A shooting on Bourbon Street that New Orleans police said killed one person and injured nine others early Sunday (Nov. 27) marked the second mass shooting in the French Quarter in two-and-a-half years.
– and –
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Police said Sunday night’s (Nov. 27) gunfire broke out just before 1:40 a.m. near the corner of Bourbon and Iberville streets. A male who was killed died at the hospital, police said.
About five blocks away in the 700 block of Bourbon Street, on June 29, 2014, Brittany Thomas was killed and nine others injured when gunmen opened fire around 2:45 a.m. Trung Le, 22, of Belle Chasse was sentenced April 4 to 60 years in prison for his role in the shooting.
Below is the story reporter Ken Daley wrote in April, when Lee was sentenced. You can also read the full story here.
Trung Le, the Belle Chasse man who started a Bourbon Street gunfight that left a woman dead, nine people wounded and New Orleans’ tourism image scarred in June 2014, was sentenced Monday (April 4, 2016) to 60 years in prison.
Criminal District Court Judge Byron C. Williams imposed the maximum sentence upon Le, 22, who was convicted Jan. 15 of one count of manslaughter and one count of attempted manslaughter. Le faced 20 to 40 years on the first count and up to 20 years on the second. Williams ordered the maximum sentences to be served consecutively.
“Your actions were horrific, callous and calculated,” Williams told Le. “I wish I could have sentenced you to more.”
A jury took less than two hours in January to reject Le’s claim of self-defense and find him culpable in the death of 21-year-old Brittany Thomas. The young nursing student from Hammond was shot in the back of her head as she and others scattered and ran from gunfire exchanged in the 700 block of Bourbon Street at 2:45 a.m. on June 29, 2014.
Le also was convicted of attempted manslaughter for firing the first four shots in what New Orleans police believe was a 15-shot exchange, attempting to hit another gunman who has not been identified or captured. Le’s defense attorney Martin Regan referred to the second shooter as “the unknown terrorist” throughout the trial.
“Calling the unknown shooter a ‘terrorist’ was nothing more than a figment of your imagination,” Williams said as Le stood stone-faced next to Regan on Monday. “Your defense was no better than a drowning man clamoring for a straw.”
Le has been charged separately with one count of obstruction of justice, for allegedly disposing of the gun he fired, which never was recovered. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has not decided whether that case still will go forward.
Bourbon Street shooting leaves 10 wounded, 2 critically, tourism image scarred
New Orleans police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said “two cowardly young men” were responsible for the carnage.
Landrieu: ‘Justice has been served’
The harsh sentence met with the approval of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who following the shooting requested additional Louisiana State Police personnel to help police the French Quarter. That detail has been maintained to this day with financing from an additional tax on purchases in the district.
“With today’s sentencing, justice has been served,” Landrieu said in a statement. “Trung Le’s callous and careless actions left Brittany Thomas brutally murdered and nine others seriously injured. This was a senseless tragedy that was totally unacceptable. Our justice system has sent a clear and resounding message about accountability to the community – if you engage in brazen acts of violence, you will be prosecuted, sentenced and punished to the fullest extent of the law.
‘(Le) now has a decent amount of time to think about what he did and maybe find some remorse.’ — Amy Matthews
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Thomas family. We hope this sentencing brings some sense of closure and helps them to heal and move forward.”
Amy Matthews, the Australian tourist who was shot through her cheek and mouth in the incident that drew worldwide media attention, expressed gratitude for the sentence via text message from her home near Perth.
“This is a fantastic outcome,” Matthews said. “When it comes to gun violence, maximum penalties should be imposed, as the perpetrators need to know that gun violence is unacceptable. His actions affected a lot of people in adverse ways. And he now has a decent amount of time to think about what he did and maybe find some remorse.”
Matthews submitted a letter to Williams, read aloud in court Monday by prosecutor Laura Rodrigue, detailing five surgeries, psychological anguish and suicidal thoughts she has experienced since the incident. She asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
“Trung Le was the person who started this event,” Matthews wrote. “I will never say I hate him, because I don’t know him. But I hate what he did to me and nine other victims.”
Le wanted new trial
The sentencing Monday came after several delays in recent weeks, including las Friday, when Regan argued Le should be entitled to a new trial. He told Williams that his client’s rights to due process and effective counsel were trampled upon, based upon what he claimed were improper statements made during prosecutors’ closing arguments. Regan also cited a state Supreme Court ruling that found Le was not entitled to a list of witnesses as early as he wanted.
“The inability for me to be properly prepared demands a new trial,” Regan said.
Williams denied the request for new trial Friday, finding Regan failed to demonstrate an injustice or prejudicial error affecting Le.
Regan argued at trial that Le acted in defense of himself and his small group of friends, who admittedly were dealing marijuana that night in the French Quarter. Regan insisted Le only pulled his gun after the unknown second shooter raised a pistol toward Le’s friends and said, “I’ve got a .40 for you.” But the only witnesses who supported this version of events were Le’s friends, Robert Benvenuti and Justin Odom, and the jury was unconvinced.
Regan, asking the judge for leniency Monday, said, “(Le’s) intentions were good, although they caused a lot of damage at the end of the day.”
At trial, jurors repeatedly were shown a grainy surveillance camera video that captured the gunfire exchange. Regan implored jurors to see a gun in the other man’s hand when he raised his arm in a gesture toward Le’s group. But NOPD Lt. Nicholas Gernon and homicide detective Bruce Brueggeman each testified that no gun was visible. After the man’s arm gesture, the video showed six seconds elapse before Bourbon Street revelers began to scatter and fall as the first shots from Le rang out.
Only after Le fired four times with his 9mm gun in the second man’s direction, Gernon testified, can the other shooter be seen returning fire with 11 shots from a .40-caliber handgun, one of which struck Thomas in the head.
Le fled state after shooting
Le’s self-defense claim also wasn’t helped by his actions in the aftermath of the shooting. Instead of staying at the scene to explain his conduct to authorities, Le escaped to the West Bank to retrieve a shotgun, then fled to Mississippi. A manhunt for Le ended five days after the shooting when U.S. Marshals and Harrison County deputy sheriffs captured him hiding out at a friend’s house near
Le did not testify in his own defense. But prosecutors Rodrigue and Tiffany Tucker gave jurors a peek at his mindset when they introduced two notes recovered from Le’s cellphone, typed into the device while he was on the lam in Mississippi.
The first entry read: “Stay faithful. Can’t believe that people die so young and don’t know why that I feel so numb. The devil sitting on me. I’m just tryna knock him off but all them times he got the best of me. Lord, temptations is all around me. God feel like I should just blast myself but somehow I could this light and that’s what be getting me up. Just gotta be faithful. And God, please forgive your son for he has sinned enough time to burn in hell for longer than any time imagined. Cause he who asked for forgiveness will be saved. God is good, God is great forever and ever. Amen”
The second entry read: “Lord, forgive me for I am a sinner. I have disobeyed the laws of the Holy Bible. For that reason, I should burn in hell for eternity, if not longer. But I’m here asking for your mercy and forgiveness to give my soul peace for the afterlife and to give those who I have hurt freedom as well. God is good. He is great. Forever and ever. Amen.”
Regan told jurors the notes were indicative only of what a deeply religious person his client is.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Le did not fire the .40-caliber bullet that killed Thomas. But Tucker said in her closing argument, “His actions were a clear, contributing factor in causing her death. But for him firing that night on Bourbon Street, Brittany would still be here today.”