A young man found guilty last year of stabbing a teenager 49 times and shoving his corpse into a mattress bag in New Orleans East was sentenced Thursday to life behind bars, ending a case that prosecutors described as one of the city’s most gruesome killings in recent memory.
The murderer, Dajuan Alridge, 23, could have been eligible for parole in 35 years because he was 17 when he and a co-defendant lured the victim, James McKenzie, into an abandoned house. But Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams ruled after a hearing that Alridge is beyond rehabilitation, citing his “horrific, callous, calculating conduct.”
“It was a very heinous crime,” Williams said. “Mr. Alridge has demonstrated that he is not capable of maintaining the type of citizenship, the type of conduct, the type of behavior that is expected of anyone in this community.”
McKenzie’s mother, LaShonda Enclade, said the sentence would bring a measure of closure to her family, whose members have attended court proceedings for the past six years.
“This trial, this whole ordeal has put a tremendous toll on my family,” Enclade said in a telephone interview. “I may be able to get some rest now, because I haven’t been able to get rest in six years. I don’t think any parent should ever have to go through this.”
McKenzie, 15, had been missing for several days in December 2009 when his family discovered his body inside an abandoned residence near Prentiss Avenue and Hauck Drive, ending a frantic search that involved the boy’s football coaches and even volunteers who didn’t know him.
The killing was motivated by a dispute over a stolen gun, according to Alridge’s accomplice, Dennis Lewis, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving a 40-year prison sentence. An Orleans Parish jury convicted Alridge of second-degree murder last year.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue told Williams at Thursday’s hearing that she could not think of a more disturbing set of facts than those surrounding McKenzie’s murder. The teen was found with duct tape wrapped around his head.
“We can only hope that James died of his stab wounds before he was smothered,” the prosecutor said, describing Alridge as “what any normal person would consider the worst of the worst.”
Public defender Donna Orjuela argued that Alridge “absolutely can be redeemed” and urged Williams to allow her client the opportunity for parole. But the judge said he had not been persuaded by a psychologist called by the defense who had not even evaluated Alridge.
Williams said he also did not consider a host of jailhouse incidents that Alridge instigated in recent years, including one last weekend in which he is alleged to have punched a deputy in the face.
The announcement of the sentence elicited an emotional outburst, as Alridge’s brother stormed out of the courtroom and began shouting in the hallway. A large group of deputies followed him to the courthouse exit without further incident.
McKenzie was raised in the 7th Ward but had been living with his family in New Orleans East at the time of his death, attending Sarah T. Reed High School.
Enclade, the boy’s mother, said her son loved to play football, was popular at school and routinely gave money and food to the homeless.
“Who knows what he could have been? That’s the tragic part about it,” she said. “You stole him at 15 years of age. You stole everything from me.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.