Pegging Kentrell "Black" Hickerson as the guy who pumped seven bullets into Alvin Wilson's head seemed like a good idea to Mark "Baby Nu" Brooks, at the time. Brooks had just been arrested in connection with a shooting on the St. Charles Avenue parade route on Fat Tuesday in 2009. The gunfire left seven people wounded and drew a national news spotlight.
It took less than two weeks for Brooks to give up Hickerson for a crime that took place eight months earlier, on June 29, 2008.
Brooks told police he saw Hickerson, an alleged member of the notorious 3-N-G gang, approach Wilson about 11:30 a.m. at South Prieur and First streets, in what looked like a drug transaction, then fire away.
But in an Orleans Parish courtroom this week, Brooks told a much different story. Yanked into court on a $300,000 material witness bond, he recanted his earlier statement, saying he didn't see Hickerson do any shooting.
That left prosecutors in District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office with just one other witness --: a woman with her own criminal troubles who was expecting leniency for her testimony -- and little by way of physical evidence.
On Wednesday, it took a jury about five hours to acquit Hickerson, 32, in the murder. A spokesman for Cannizzaro's office declined to comment on whether prosecutors intend to charge Brooks with perjury.
The acquittal marked an abrupt end to a case that lingered for more than three years since Hickerson's arrest, with tentacles that reach to some of the city's best-known criminal cases.
While Hickerson sat in jail, federal agents with the help of New Orleans police have hammered away at 3-N-G -- named for their stomping grounds at 3rd and Galvez streets -- sending several of its members away on lengthy prison terms.
Among them, Kenric Rodney, a top gang leader, was sentenced a year ago in federal court to 30 years on drug charges.
In 2010, 3-N-G dealer Danquell Miller was sentenced to 25 years. His associates, brothers Dalton and Lance Bennett, got life sentences.
Jerome "Man-Man" Hampton was gunned down last December, and Ivory Brandon "B-Stupid" Harris is serving a 25-year prison stint for his role in a pair of killings.
Chris "Boogie" McCann, is serving a 6 1/2-year federal sentence for a gun charge. Police said they found the gun used to kill Wilson with McCann, according to testimony.
McCann and Hickerson's girlfriend, Christin Grady, 26, also were charged with Hickerson in Wilson's killing, but prosecutors dropped murder and criminal street gang charges against them.
Grady pleaded guilty to a charge of accessory after the fact in August and awaits sentencing.
Authorities have said 3-N-G's rivalry with another group led to the 2009 Mardi Gras shooting that resulted in Brooks' arrest. And according to court records in the Hickerson case, that rivalry stemmed from Wilson's murder.
Brooks, now 23, told federal agents that Wilson's murder "caused Mark Brooks and some of his other associates to distance themselves from the members of 3-N-G as a feud started between these two groups," according to the factual basis behind a plea deal with Brooks.
Brooks was found with a fully loaded weapon, and federal authorities agreed that the evidence showed he did not fire his weapon in the Mardi Gras melee.
Brooks pleaded guilty in 2010 to a federal gun possession count stemming from the Mardi Gras gunfire. He was released Aug. 20. is now out of prison, a relatively short stint that appears to have been aided by the fact that the cop who tackled him on Mardi Gras, Lt. Michael Lohman, was a key figure in the Danziger Bridge shootings.
According to records, Hickerson and Wilson knew each other from the neighborhood. Wilson hung around the nearby Calliope public housing complex, now B.W. Cooper, and wore a "CP3" tattoo, his mother said.
"They didn't have any beef. They didn't have any arguments," said his mother, Christine Hampton. "Alvin had just gave Kentrell a hug. That's the type of person he was. He would hug you and stuff, ask you, 'How you doing? Are you straight?'"
Hickerson, prosecutors alleged, wasn't at all straight.
Court records show that police thought he killed Wilson because Wilson refused to provide an affidavit taking the rap for drug slinging and weapons charges against Dalton Bennett.
The drug charges against Bennett were from an arrest on Feb. 19, 2008, four months before Wilson's murder.
But little about Hickerson's affiliation with 3-N-G materialized during the one-day murder trial this week. It came largely through Ashley Brooks, who is no relation to Mark Brooks. She testified that Hickerson was 3-N-G, and also that she saw the shooting. But her testimony about how far away she stood conflicted with what she first told police.
Prosecutors argued that it was only because she didn't know the street names. The jury apparently didn't buy it.
Hickerson's attorneys largely focused on Brooks, the motive behind his original statement and the fact he testified involuntarily. "The state had to drag him into court. They had to arrest him to get him in here," said defense attorney Amy Yacorzynski. "He knows he lied to frame someone else for this crime, because he was facing a lot of years (in the Mardi Gras shooting). Hundreds of years. He was going to save his own skin."
In the end, it didn't matter, once Brooks backed away from his story. The delay in the trial rankled Wilson's mother. So did the fact that Cannizzaro's office dropped criminal street gang charges against Hickerson and the others.
"I feel like they didn't argue on my son's behalf and they waited too long. A lot of evidence wasn't even introduced. They never made (Hickerson) look like he was a gang member," Hampton said. "It's a slap, a kick, a punch in my stomach."
She said Wilson left behind two daughters, one who was only 2 months old when he was killed. The other daughter, she said, is now 9. "She looks in the mirror every morning and talks. She says she's talking to him," Hampton said. "She's just having a hard time coping with her father not being in her life."
Christopher Bowman, a Cannizzaro spokesman, defended their prosecution of a murder case that proved challenging, with a key witness recanting and thin physical evidence. "When we proceed to trial, we proceed with the strongest case that we can," Bowman said."This was a case where we had evidence that this individual was responsible for the murder. We played the hand we were dealt."
Defense attorney Jeffrey Smith took a different view, calling the case against Hickerson weak. "They brought two witnesses. That was the entirety. We don't even know whether either of them were really there," Smith said. "They had rumor and innuendo. I guess maybe they thought about keeping him off the streets. They call it doing DA time."
Hickerson will remain in jail a while longer. He still faces an obstruction charge that is likely to go away, Smith said, and a simple criminal damage to property charge from an incident during his time in jail. That case remains unresolved.
Title: Orleans Parish jury acquits alleged 3-N-G gangster in 2008 murder
John Simerman, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By John Simerman, NOLA.com
November 09, 2012 at 7:58 PM, updated November 09, 2012 at 10:06 PM