Two years later: Families of 65 murder victims seek justice

Two years later: Families of 65 murder victims seek justice

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Sixty-five people were murdered in East Baton Rouge Parish in 2014. Each death was marked by a headline and countless people were left behind to ask the question, "who did this and why?"

Who were the victims?

Six were female, including the youngest victim, who was 2-years-old, and the oldest, who was 82-years-old. In both cases the victim died from some sort of abuse or neglect.

Out of all of the victims, eight were between the ages of 0-17 years old, 30 were between 18-29 years old; 15 were between 30-39 years old, and 12 were between 40-82 years old.

Fifty-five of the murder victims died from gunshot wounds. Two died from stab wounds. The remaining victims died from blunt force trauma.

Once the cause of death is ruled a homicide by the coroner, it becomes the job of law enforcement to find out who was responsible. But how many families will even get to begin the process?

At least 19 investigations from 2014 are currently open with no named motive or suspect. That means that roughly 70 percent of the 2014 murders were listed as "closed." That percentage is called the clearance rate, and 70 percent is higher than the national average, according to the FBI.

Most of the 2014 victims who were not "cleared" are now classified as "cold cases."

"In general it takes 12 months of no new leads or activity for us to classify a homicide as a 'cold case,'" said Lt. Jonathan Dunnam, a representative for the Baton Rouge Police Department. "[They are classified as cold cases] when all leads have been exhausted and nothing new is developed or called in to Crime Stoppers. 'Cold cases' are still worked by the detectives when new information is gathered."

An additional case has a named suspect, but that individual has not been located. Out of 65 cases, only 46 were closed by investigators.

Two motives were more common than any other. They include domestic incidents and robberies. Twelve of the 65 murders are believed to be the result of some sort of domestic situation.

Two murder investigations were quickly closed because it is believed the victims shot and killed each other. Those men were Tevin Crump, 19, and Lester Reed, 32. The shooting happened on November 23, 2014 in the 5300 block of Washington Court.

Arrests were made in the remaining 44 cases.

This is the point when the criminal justice system begins its long process to either secure a conviction or set the accused free.  The first major step in that process is to take the case to a grand jury.

"All homicides must go to grand jury," explains District Attorney Hillar Moore.

There are three possible outcomes from a grand jury: an indictment (the case can move forward), no true bill (the suspect is released without prejudice), or the case is pretermitted (the suspect is released with prejudice).

Of all the 2014 cases brought to the grand jury in 2014, only one came back with "no true bill." In that case, the Baker Police Department arrested Kenard Gaines and charged him with second-degree murder for the death of Kortlon Johnson. After the case went to the grand jury, investigators reviewed the evidence and closed the case as a "justified shooting."

More common than a "no true bill" is a pretermitted case. Its ruling means the grand jury believes there is not enough evidence to move forward, but yet enough evidence to continue the investigation.

"If [a case is] pretermitted [the case] can be taken back [to a grand jury] at any time, but depends if further evidence is developed sufficient to take it back," says Moore.

When a case is pretermitted, the state can no longer legally hold a suspect in jail. Out of the 45 murder investigations presented to a grand jury, cases against seven suspects were pretermitted.

The suspects who had cases pretermitted include Antonio Switzer, Cedric Glasper, Brandon White, Larry Paul, Brian Hines, Marcus Dominique, and Kendric Cloud.

The case against Kendric Cloud is unique. A second suspect, Lemark Cloud, was indicted in the case. Kendric Cloud was accused of pulling the trigger during the shooting and Lemark was charged with accessory for driving the alleged getaway car.

The case against Kendric cannot move forward, but a February trial date has been set for Lemark Cloud.

When a case is pretermitted, it is technically re-classified as an open case. That data, however, is not reflected in the official statistics provided to the FBI database, which means the clearance rate is not truly accurate.

"The [suspects]…which were pretermitted are still listed as cleared by arrest according to UCR status," an investigator with the Baton Rouge Police Department said in an email response to questions about the cases. "However, anytime a case is pretermitted the detectives look at the case and attempt to gather new or additional information on the case."

By this point in the legal process, out of 65 murder investigations for 2014, only 37 cases were pushed forward.

Four of those cases have been finalized with a plea deal or verdict.

One out of the four resolved cases ended with a "not guilty" verdict. The suspect, Tajh Harris, opted to have the case heard by a judge rather than a jury, which is not common when a mandatory life sentence is on the line. In this case Judge Trudy White ruled that the state had not proved its case.

The three remaining cases concluded with plea deals.

The first involved four suspects: Michael Taylor, II; James Dean; Devin Dean; and Kimberly Dean. The four were arrested for starting a street fight that resulted in the beating death of Michael Taylor, Sr., 52. It happened on Convention Street on New Year's Day.

The case was assigned to Judge Trudy White.

Michael Taylor, II, the son of the victim, was charged with attempted second-degree murder. He accepted a plea deal in July 2015 for a reduced charge of illegally carrying of a weapon. He was sentenced to 6 months supervised probation.

James Dean was originally charged with second-degree murder. With his plea deal, he accepted an amended charge of negligent homicide. He was sentenced to 3 years supervised probation.

Devin Dean was charged with inciting a riot. Charges against him were dismissed.

Kimberly Dean was also charged with inciting a riot. She too accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 3 years supervised probation.

The second case was against Jamal Variste, who was 18-years-old when he shot and killed 18-year-old Devonta Jenks in the 4300 block of Denham Street.

The case was assigned to Judge Richard Anderson.

Variste was originally charged with second-degree murder. In June 2015, Variste took a plea deal to an amended charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 35-years in prison.

The third case involved a 16-year-old male who shot and killed 14-year-old Brandon Bindon on North 48th Street.

Because the suspect was a minor when the crime occurred, laws prevent his name from being released to the public. However, we do know the juvenile accepted a plea deal. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but his charge was amended to illegal use of a weapon. He was sentenced to probation.

An additional case ended with the death of the suspect.

William Jackson, 40, was indicted for the death of Lakeisha Duncan, 32. Although he was originally charged with second-degree murder, the grand jury returned an indictment for manslaughter. That happened 287 days after his arrest.

Shortly after his indictment, Jackson took his own life.

Thirty-two cases continue to make their way through the judicial system. Of those, 15 cases have a tentative trial date scheduled in 2016. The remaining 17 cases are still in the discovery phase. None of the cases are being considered for the death penalty.

Copyright 2015 WAFB. All rights reserved.