NEW ORLEANS -- Brandy Keenan was a troubled young woman. Battling drug addiction, the 38-year-old mother of five had been arrested several times because of her habit.
Her spontaneous trips to New Orleans were usually greeted with anxiety by the rest of her family back in Bogalusa. Last September, Keenan’s grandmother Dorothy Courtois begged her not to go.
“We often worried about it,” Courtois said. “That she might get hurt down there, get put back in jail or something like that. But we never thought that she'd be murdered.”
Tragically, that’s exactly what happened.
What Keenan couldn't have known was that she would run into a man with criminal troubles far greater than her own.
According to police, the trouble came from 29-year-old Briceson Carter.
Records show that Briceson Carter bounced around the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish as a kid, living at different addresses, especially after his mother died of cancer when he was 14 years old.
It’s where he caught his first adult arrest – for fighting – at age 17. It’s where his brother was murdered when Carter was 18.
And it’s where, on Oct. 12, he allegedly bound Brandy Keenan by the hands and feet, shot her execution-style, and left her body in a weed-choked abandoned lot. All within a few square miles.
Brandy's father Wayne Jenkins said he can barely cope.
“I have crying times about once or twice a day,” he said. “Every time I think about her really.”
For Keenan's family, what adds to the tragedy is the fact that Carter was in the clutches of the criminal justice system when he allegedly went on his vicious crime spree, killing Keenan, then within hours, robbing and kidnapping another woman from a bench on the Mississippi River levee.
Records show that Carter was in court before Criminal Court Judge Ben Willard nine days before he allegedly killed Keenan.
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office had urged Willard to increase Carter’s bond after he missed a court appearance on a pending cocaine charge. According to the court records, Carter left the jurisdiction without permission and was arrested in Mississippi on a marijuana charge.
Willard rejected the prosecutor’s motion to increase Carter’s bail, the records indicate. That put Carter on the street on Oct. 12, when he allegedly killed Keenan.
Within hours of Keenan’s killing, police say Carter robbed another woman at gunpoint less than a mile away.
In a police report of the robbery, Carter allegedly approached he woman and asked for her phone number. When she refused, he allegedly told her, “Well, why don’t you just give me your call phone and money. If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”
According to police, Carter then forced the victim – at gunpoint – to walk back to her home four blocks away.
Carter taunted and terrorized his second victim before she was able to escape and finger him as her attacker, prosecutors said. In a court memorandum, prosecutors stated that Carter’s crimes “broached upon the sadistic.”
“The defendant did not merely commit a robbery; he took pleasure in the control, both physical and psychological, that he had over the victim,” the prosecutors wrote. “He was not just out for money – he was out for fun.”
According to the police report, at one point Carter removed the magazine from his handgun and tossed it at the victim and told her to shoot him. She pulled the trigger, police said, which prompted him to take back the gun, reload it, then strike her with it.
She seized her chance to escape through a back door when he began ransacking other rooms of her house, the officers wrote in the report.
“While she was running down the driveway out of her residence, she heard a gunshot come from behind her, but she continued running. She was able to contact the police at a neighbor’s house,” the report states.
Keenan was not so lucky.
“He tied her up. She begged for life. And we believe he executed her,” New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas said.
Prior to his recent legal troubles, Carter was already a three-time convicted felon having served time for robbery, burglary and being a felon with a gun. In 2004 he was accused of murder, but was acquitted by a jury.
At the time police say he killed Keenan, Carter was facing a fresh new narcotics charge from January 2013 after being caught with 129 individually wrapped rocks of crack cocaine.
Carter was free on a $25,000 bond set in magistrate court before the case was allotted to Judge Willard.
Within a month, Carter missed a mandatory court appearance. But even after he was re-arrested in Mississippi on a marijuana charge, it wasn't enough to keep Carter locked up.
Records show that Willard ordered the forfeiture of Carter's bond when he missed court, but he reinstated it at the same amount when Carter returned to court following his release in Mississippi.
Prosecutors urged Willard to increase it, citing a law – Article 334.2 3 – that they say requires a bail increase in this situation.
“Any person who voluntarily surrenders following revocation or forfeiture of bail,” the law states, “may be released only on bail with a commercial surety and in an amount higher than the original bail.”
Willard rejected the motion, letting Carter remain free. Nine days after his final court appearance, Carter allegedly embarked on his violent crime spree.
"It's just unbelievable that anything like this could happen," Jenkins said. “How does a man like that walk the street?"
NOPD detectives captured Carter hours after the robbery by electronically tracking a cell phone they say he stole from the victim. Serpas credited his officers for the speedy capture, but said he is frustrated to be arresting the same suspects over and over.
“Why it that everybody except the court saw how dangerous he was?” Serpas asked. “We believe the last person who saw how dangerous he was, was the woman that we believe he executed… And we're going to bring that case forward. Why is it that everyone else saw him for what he was except the courts? That frustrates cops."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, agreed with Chief Serpas. Goyeneche said the law is clear: the judge was obligated to at least raise Carter's bail, if not revoke it altogether.
“This is the case of a judge ignoring the facts and the law and the collateral damage is an innocent victim. And that's what so tragic about this,” said Goyeneche, an attorney. “Unfortunately somebody paid with their life because of that poor judgment exhibited by the judge in this case.”
Records show that Willard reconsidered the motion to yank Carter’s bond after his arrest in the robbery and murder. He revoked the bond on Oct. 22, the records show, then promptly recused himself from the case.
In a written response, Willard stated that several factors went into his decision including Carter’s voluntary return to court after his Mississippi arrest.
Willard also pointed out that the district attorney's office did not treat Carter as a multiple offender when he pleaded guilty and received probation in an earlier cocaine case. Willard said Carter could have been sentenced to 10 years on that conviction had prosecutors insisted on the maximum sentence.
“The prosecution allowed Carter to enter a plea of guilty involving a controlled dangerous substance as a first offender, despite multiple convictions including criminal activity at the federal level,” Willard wrote.
Carter now faces multiple life sentences is convicted of all the charges against him. His attorney did not return our calls for comment.
Back in Bogalusa, Keenan's family is struggling to raise the 6-year-old boy she left behind.
"It's hard,” Courtois said. “I worry about the kids. Wayne's in bad health. I'm almost 80 years old. I'm worried about if something happens to me, what's going to happen to the kids."
All the family has now are photographs, memories, and Brandy's ashes. And questions about why Carter was on the street, allegedly leaving a trail of shattered lives behind him.
"Somebody didn't care, they just turned him loose,” Courtois said. “Like a pit bull, they took the leash off and they turned him loose to kill his prey. And that's just what he did.”