Hours after she testified that it was an accident, a jury Friday night convicted a New Orleans woman of manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend during a fight over a tweet.
Antionette Fortune, 31, had been charged with second-degree murder. Jurors found her guilty of the lesser count after she described the last minutes of Brandon Butler’s life in 2011 before she grabbed a gun and sent a bullet into his head.
“The gun went off in the heat of the moment,” Fortune said on the second day of her trial before ad hoc Judge Donald Johnson in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. “My plan was never to shoot, because in my mind the gun was still on safety.”
During hours of testimony, Fortune described a sexual exchange with another man on Twitter that sent Butler into a fit of rage. She said she reached for the gun only to ward him off after he began choking her.
Prosecutors told the jury that forensic evidence, Fortune’s original lies to police and her prior conviction for stabbing an aunt in the head all pointed to a different explanation. They said Fortune was not choked and that she shot Butler on purpose as he tried to escape their 7th Ward home.
“She pulled the trigger two times. Guns don’t just go off, ladies and gentlemen, although I know she said that on the stand a couple times. Guns go off when people pull the trigger,” Assistant District Attorney Sarah Dawkins said in her closing statement.
The shooting happened in the 2100 block of Hope Street on the day after Christmas in 2011. The groundwork for it was laid a month before, when Butler kicked in her door during an earlier argument, Fortune said.
Butler — who she said was a drug dealer — had not been violent before, but he seemed to be changing, she said.
Then, early on the morning after Christmas, she was sitting in the front room of her house on her sofa with her phone open to Twitter. She said she was exchanging messages with another man, whom she intended to sleep with that night. He sent her a picture of his penis.
Fortune dozed off and awoke to find Butler flipping through the messages on her phone, she said.
“ 'So that’s what it is with this n*****?’ ” he told her, Fortune said. “And I’m like, 'I’m not about to argue with you.' ”
She said Fortune grabbed the phone back and dashed off a warning to her paramour: “caught red-handed.”
The confrontation ended when the couple went to sleep in separate rooms, Fortune said. But later in the day Butler walked into the house just as she was tweeting again.
She said her phone chimed with a message from Butler’s sister, asking her if she wanted food from Manchu, a Chinese food and chicken wings restaurant. But Butler assumed it was the other man again, she said.
“He like lunges towards me and tries to grab my phone,” she said. “He grabs my neck and he’s like trying to choke me.”
Fortune said that was when she grabbed Butler’s gun from beneath the sofa cushion and it went off, killing him.
The prosecution sought to show on cross-examination that if the shooting was accidental, it could hardly have been the act of a woman in fear for her life.
Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue, Fortune said she didn't think she needed to shoot Butler to make him stop.
Her plan was never to shoot him, only to get him off her, she said.
“I didn’t want to place him in fear. I just wanted to calm him down,” Fortune said.
Prosecutors pointed to that testimony as proof that the shooting was unjustified. They also said there were two shell casings in the house, one in a bedroom separate from where Butler died. Finally, they said, Fortune’s conviction for stabbing her aunt in the head in the middle of a family squabble in 2009 showed that she solved her problems with violence.
Fortune’s defense attorney, John Fuller, said in his closing statement that the 30 police officers on the crime scene could easily have kicked the second shell casing into the second room.
Despite Fortune’s criminal history, there is no justification for a man putting his hands around a woman’s neck, Fuller shouted as he paced the courtroom.
“The truth is the truth is the truth no matter who the victim,” Fuller said. “She has a right not to be choked, and we wouldn’t want that to happen to our sister or our mother.”
Fortune will be sentenced Oct. 27. She faces from 20 to 80 years in prison.