not shoot Sanchez, she said.
Meanwhile, Sanchez’s friends and co-workers on Monday gathered outside his apartment, at the corner of Staring Lane and Bayou Fountain Avenue near Burbank Drive, grieving for the loss of their loved one.
“We lost a good friend,” said Dany Maldonado, Sanchez’s roommate and friend. “He was like my brother.”
The shooting happened about 11:40 p.m. on the front porch of Sanchez and Maldonado’s apartment. They were about to go to sleep when Sanchez asked Maldonado if he wanted to smoke a cigarette.
Maldonado didn’t. He was too tired, he said.
So Sanchez stepped outside with another man. Within minutes, Maldonado heard his roommate’s last words, “Dany!” followed by a gunshot.
Maldonado ran outside where he found his friend lying in a pool of blood. Sanchez’s head was resting against the root of a nearby tree, a spot that remained bloody Monday afternoon.
Maldonado called 911, and deputies arrived within about two minutes, he said. An ambulance took Sanchez to a hospital, where he died Monday morning.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Mills and another man approached Sanchez on Sunday night and asked if they could use his cellphone. When one of them asked for the password to Sanchez’s phone, Sanchez tried to grab the phone back.
A man deputies identified as Mills then shot Sanchez in the head, robbed him of his cellphone and fled. Investigators are still looking for the other person involved in the robbery.
Alfreda Mills said she spoke to her son after the shooting. During their conversation, James Mills denied shooting Sanchez, she said.
James Mills, 8773 Old Hermitage Road, told his mother that one of his friends was wearing his jacket at the time of the robbery. After the shooting, the friend tossed aside the jacket, Alfreda Mills said.
According to what James Mills told his mother, the jacket contained both Mills’ and Sanchez’s cellphones.
Alfreda Mills said her son would not need to ask to use a cellphone because he had a cellphone of his own.
As for James Mills’ recent arrest on the accusations of debit card theft, his mother said she had her son arrested to teach him a lesson. She let him stay in jail for two weeks before bailing him out in late August.
“I just wanted him to see what jail was like,” Alfreda Mills said, “and scare him straight.”
The lesson was supposed to help him avoid becoming tied up in something more serious such as a shooting, his mother said.
Sunday night’s homicide occurred several blocks from a Gardere neighborhood where a Honduran teen was slain in a June 2013 armed robbery. That killing — condemned as a senseless act of violence — shed light on some violence in a neighborhood populated by Hispanics.
Some area residents who spoke with The Advocate at the time said the neighborhood was wrought with robberies. And some community members — particularly those without legal status — were often hesitant to report crimes to the authorities.
The Sheriff’s Office reported being concerned about crime in the Hispanic community and hired bilingual deputies to strengthen relationships between the authorities and residents. Eventually, the sheriff built a new substation in Gardere — all of which has led to a drop in crime in Gardere.
Yet Sanchez’s death, a product of an apparently random robbery, serves as a stark reminder of the area’s violent history.
James Gauthreaux, Sanchez’s supervisor at the Plaquemine Point Shipyard, was headed to the hospital Monday morning when he learned that Sanchez had died. Gauthreaux said he lost a hard-working, uplifting man.
“He was always trying to learn,” Gauthreaux said outside Sanchez’s apartment on Monday. “He was always thinking.”
Those who knew Sanchez said he was a friendly, caring man, never at a loss for a smile.
Maldonado, Sanchez’s friend, said the Honduran national had one young daughter in Baton Rouge and a young son in Honduras. Sanchez had never met his son, and he was eager for a chance to go home and visit the young boy, Maldonado said.
“He never made it,” Maldonado said.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.