NEW ORLEANS — Loved ones of a Tulane graduate, gunned down in New Orleans more than 5 years ago, may soon get some level of closure.
Thursday, Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams announced an arrest in the cold case murder of Thomas Rolfes. It was a crime that shocked the community.
Rolfes, 25, from St. Louis returned to the city to meet his fiancé and scout out venues for their wedding.
“They wanted to bring everybody they love to a city we call home,” Williams said. “When he came back down here to plan that big event in his life, he lost his life in his favorite city.”
Rolfes’ fiancée, Liz Fried, admits she didn’t think this day would ever come.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” Fried said. “We’re happy that we’re finally seeing some justice. But as the DA said this morning, it will never bring him back. But I’m just happy that after all this time, we’re finally getting some answers.”
The answer the DA is giving is charging Ernest Weatherspoon, 44, with killing Rolfes after an apparent mugging.
Rolfes’ killing happened in the early morning hours of May 7, 2016, after a night of celebration with his friends and fraternity brothers at Ms. Mae’s in Uptown.
He apparently left the bar alone and ended up 2-miles away at a gas station convenience store at Claiborne and Toledano in Central City. He purchased 2 bottles of water.
“The hardest part of this is being left without any answers,” Fried said. “So, hopefully the truth will come out now.”
Suspect has long rap sheet
Weatherspoon, who has a long rap sheet, was out on probation for two other felonies and free on bond for a domestic abuse charge when he was indicted Thursday.
Court records show Weatherspoon made an appearance in Orleans Parish court Wednesday to check in on his probation and walked out of court a free man, suggesting that authorities had no inkling the DA was about to charge him in the Rolfes case.
Weatherspoon now faces charges of second-degree murder and armed robbery. And it’s not the first time he has been charged with killing someone.
He has been arrested at least 15 times in the last 26 years, mostly for drug and other non-violent offenses, but one of the first charges on his rap sheet was in Jefferson Parish in 1995, when he was 17, for shooting a 25-year-old to death while playing Russian roulette.
According to court records, Weatherspoon pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in 1995 for shooting Troy Lovely in Harvey and served five years in prison. The Times-Picayune reported on May 17, 1995, that Weatherspoon shot Lovely after they debated whether it’s possible to play Russian roulette with a semiautomatic pistol.
They soon found out it’s not possible.
Weatherspoon faced several drug charges in the late 1990s and early 2000s, until he was convicted of armed robbery in 2009 and sentenced to five years in prison.
After serving his time, he was arrested again in 2019, charged with aggravated assault of a police officer for attempting to drive away from a police stop and pled guilty in June of this year. He also pled guilty to illegal possession of a firearm by a felon in June. He was serving three years probation on both charges when he was arrested again in November, this time for violating a protective order. He paid a $1,000 bond and was released.
Cold case unit cracked it
The charges in the Rolfes case is the first big indictment for the newly formed cold case unit at the DA’s office.
“We really need community help,” Williams said. That’s how we did this today. That’s how this arrest was effected this morning. That’s how this case was built to present to this grand jury.”
Fried said she and the Rolfes family are all so incredibly grateful for those who have been working this hard for so long to close the case.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” she said.
Williams thanked police investigators Andrew Waldron and Barrett Morton -- along with Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda.
“There were no DA subpoenas or reward given to get this information,” Williams said. “This was just people doing their duty to help us make this community safer.”
Weatherspoon is now being held without bond at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center as a fugitive from justice.
David Capasso has represented Weatherspoon on 15 different charges in the last 15 years, including the 2009 armed robbery. He said he was surprised to hear about his arrest Thursday for the Rolfes murder and doesn’t think he’ll be representing him again.
“He is indigent and needs all resources the public defender has to offer, so I’m not representing him on this case,” Capasso said. He noted that nobody knew the murder charge was coming, so there was no reason to blame the judge for letting Weatherspoon out on bond.
“I am so sick and tired of people trying to blame judges for letting people out,” he said.