Three accused members of a drug gang — dubbed “Ride or Die,” or ROD — that claimed the St. Roch neighborhood for its bloody stomping grounds sat at the defense table in a federal courtroom Tuesday as a major gang racketeering trial got underway.
Deloyd “Puggy” Jones, 23; Byron “Big Baby” Jones, 24; and Sidney “Duda Man” Patterson, 24, all face life in prison if convicted on the overarching racketeering count in a case that also charges them with various murders, attempted slayings, drug dealing and gun offenses wrapped up in a 20-count indictment returned two years ago against a dozen people.
The rest of the defendants have pleaded guilty, with several of them expected to testify under the promise of what defense attorneys for the three men have described as sweetheart deals.
Among the violence federal prosecutors attribute to the group, whose members weren’t shy about boasting of their affiliation on a YouTube video the jury watched Tuesday, was the murder of 30-year-old Travis Arnold.
Arnold was shot dead on Feb. 24, 2010, while riding in a Chevy Tahoe on Elysian Fields Avenue. Byron Jones and Patterson are accused of that killing.
The feds also allege that Patterson and Deloyd Jones killed 19-year-old Corey Blue on Jan. 19, 2011, among other violent acts attributed to the 8th Ward group.
The three defendants were headliners in an indictment that accused ROD of running roughshod over a violent swath of the city bounded by North Miro Street and St. Claude, Elysian Fields and Franklin avenues for about six years beginning in 2007.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nolan Paige told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday that the group’s loyalists, male and female, would tattoo their gang allegiance on their forearms or their faces.
“The defendants here murdered and attempted to murder rival gang members, rival drug dealers, and at times just murdered to maintain and increase their reputation for violence,” Paige told the jury. “That was Ride or Die.”
The defendants’ attorneys, who include City Councilman and criminal defense attorney Jason Williams in Patterson’s camp, countered that the federal case is weak, built on boastful claims and little more.
Dwight Doskey, who represents Deloyd Jones, told the jury that the government has cast its net far too wide and offered far too many deals to obtain suspect information about the defendants.
As a teen, Doskey said, Deloyd Jones was shot “multiple times in the head and the chest and lay there dying, when he was 15 years old.”
“If the police won’t protect you, who will?” he asked the jury.
“You can understand then why some people might decide to carry guns,” he said.
“There’s something else you can use other than guns to protect yourself if you want people to think that they can’t mess with you,” Doskey said, trying to explain things like the boastful video. “You want people to think that others have your back. You don’t want to discourage myths that grow around you.”
The defense attorneys were seeking to combat negative images that started with the first witness Tuesday, a videographer who put out a video in 2011 of several young 8th Ward men bad-mouthing police and waving around a snub-nosed assault rifle. Among them were Patterson and Deloyd Jones, who already is serving an 80-year prison sentence after a 2012 state conviction on two counts of attempted murder.
Next to testify for the government was Perry Hall, an elderly admitted crack user who said several Ride or Die members and associates took over his home in the 1600 block of Mandeville Street in 2010 and 2011, running a crack-dealing operation while feeding him free rocks of crack, “much as I wanted.”
“In 2010, around Christmas, they had over 16, 17 guys in my house,” Hall said.
He named the defendants and others as ROD members and testified that they stashed guns and drugs all over his house while selling crack all day, in shifts.
The morning crew, he said, worked “till the little guys get out of school and get off the bus around 3 or 4 o’clock.”
Hall testified to hearing Deloyd Jones and Patterson talk about killing Blue after being shorted on a drug purchase. Hall said they “sent a younger lady to get bleach and two T-shirts” to wipe down the murder weapon.
The trial before U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan is expected to run more than two weeks.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.