NEW ORLEANS – A jury found Telly Hankton, once called the city's most dangerous criminal, guilty of second-degree murder in the 2008 slaying of a man on Claiborne Avenue.
The jurors took about three hours to return the 10-2 verdict Friday. Sentencing is set for Thursday.
Hankton was convicted of killing Darnell Stewart on May 13, 2008 near the intersection of Claiborne Avenue and Louisiana Avenue.
One of the members of the Hankton family told Eyewitness News she still believes Hankton is innocent.
"Like I said, God is a God of life and death, and so he gives life and he takes it," she said. "I'm happy that he's alive."
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro applauded prosecutors after the verdict came down, but said the city must remain vigilant as it continues to battle crime.
"Hankton's been in jail for several years now, and there is still a lot of violence that's going on in this community, so his removal from that Uptown area has really not stopped the violence," Cannizzaro said. "We're going to take him off the streets for the rest of his life, but there are other people out there, there are other people that are still involved in the guns and violence."
Hankton’s first trial ended in a hung jury, and following that non-decision two women who had given Hankton an alibi for the night of the killing were charged with perjury.
The verdict came after an unusual couple of days in court that included a request to move the superintendent of the NOPD, a person trying to sneak in to the courtroom through the juror’s entrance and the emotional testimony of an eyewitness following a denial to clear the courtroom for his safety.
The highlight of Friday’s testimony came from an eyewitness who said he was scared for his life. Prosecutors tried to have the courtroom cleared of non-essential personnel for his testimony, but it was denied by the judge.
In the early afternoon, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas showed up to observe the end of the trial. He sat in the front row, which prompted a complaint by the defense that Serpas was trying to intimidate the jury. They asked that he be moved further back in the courtroom, and the judge denied that request as well.
“Tonight's verdict is an indication of what can happen when the community, the NOPD, and prosecutors rally together and cooperate fully to make our city safer," Serpas said in a released statement, adding that "New Orleans is a safer city tonight because Telly Hankton is off the streets."
The crucial eyewitness on the stand Friday stated he saw two cars, apparently in a chase, race past him. He said he saw a car slam into Stewart and send him flying so violently that his shoes came off.
The witness said he was scared and pulled over. He said he saw the suspect shoot Stewart ten times. When asked how he knew the amount of shots, he replied that he had kept count.
He also said he was very focused on the scene as a man walked past him with a gun. He said that he wanted to make sure that if he were shot, he could describe the man who shot him.
"I really didn't want to die," he said. "I was watching him so hard. I didn't want to leave my wife alone. I wanted to make sure if something happened, someone would be able to do something. I was so scared."
The eyewitness later pointed out Hankton as the man he saw shoot Stewart that night.
In another bizarre incident Thursday, a spokesman for court security says a woman posed as a juror and tried to get in through the jury entrance. The woman had told security she left her badge in the jury room.
She was given a summons for security breach and never got inside. She later said she didn't want to face news cameras at the main entrance.
Officials wouldn't confirm if it was a Hankton family member.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement:
“This verdict today sends a strong statement that when the community comes together and when witnesses come forward, justice can be served. We are committed to getting the city's most violent criminals off the streets. Telly Hankton terrorized people on the streets of New Orleans for too long. I congratulate the NOPD, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, our criminal justice partners, and the community for working together to get one of New Orleans' most feared criminals off the streets for good. Now it’s time for us to get back to work to help end the cycle of violence once and for all.”