A federal jury convicted former LSU wide receiver Nemessis “Nemo” Bates on Thursday in a murder-for-hire plot that left his friend Christopher “Tiger” Smith dead in his Gretna doorway with more than 20 gunshots in his body.
The jury of nine women and three men found Bates, 36, guilty on all four counts he faced from the Nov. 21, 2010, killing, which prosecutors say was carried out by Walter “Urkel” Porter. Federal prosecutors describe Porter as a prolific hit man and the go-to hired gun for Central City crime kingpin Telly Hankton.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance set a Sept. 9 sentencing date for Bates, who faces a possible life prison term on counts of solicitation to commit a crime of violence, use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder for hire, causing death through use of a firearm and conspiracy to possess a firearm.
Prosecutors came to the trial armed with cellphone records and witnesses who told the story of a defendant who took matters into his own hands after Tiger Smith robbed him of some jewelry and cash, and a police investigation into the theft stalled.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Liz Privitera and Gregory Kennedy said Bates hired Aaron “Beadie” Smith, a casual acquaintance, to kill Tiger Smith. The two are not related.
Aaron Smith testified that he was in it for the money. He told jurors that he farmed the job out to Porter because of Porter’s expertise and because at the time he was wearing an electronic ankle monitor on an attempted murder charge.
He said he agreed with Porter to split the $20,000 Bates promised. When Bates couldn’t pay the full sum, Smith and Porter took two of Bates’ cars, a Corvette and a Mercedes-Benz. Bates also rented a car for Porter.
Porter was stopped by police in two of the cars, helping prosecutors bolster their case that Bates had loaned the cars to the hit men as collateral.
Bates testified for more than three hours Wednesday, claiming he was a victim of extortion. He said Aaron Smith and Porter killed Tiger Smith as a favor he never asked for, then came to Bates’ Tulane Avenue car wash to demand money from him.
Bates’ attorney, Peter Strasser, said Aaron Smith set up the hit job to get closer to Bates, a former college athlete who favored fancy cars and expensive jewelry. Strasser portrayed his client as an emotionally stunted innocent.
“Nemo, he looks like a big tough guy, flashy dude. He grew up in a very strict, restricted environment,” Strasser said. “He was scared of life. He tried to compensate for it, but emotionally, he’s still a very helpless little child, very harmless but helpless.”
Strasser said Bates, who transferred to Southern University after playing football at LSU, injured his ankle, ending his NFL dreams. He returned to New Orleans to work as a club bouncer, then opened Nemo’s Car Wash.
The jury apparently agreed with Privitera’s assessment of Bates — that his sometimes quavering, often combative turn on the witness stand revealed a “master manipulator.”
“He’s not a childlike, bumbling idiot. He’s a manipulating, conniving liar,” Privitera said in her closing argument.
“You watched those crocodile tears. The fake breakdowns. He did say he has one of the biggest hearts. What he left out is, that heart is nothing but stone cold. He had his friend killed purely because he stole money and jewelry. Sure, Christopher Smith should not have done that, but he didn’t deserve to be shot 28 times by Walter Porter.”
Both sides painted Porter, 36, as a professional hit man. Porter is due to be tried in the case, along with two other federal cases, later; he has spent the better part of the past year at a federal medical facility to restore him to legal competency.
Prosecutors alleged that Bates met with Porter and Aaron Smith the day before the killing to lock down the $20,000 deal.
In his closing argument at the end of the four-day trial, Strasser sought to poke holes in that theory, using phone records to try to prove that Bates and Porter met only after the killing — an indication that Bates had no advance knowledge of the hit.
He sought to paint Aaron Smith, a key witness who already pleaded guilty in the case in exchange for possible leniency at sentencing, as a liar and a “master escape artist, a master of survival” who played both Bates and Porter.
Bates claimed on the witness stand that he managed to convince Porter that he never ordered the hit and didn’t have the money. Strasser told the jury that Bates’ mere survival attests to that story.
“If this were a professional hit, he’d be dead” because he didn’t have the money, Strasser said. “Porter, the pro, confirms through his actions that what Nemo’s telling him was the truth.”
But Privitera mocked the notion that Porter let Bates off the hook out of sympathy.
“Walter Porter is a hit man. He kills people for money, period. That’s his job,” she said. “He sees dollar bills. That’s all he cares about.”
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