A pair of rap videos and a tough-guy photo taken at the scene of a brazen Central City murder didn’t help 19-year-old Demond “Lil D” Sandifer in front of a jury this week. But it may have been the braggadocio in the call he made to his jailed brother hours after the killing, and the testimony of their imprisoned father, Antonio “Big Rico” Johnson, that sealed Sandifer’s fate in the 2011 killing of 22-year-old Milton Davis.
Johnson, 41, identified Sandifer and Rico “Max” Newman — two of his 10 children — as members of the “110’ers,” a St. Thomas-area gang tagged for 15 murders over a five-year span in a massive state racketeering indictment issued in May 2013.
A jury spent only 38 minutes deliberating late Wednesday before convicting Sandifer of the murder and a charge that he committed it “in furtherance” of street gang activity.
Sandifer, who sat quietly through the three-day trial, was 16 when Davis was shot three times in the back and staggered a few yards before collapsing on the street on a hot August evening.
Because of his age at the time, Sandifer will not receive an automatic life sentence. He will be the subject of an October sentencing hearing in front of Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier on the murder count. The gang charge carries an additional 30 years.
Sandifer’s criminal troubles aren’t over, either. He is among the four purported 110’ers accused in a May 29, 2012, shooting spree in Central City that claimed the lives of 5-year-old Brianna Allen and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce, who died in what prosecutors say was an attempt to shoot members of a rival street gang.
Sandifer faces several other charges, too, contained in the 51-count 2013 indictment, which portrays the 110’ers as an umbrella group whose main purpose was deadly violence.
Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda, the lead prosecutor in the 110’ers case, told the jury Wednesday — citing a comment from Sandifer in the jailhouse call to Newman — that Sandifer didn’t even know Davis when he shot him “like a stray dog,” as Calenda put it.
Sandifer was affiliated with a 110’ers offshoot known as “Team Murder.” The gang was at war with a rival group, “Young Melph Mafia,” prosecutors say.
Calenda cited an Instagram message, taken off a phone tied to Sandifer, in which he declares that “My N----’s kill for no reason.”
“There are people in this city, the Demond Sandifer people, that doesn’t need a motive to kill,” Calenda argued. “He showed no mercy. He showed no remorse, and he thought of it as a game. The city of New Orleans is not an open killing field for the Demond Sandifers of this world. It is home.”
About half of the 15 people charged in the grand jury indictment have pleaded guilty. Among them, Johnson received an eight-year prison sentence, and he showed up at court Wednesday under heavy security to take the witness stand against his son.
Johnson pleaded guilty in February as an accessory after the fact in the killings of Allen and Pierce in a Central City melee that drew public outcry over another spate of indiscriminate street violence, plus the slaying of Marlon Smith and the attempted murder of Kevon Robinson in June 2012, just weeks later.
Another of Sandifer’s brothers, 18-year-old Sam Newman, is charged in Smith’s June 14, 2012, killing and the attempted murder of Robinson.
Johnson, who has three prior felony convictions, avoided a far lengthier prison sentence, and he acknowledged that he hopes for a reduction in his sentence with his testimony, but he insisted he’d give it anyway.
“I have other children that need me. I have an 84-year-old mother that need me, and I’ve been truthful about this whole case since day one,” he said before proceeding to identify Sandifer and Newman as 110’ers.
“I’m in here now behind something my sons maybe had did. I’m not up here because of a mistake I did in life. I’m here because of a mistake they did in life,” he said.
During the three-day trial, the jury watched homemade rap videos featuring a gun-wielding Sandifer, shot in Clay Park, and they saw a photo of Sandifer posing outside the killing scene in the 2500 block of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
They also heard the taped phone call to Rico Newman, in which prosecutors said Sandifer acknowledged the shooting in thinly veiled slang that included a reference to Davis, the victim, as a “Messy Mya.”
Calenda said the term is street slang for a shooting victim. “Messy Mya” was the celebrity tag worn by Anthony Barre, a local social media phenomenon who was gunned down Nov. 10, 2010, as he left a baby shower.
The jury also heard from a purported witness, Passion Cobbins, who has identified Sandifer as being at the shooting scene, but who also identified Sam Newman as being there when in fact he was in jail at the time.
Sandifer’s defense attorney, Michael Idoyaga, argued that Cobbins, 22, whose criminal history includes an arrest last week on two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, couldn’t be believed.
“Either she’s got a bad memory or she’s trying to please someone again: ‘Am I being a good girl?’ ” Idoyaga said during his closing argument.
The videos and photos featuring Sandifer and others were hardly evidence of murder, Idoyaga said. He also highlighted the relatively light prison sentence afforded Johnson.
All of the witnesses “have a stake in the outcome of the case,” Idoyaga said. “When a 16-year-old boy poses with a gun, yeah, it’s scary. But is it an admission of a homicide, or is it a boy acting tough?”
The jury perhaps concluded it was both.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.