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Tyrance Chancellor

When Tyrance Chancellor and his 15-year-old nephew burst into a New Orleans East apartment one summer night, they were out to prove a point, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

The two women inside the apartment were sex partners of the two family members but weren't answering their calls and text messages.

“Their egos were upset. They apparently thought they owned these women. They thought they could do with them what they want, see them as they want, come and go as they want,” Assistant District Attorney Angad Ghai said.

The end result, according to prosecutors Ghai and Hilary Khoury, was the death of a man inside who was also having sex with Chancellor’s “casual sex” partner. He was felled by a single bullet allegedly fired by Chancellor’s young nephew, Jaquin Thomas.

Chancellor was never accused of shooting, but his role in the alleged break-in was enough for jurors to convict him of manslaughter after about 2½ hours of deliberation.

Jurors acquitted him on a separate count of obstruction of justice, where he was alleged to have tampered with a gun involved in the incident.

Under Louisiana law, Chancellor was held equally responsible for the shooting after jurors found that he committed the crime of breaking into the apartment along with his nephew.

Chancellor, 36, faces up to 40 years in prison at a Feb. 22 sentencing before Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman as a result of the tawdry story described in two days of testimony.

Chancellor had been having sex with Starkesha Lee after the two met at a daiquiris shop on Downman Road, she said. Meanwhile, his underage nephew had been having sex with Asia Thomas, a woman five or six years older than he was.

Their casual relationships became very serious on the night of July 20, 2016, when Chancellor started sending Lee text messages asking to come to her apartment on Chef Menteur Highway.

Lee did not want Chancellor there and told him she was in LaPlace, she said. Her friend Asia Thomas maintained the ruse by failing to answer Jaquin Thomas’ text messages, even though she suspected she might be pregnant by him.

Lee busied herself that night by smoking marijuana and doing the hair of 24-year-old Hasahn Shawl, an elementary school friend, while Asia Thomas hung out in the apartment.

About 2 a.m. July 21, as Lee and Shawl had sex, Chancellor and Jaquin Thomas made their way into the apartment uninvited, the women said. They added that Jaquin Thomas had his uncle’s silver gun in his hand.

Shawl was surprised by the sudden appearance of men he did not know and walked out into a second-floor hallway with a gun of his own. The women said that after a struggle, Jaquin Thomas shot Shawl.

Chancellor did not give his version of events at the trial. But in a statement to police soon after the shooting, he claimed that he was outside smoking a cigar when his nephew entered the apartment. He also claimed that despite the late-night rendezvous with Lee, their relationship wasn't sexual. 

At the trial, defense attorneys Joe Rome and Dante Butler rejected the idea that Chancellor and his nephew broke into the apartment. They suggested that the door had been previously damaged by Lee’s abusive ex.

They also claimed that both Lee and Asia Thomas cooperated with the state because they feared prosecution on a charge of carnal knowledge of a juvenile or as a principal to that crime, because of Thomas’ illicit relationship with the minor.

Rome continued that line of attack by zeroing in on Lee’s sexual habits.

He then attacked Lee, who used public housing benefits, for not telling Chancellor about the other man she had at her apartment.

“That’s that Section 8 mentality,” said Rome, referring to the housing program managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It's ‘Let’s get the benefits.’ It’s wrong, y’all. It’s deception. She’s deceiving him, and she’s deceiving you.”

His comments drew an outraged response from Ghai minutes later in his closing statement.

“He doesn’t want to talk to you about the law, or the rules, or what’s happening in this case. He just basically said, ‘Let this man go because this woman is a slut, unworthy of your care,’ ” Ghai said. “That’s unacceptable in 2019.”

Jaquin Thomas will never face trial. A member of the youth choir at his church in Ville Platte, he had been spending the summer with his uncle when the shooting happened, relatives said. His own mother was in prison.

In October 2016, after begging for help for depression, he hanged himself to death in the youth tier of the Orleans Justice Center.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432