His withered body propped up on a medical bed, a paraplegic shooting victim took square aim at the federal government’s star witness as the victim testified remotely this week during the federal court trial of 10 accused "39'ers" gang members.
Percy Baker said that detailed claims the witness, Gregory “Rabbit” Stewart, has made — about telling Baker he'd just killed another man in New Orleans East to revenge Baker’s own maiming in 2009 — were false.
In fact, Baker testified that he has never even met Stewart, who has admitted to killing 13 people as the top hitman for the 39'ers, although both grew up in the former Florida housing project.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will make their closing arguments Monday in the sprawling case against the 39'ers, which authorities describe as a once-fearsome alliance of violent drug clans from Central City and the Upper 9th Ward.
Each of the 10 defendants is accused of a role in at least one killing on behalf of the group, and each faces firearms conspiracy and other charges that could land them decades, if not life, in federal prison.
As jurors wade through a daunting spread of wiretaps, ballistics reports and witness statements produced during a month of testimony, prosecutors are counting on the words of five cooperating witnesses to tie it all together with the details they've provided on the alleged motives, back stories and triggermen behind 15 murders.
But defense attorneys on Thursday called several witnesses of their own to suggest that three of those cooperators — Stewart, Darryl "Breezy" Franklin and Washington “Big Wash” McCaskill — have all lied in a bid to cut decades off their own sentences.
Baker testified via video link from his home for what U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey described as "obvious reasons." But he may have left the most lasting impression of any defense witness, appearing before the jury on a big screen.
His arms have both shriveled down to stubs as a result of an Oct. 9, 2009, shooting near the former Florida complex.
He said in court that he had no idea who shot at him and his young son that day.
“I heard rumors from a lot of different people,” he said.
On Feb. 22, 2010, Kendall Tyrone Faibvre was shot to death outside a house in New Orleans East. Stewart claims that he committed the killing along with defendants Alonzo “Woo-dee” Peters, Ashton “Pound” Price and Jasmine “Rell” Perry in revenge for the attack months earlier on Baker.
"After the shooting, we went by his house, like, the next day and we were talking about it," Stewart testified about the purported visit to Baker's home. "So I told him, 'Son, you know, we handled that.' I'm like, 'It wasn't the dude who shot you, but it's one of his friends. They gonna cry behind that.' "
"How did Percy react to that?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Myles Ranier asked.
"He just was, like, saying, 'Thank you.' "
But Baker, in a series of monosyllabic answers to questions from Billy Sothern, the attorney for defendant Evans Lewis, claimed the conversation never happened.
He also denied knowing Stewart or Price. Baker said he knew Peters, but that Peters never came to him saying he had killed for him.
Stewart testified that Peters wasn't usually a killer but was forced to kill Faibvre to stick up for his paralyzed friend.
Earlier in the trial, Franklin testified that he learned about Faibvre's slaying because "it was Jasmine Perry's first time catching a body. So you're going to brag about it. It's like when you go to the prom that night or getting your diploma or whatever."
Ranier, during cross-examination, sought to show that Baker might have reasons of his own for lying about the events that led up to his shooting. He said that Baker was driving a Pontiac Grand Prix owned by Ernest Diaz, a convicted heroin trafficker.
“You had about $1,000 cash on you when you were shot?” Ranier asked.
“I don’t think I had that much,” Baker said.
"You agree that what happened to you was horrible and cruel, correct?" Ranier said.
"Right," Baker replied.
“Did you ever try and find out what happened to you?” Ranier asked.
“I mean, I’ve been in this position ever since. All I can do is ask,” Baker said.
Over four unrepentant days on the witness stand in the federal "39'ers" gang racketeering tr…
His testimony came shortly after an appearance on the witness stand by Camry Moore, a 23-year-old convicted killer who has spent months in the Tangipahoa and St. Tammany Parish jails with several alleged 39'ers.
Moore hates snitches. He said as much on the stand. He had already proved his point in May 2013, however, when he shot and killed a man who was providing the Kenner Police Department with information on his crack cocaine operation.
Moore was sentenced to 30 years in that case last month and will soon be shipped off to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons. Clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, he provided detailed accounts of life in parish jails with the onetime members of the 39'ers.
Franklin and McCaskill both had contraband cellphones that they used, frequently, to chat with Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurice Landrieu, Moore said.
Moore said he remembered the moment when Franklin, his cellmate of two months, told him he planned to follow in the path of Stewart and turn state’s evidence.
“He was just saying that like Rabbit lied on him to get out of jail, so he was going to lie on the rest of the people,” Moore said. “He called it a 'get out of jail free coupon.' You know like, in the newspaper they have coupons and you get stuff free? That’s what he was basically saying.”
“If things are sort of looking bad, you should tell them something they want to hear, to help yourself out,” Franklin counseled him, according to Moore.
Attorneys for the 10 defendants have suggested an overly cozy relationship between Landrieu, a brother of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office, and Stewart, whose chilling accounts of murder after murder, placing specific guns in the hands of his former associates, stand at the center of the federal racketeering case.
McCaskill, meanwhile, cut an odd figure during the time the two spent together at the jail in St. Tammany Parish, Moore said. Most days McCaskill smoked “mojo” — synthetic marijuana — and seemed to live “in another world.”
“He felt like he lost his swag. He felt like his life was gone, like he couldn’t be the person he was before,” Moore said.
Playing ball in the yard, Moore said, he would sometimes overhear McCaskill huddling with Rico Jackson and Tyrone “T-Bone” Knockum. All three men pleaded guilty in the 39'ers case and testified at a trial that will enter its sixth week Monday.
They were concocting a plan to get back home, Moore said.
One morning at breakfast, Moore said, he told McCaskill that he was going to take his lick — 30 years in prison. McCaskill reacted in disbelief, he said.
“He was like, ‘Man, you tripping, man,’ ” Moore said. “ 'Man, I be talking to Maurice.' ”
It began in 2010 with a single wiretap on the phone of a mid-level drug dealer, Montreal Delaney.
Zainey has yet to sentence McCaskill following his guilty plea in the 39'ers case, but he's already serving an 80-year state sentence. His testimony in the current trial marked his second stint on the witness stand in hopes of paring down that prison time.
An admitted five-time killer, McCaskill testified last year in a state trial that brought a conviction and 100-year prison sentence for Kentrell "Black" Hickerson, a leader of Central City's notorious "3NG" gang.
Prosecutors say the 39'ers were an alliance of 3NG, "G-Strip" from Gallier Street in the Upper 9th Ward, and associates from the Florida project.
McCaskill, an admitted 3NG member, has acknowledged lying to a federal agent when he once claimed he bought drugs from Kevin Jackson, a cousin and co-defendant of notorious Central City cocaine kingpin Telly Hankton.
But Ranier, the prosecutor, argued that Moore was the one lying in this case and suggested he needed to do it to protect himself in jail.
“Isn’t it true you’re lying here today on Darryl Franklin and Washington McCaskill because you’re in jail with these 10 guys?” Ranier asked.
“No, sir,” Moore replied.
“How much do you weigh, 150 pounds?” Ranier asked, drawing a contrast to the big-boned men crowded around the defense table.
“160,” Moore shot back.
“You don’t like rats, do you?” Rainier said.
“No, sir. Especially lying ones,” Moore said.
Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report.
Whoever killed those 17 people fired a lot of guns, repeatedly.