At first, Antionette Fortune told police someone else had shot her boyfriend, that he had stumbled in from the street with a bullet already lodged in his head.
But under questioning by a New Orleans homicide detective, her story changed. They were in a fight over her alleged infidelity, she said. A Twitter notification from her phone sounded to her boyfriend like a message from the other guy, and in the scuffle that ensued, Fortune pulled a gun.
“F*** it," Fortune finally blurted to the detective, according to Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue. "You want to know the truth? I’ll tell you the truth. I killed him."
Fortune, 31, went on trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Thursday, almost six years and at least 76 court hearings after she was booked on second-degree murder.
In opening statements, prosecutors painted a picture of a violent, deceptive woman, while defense attorneys insisted that she acted in self-defense.
Both sides agreed that Fortune lied to a 911 operator and the first officer on the scene after her boyfriend, Brandon Butler, was shot inside their 7th Ward home the day after Christmas in 2011.
Fortune first claimed that Butler entered the house in 2100 block of Hope Street with a bullet in his head after being shot by an unknown assailant outside. She repeated that story after Detective Ryan Vaught took her to police headquarters for an interview, Rodrigue told the jury.
Then Vaught had Fortune take a test for gunshot residue. The results were positive. He also faced her with the fact that two shell casings were found inside the house, not outside.
That's when Fortune finally confessed to killing Butler, the prosecutor said. She then went on to offer an explanation.
Fortune said she and her boyfriend had been in an argument earlier in the day. He left the house and returned high on “lean,” an illicit mixture of codeine and soda. The pair got back at it again over the claim that she had cheated.
The argument intensified when Fortune’s phone chimed at just the wrong moment with a notification from Twitter. Butler thought it was a message from the other man and grew more irate.
Fortune said that as she laughed at her boyfriend's rage, he grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her off the sofa. At that point, she reached for a gun hidden under the sofa cushion, she said.
The pair struggled and Fortune fired a shot. The gun fell on the floor and went off again, she said.
“She says she didn’t actually mean to shoot him. She just wanted to scare him,” Rodrigue said. “But she admits that she fired the shot.”
Although Fortune’s story suggested the fatal bullet may have come from the accidental shot from the floor, Rodrigue said an autopsy showed it was a level shot. In addition, only one shell casing was found in the front den where Butler died. The other was found in the couple’s bedroom, she said.
“He doesn’t get to say a thing. He is silenced. But the strongest evidence is going to be the physical evidence,” Rodrigue said.
Fortune also had a history of domestic violence, Rodrigue said. She once pointed an assault rifle toward another woman. Charges in that case were dismissed, but in another incident in Texas, she was convicted of repeatedly stabbing her aunt in the head.
Defense attorney Marcus DeLarge said in his opening statement that while Fortune hasn’t always lived up to her nickname of “Angel,” she is no demon.
DeLarge told the jury that Fortune’s father died when she was 12, though she still managed to graduate from high school and earn some college credits.
The defense lawyer said jurors should not allow Fortune’s prior arrests to “muddy the waters,” though he acknowledged that her first story to police was “fabricated.”
“But later that same afternoon, Dec. 26 of 2011, Antionette goes to the police headquarters and she gives a statement. … Antionette comes clean,” DeLarge said.
He said the prosecution glossed over the crucial point in Fortune’s final confession to the detective.
“What the state failed to tell you is that he put his hand around her neck,” DeLarge said. “Her actions were justified because her life was in danger.”