Man convicted in 2010 St. Roch triple murder _lowres

Charles “Tiger” Franklin

An Orleans Parish jury on Saturday convicted Charles “Tiger” Franklin of three counts of first-degree murder in a 2010 triple slaying in the St. Roch neighborhood.

The jury refused to accept his alibi that he was at home with his girlfriend when two masked men went on a midnight killing binge at a home on Urquhart Street.

Franklin, 26, faces a life prison term when he returns to court for a scheduled Dec. 17 sentencing.

Despite the first-degree murder counts, to which 11 of 12 jurors agreed, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office did not pursue the death penalty.

Franklin was accused of committing the murders with a friend, 22-year-old Dwayne “Red” Johnson, in a dispute about crack dealing. Johnson, who was indicted for the murders along with Franklin in 2010, pleaded guilty in August to three counts of manslaughter and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Johnson testified at the weeklong trial, claiming Franklin wasn’t among those involved in the killing spree that claimed the lives of Desmond Harris, Kewanda Harris and Karen Matthews. Instead, Johnson named a man, Paul Spooner, who was shot dead last May on North Derbigny Street. Johnson refused to identify the third man he said was involved in the triple killing.

Prosecutors, however, said that Johnson had lied before, at one point taking sole credit for the murders and later agreeing as part of his plea deal that Franklin was involved.

No physical evidence was presented at the trial, and there was no clear witness identification of Franklin as one of the shooters.

Franklin’s attorneys, Dwight Doskey and Brandi Struder, said police used overly aggressive tactics and threats to wheedle statements and testimony from witnesses.

“It’s really sad, because all of us believe Charles was innocent. There’s severe pain in seeing someone innocent go to jail,” Doskey said after the verdict, pledging to appeal the case. “I think the jury was taken up with the emotion because it was a horrible, horrible killing.”

A victim in the shooting, Carol Belisle, gave the jury a harrowing account of the Jan. 7, 2010, incident, testifying that Desmond Harris was shot outside the house before the gunmen barged through the door, demanding crack cocaine and money.

“He said, ‘This can’t be all it. Y’all about to die,’ ” Belisle testified, quoting one of the gunmen.

Franklin’s attorneys suggested that another man, Arnold Wilson, might have been responsible for the murders.

Wilson, 30, took the stand Friday in gray Orleans Parish Prison garb, largely pleading ignorance of the killings. He said he had worked that night and wasn’t there for the murders. He acknowledged showing up at the house shortly afterward, however.

Prosecutors Kevin Guillory and Inga Petrovich painted drug dealing as the motive for the killing, a claim backed up by 26-year-old Brittany Walker, who told the jury she lived across the street from the house where the victims were shot.

Walker said Franklin was involved romantically with her roommate and that he and Johnson would constantly hang around the house, where they would “sit, smoke weed, watch TV and play with guns.”

She told the jury that the men sold crack and that Franklin typically toyed around with an AK-47, while Johnson had a handgun.

Earlier in the trial, New Orleans homicide Detective Timothy Bender testified that police found boxes of .762-caliber ammunition behind a nearby shed upon Franklin’s arrest — matching shell casings found at the scene.

Franklin’s alibi testimony was at least partially refuted by his then-girlfriend, Mallene Dilbert, who testified that she’d been at work that night, took a roundabout way home and didn’t make it back until late. Franklin had testified that he had come home to find her already there.

Doskey acknowledged that the discrepancy appeared to have cost his client.

Former state appeals court Judge Walter Rothschild presided over the case. All of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges recused themselves because Belisle, the surviving victim, is related to a longtime court employee.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.