Man shot, killed Saturday in Metairie had been selling marijuana, Sheriff’s Office says _lowres

Photo provided by friend Niesha Gloyd-Sorenson of Metairie shooting victim Ryan Saffrhan. ORG XMIT: ajrfDCWDrndJbDYdTIrz

A Jefferson Parish jury found Darren Lloyd, 21, not guilty of second-degree murder Thursday night, taking four hours to reject the state's case that he killed a French Quarter restaurant worker found shot to death in Metairie in January 2016.

Ryan Saffrhan was found slumped over a seat in a 2001 Nissan Xterra in the 500 block of North Elm Street on Jan. 16, 2016.

Authorities said he had been shot once in the chest when he returned to the neighborhood after being robbed there earlier in the day while selling marijuana.

Lloyd was charged with the crime five months later, along with Christon Tumblin and Ira Brown, who have yet to be tried.

Jurors acquitted Lloyd of the murder charge but found him guilty of illegally possessing a weapon. 

During closing arguments, defense attorney Lena Hinton said the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office was trying to pin the murder on Lloyd based largely on the word of Edward McMillan, the man believed to have robbed Saffrhan earlier that day.

Hinton, who defended Lloyd along with Jerome Matthews, pointed out that the grandmother of McMillan’s girlfriend testified that McMillan came to their house 10 minutes after the shots were heard to pick up her granddaughter, who she testified was sleeping at the time.

The granddaughter, Lyric Leaving, later told investigators she had seen Lloyd shoot Saffrhan but couldn’t say it again on the witness stand.

In addition to the testimony that she was asleep at the time of the shooting, Hinton pointed out that Leaving told investigators that two shots were fired through an open car door when Saffrhan was in fact shot once through a closed car window.

Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute dismissed the “wrong man” theory advanced by the defense, noting that JPSO Det. Melvin Francis Jr. actually tried to get an arrest warrant for McMillan from the court but couldn’t because there wasn’t enough evidence against him.

He said investigators simply followed the evidence where it led them.

Hinton attacked the testimony of Ronald McKnight, who testified that Lloyd told him in a holding cell that he had shot Saffrhan in self-defense. Hinton said Lloyd had never met McKnight, a five-time felon who Hinton said was facing at least 20 years in prison but got only three years in exchange for his testimony.

Hinton told jurors to remember there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, no murder weapon was found and no physical evidence connected Lloyd to the crime, only inconsistent statements by witnesses forced to testify.

Shute and fellow Assistant DA Zachary Popovich said any hesitance or discrepancies between what witnesses told deputies and what they said on the stand stemmed from their fear of Lloyd, noting that many would not make eye contact with him.

“You do not get a free pass because the people who saw you do it don’t have the courage to come in here and say you did it,” Popovich told jurors during closing arguments.

Hinton said the only fear the witnesses had was of going to jail if they didn’t testify, noting that one witness was a girl in high school who had never been to jail before.

Shute said during closing arguments that prosecutors don’t get to choose who witnesses a crime and that jurors had to make their own decisions about the veracity of the testimony.

They did, acquitting Lloyd shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday before Judge Lee Faulkner in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.