Grand jury rejects murder charges for suspects accused of SU students' deaths

Published: Sep. 21, 2016 at 7:43 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2017 at 6:28 PM CDT
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Annette January and Leshuntae Benton (Source: Southern University Young Alumni Network Facebook)
Annette January and Leshuntae Benton (Source: Southern University Young Alumni Network Facebook)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A complicated case has unraveled after a grand jury rejected murder charges against two men accused of killing two Southern University students.

Annette January and Lashuntae Benton, both Southern University students, died after they were shot outside The Cottages apartment complex on April 10, 2016. A third person was also injured but survived the shooting.

Brandon Henderson, 25, and Ernest Felton, 23, were both arrested and charged with their deaths.

"This is a very tragic and complicated case," said District Attorney Hillar Moore III. "Two young innocent ladies lost their lives during the exchange of gun fire.  Not only was the crime scene complicated, but the number of witnesses and the difference in the recollection of the events under a very tense situation made the case even more difficult."

The complication comes into play when trying to determine whether or not they can be charged with murder. Investigators say they do not believe the victims were their intended targets, however, both men were charged with murder.

A grand jury failed to side with the prosecution.

"The Grand Jury heard all of the evidence and worked very hard and were diligent in doing the right thing under the circumstances," Moore said. " We respect the Grand Jury's decision. We applaud the extraordinary effort put forth in the investigation of this case by the BRPS and LSP crime lab."

The case was presented to a grand jury on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Both men were facing two counts of second-degree murder. Neither were indicted on those charges, which means the prosecution cannot move forward.

So what happens now?

In the case of Brandon Henderson, the grand jury decided that he cannot be tried for murder, but he can stand trial for aggravated assault with a firearm.

In the case of Ernest Felton, the grand jury took no action against any of the charges against him. The grand jury pretermitted his case, which essentially means that his charges are in limbo.

A pretermitted case does not excuse the defendant from the charges, rather, the charges against that person are placed on hold. The only way the case can move forward is if the prosecution takes the case back to a grand jury with new evidence.

The decision of a grand jury does not determine whether or not a suspect is innocent or guilty. A grand jury is only presented the evidence from the prosecution so that they can decide whether or not there is enough evidence to move forward.

"Our heart go out to the families of these young ladies," Moore concluded. "Their families will continue to seek justice.  We ask that If any one has any information to please contact the BRPD homicide division, Crime Stoppers or the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's office."


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