NEW ORLEANS - He was known as the most dangerous criminal in New Orleans and now Telly Hankton could face the death penalty after federal prosecutors added new charges to an already sprawling indictment.
Hankton is already serving a life sentence at Angola for murder, but the full extent of Hankton’s alleged reign of terror is detailed in the indictment that accuses him, along with several family members and associates, of running one of the city’s most violent drug gangs. Among the co-defandants are Hankton’s mother – Shirley Hankton – who is accused of laundering money and covering up for the gang.
All 13 defendants were in federal court Friday where they all entered pleas of not guilty to the superseding indictment that hit Telly Hankton with a new murder charge.
One of the big decisions facing prosecutors is whether to turn this into a capital case. Five of the defendants, including Telly Hankton, are eligible for the rarely-used federal death penalty.
That decision will be made by the United States Justice Department.
"The local office, the Eastern District of Louisiana, works for the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, and has to get authority from Eric Holder to proceed in a death penalty case against any defendants," said Chick Foret, WWL-TV’s legal analyst.
Foret said that despite the infrequency of federal capital cases, Hankton’s case is the type that qualifies. The indictment alleges five murders, three of which were committed by Hankton.
"If you can't use the death penalty provisions for the person who's allegedly the most dangerous in the city, when can you use that provision?" asked Foret.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been summoned to Washington, D.C. for a meeting in the first week of August.
They’ll be making their arguments for and against invoking the death penalty in the case.