Three grainy street scenes and one tape that captures only the sound of gunfire — four shots, two quick beats, then 11 more shots — comprise all the useful footage that police culled from a shooting melee on Bourbon Street that killed a young woman and injured nine others in June 2014, a former New Orleans homicide commander testified Thursday.
That footage took center stage Thursday as Lt. Nicholas Gernon took the witness stand and narrated the footage on the fourth day of the trial of accused shooter Trung Le.
A second, still-unknown shooter couldn’t be spotted in dozens of hours of French Quarter surveillance footage after he was last seen hustling a block downriver on Bourbon following the gunfire, Gernon told the Criminal District Court jury.
He said the man appeared to hold two beers in his left hand and nothing in his right hand after the shooting, supporting the prosecution’s claim that the man had been drinking double-fisted before the shooting and wasn’t, as Le’s attorneys have contended, swinging a gun.
Gernon said State Police took the lead in the failed search for that second shooter, who wore a dark shirt, chef’s pants and a Boston Red Sox cap.
“They weren’t able to develop a suspect” despite canvassing numerous French Quarter restaurants, Gernon said.
That failure has left District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office to try Le alone in the shooting spree that sent early morning crowds scrambling and left 21-year-old Hammond nursing student Brittany Thomas mortally wounded from a .40-caliber gunshot to the back of her head that was fired by the other man.
Later Thursday, the lead investigator in the case, NOPD detective Bruce Brueggeman, read from two notes he said he pulled from Le’s iPhone.
He said they were typed four days after the incident in which Le has claimed he fired in self-defense.
“ ‘Forgive this sinner, Lord, forgive me for I have sinned. I have disobeyed the law. … I should burn in hell for eternity,’ ” Brueggeman read.
Le, 22, of Belle Chasse, faces charges of manslaughter, attempted second-degree murder and obstruction of justice.
The manslaughter count relates to his allegedly committing a crime that led to Thomas’ death. The attempted murder charge relates to his allegedly firing first at the other man.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue said this week that Le hit five bystanders with four bullets, injuring some severely.
Gernon and Le’s attorney, Martin Regan, squabbled at length over two key moments from the footage. In one video, the other man is seen passing by, then turning and approaching Le and his group of West Bank friends. A friend of Le, Justin Odom, shoves the man back.
The man then raises his right hand in the group’s direction. Regan maintains that he was pointing a gun.
That’s the story told Wednesday by two friends of Le, Odom and Robert Benvenuti, who was shot in the buttocks.
Gernon, now assigned to the 6th District, said the footage shows no such weapon at that point, only an empty, gesturing hand.
Regan repeatedly asked Gernon to pinpoint when, if someone pointed at him, he would feel justified in firing back. “How long do you have to wait to take self-defense measures?” Regan asked.
“I don’t see him leveling the gun in that direction,” Gernon replied, later adding, “I have people point their fingers at me as I drive all the time. I don’t shoot.”
A self-defense claim requires the jury to believe that Le felt he was in imminent danger of losing his life when he fired.
Two groups of spent shell casings were found at the scene. They lay 16 to 17 feet apart, Gernon said.
He also noted a six-second delay between the moment the other man raised his arm and the moment the crowd began scrambling for cover, suggesting that was evidence the man didn’t brandish a weapon then but only after Le started firing.
Regan focused on a different delay: the little more than a second between Le’s four shots and the 11 shots fired in neat succession by the other man.
That interval, Regan argued, supported the testimony of Le’s friends that the unknown shooter reached under his arm for the gun before Le stepped forward and fired at him.
The other man couldn’t have shot that quickly if his gun wasn’t already out, Regan argued.
Gernon responded that Regan was misleading the jury. “When someone’s getting shot at, they’re not waiting for the shooter to stop (to) pull out their gun,” he said.
Rodrigue has theorized that Odom, Le’s friend, had identified the other man ambling down Bourbon as the one who had tried to rob him of marijuana earlier in the night. The man turned and confronted Odom, then backed away when Le pumped out four bullets from his 9mm handgun, Rodrigue argued.
Odom testified that they were two completely different incidents involving different black men. He and Benvenuti testified that the man appeared crazed — on drugs or mentally ill — when he reached for a gun and motioned he would fire before Le saved their lives by shooting first.
Both Odom and Benvenuti insisted they saw a gun pointing in their direction before Le stepped off the curb in front of them and shot.
Le and Odom then picked up a shotgun at a friend’s house and fled to Mississippi, before they, along with Benvenuti, clammed up and refused to talk to police.
Rodrigue argued that their flight and truculence — Le allegedly cursed at police and said they had the wrong guy — made a mockery of Le’s self-defense claim.
Gernon said cameras in the French Quarter only picked up the other shooter beginning in the 400 block of Bourbon. The man was taking his time, ambling about a block in seven minutes, and holding a beer in his left hand while gesturing as if he had another drink in his right, though the camera didn’t pick up the drink.
Police did not recover either weapon, a fact that Regan sought to exploit Thursday as he questioned Gernon about Le’s handgun.
“I bet God knows where it’s at,” Regan remarked.
“Mr. Le did too,” Gernon replied.
The trial continues Friday. Whether Le will takes the stand is uncertain. Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams has placed a gag order on the lawyers.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.