NEW ORLEANS - An Orleans Parish jury this afternoon found a Houston man guilty of stabbing a 23-year-old Marine to death in the French Quarter on Halloween night 2010.
Melvin Clay, 39, was found guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in the death of Sgt. Ryan Lekosky, who was in his dress blues with his wife the night of the killing.
Lekosky's family left the courthouse in tears. His mother, Lucy, thanked prosecutors for their work on the case.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he was pleased with the verdict.
"We are getting someone who committed a very violent act, a very violent criminal off the streets for the rest of his life and that is important."
Clay, a felon and a pimp, will serve a mandatory life sentence in jail. The jury deliberated for more than three hours before issuing their verdict.
Clay didn't deny he stabbed Marine Sgt. Ryan Lekosky seven times on Halloween night 2010, but defense attorney John Thomas told the jury that Clay was defending himself from Lekosky and Lekosky’s wife when he lashed out.
“Melvin Clay became trapped in a life-or-death struggle on Halloween in the French Quarter,” Thomas said in his opening statement. “Melvin Clay is being attacked by two people.”
On the other side of the courtroom, prosecutors Jeff Hufft and John Alford contended that Clay was the aggressor, escalating a verbal confrontation by getting out of his car, pushing Kristin Lekosky to the ground, then using a knife when the 23-year-old Marine stepped into defend her.
“The defendant took a knife and used seven short jabbing motions,” Hufft said in his opening statement, violently thrusting his arm seven times to recreate the killing as he spoke. “One of them was the final blow for Sgt. Lekosky.”
The jury was shown snippets of surveillance video from several vantage points, each capturing a different perspective on the 3:30 a.m. attack at the corner of Dauphine and Iberville streets.
Some elements of the confrontation were undisputed: the Lakoskys were walking on the sidewalk when a rented Toyota Sequoia SUV passed them slowly in traffic. Kristin Lekosky and the driver of the SUV, Melvin Clay, exchanged words.
But that’s where the stories diverge. And diverge dramatically.
Prosecutors said Clay escalated the fight by getting out of his vehicle and pushing Kristen Lekosky to the ground. When Ryan, in full dress uniform, stepped in to defend his wife, Clay pulled a knife and thrusted it into Lekosky at close quarters. Most of the Lekosky’s wounds were to his chest, but one was to his face; another to his back.
The Iraqi war veteran fell to the sidewalk bleeding, then died in the hospital a couple of hours later.
But Clay’s attorney said it was Lekosky’s wife who was the aggressor. She’s the one who approached Clay’s car. She’s the one who lunged into Clay’s open car window. And ultimately, Thomas said, she’s the one who grabbed a knife from the floorboard of the car, forcing Clay to grab it from her and defend himself.