NEW ORLEANS -- A man was laid to rest at Trinity Episcopal Church on April 28. He was a husband and father. A successful attorney and talented musician.
Sanford “Sandy” Kaynor’s services included a brass band second-line and a solo that a college-age Kaynor sang when he was in an a cappella group at Yale: “For all we know, we may never meet again...”
The lyrics of the song were especially haunting given the tragic circumstances of Kaynor’s death.
During a home invasion on Oct. 2, 2012, Kaynor was shot in his driveway by three young gang members during a vicious crime spree that spanned the city. Two bullets ripped through his body, one severing his spine, the other piercing vital organs.
As Kaynor lay bleeding and powerless, his attackers stepped over his body and stormed into his house, taking an iPhone, a laptop computer and other electronics. They drove off in his Cadillac SUV.
Kaynor’s 8-year-old daughter Phoebe, who suffers from cerebral palsy, watched in horror as the marauders rummaged through the house.
After they sped away, Kaynor’s wife Grace rushed to her husband’s side.
“He was kind of moaning and I said, ‘Sandy, it's going to be OK.’ And he's like, ‘It's never going to be OK because I can't feel my legs.’”
Kaynor was instantly paralyzed, but that was just the first blow in a cascade of medical complications. After enduring a lengthy surgery and fighting multiple infections, Kaynor suffered a massive brain hemorrhage on his eighth day in the hospital.
Some say Kaynor suffered a fate worse than dying. He not only was paralyzed, but unable to speak or care for himself.
At the funeral, Kaynor’s 20-year-old son Granville delivered one of the eulogies. He was blunt about his father’s ordeal.
“His strength became evident throughout these six years as he lost 30 pints of blood and underwent five surgeries,” Granville said. “Six years in-and-out of the hospital without being able to say a word.”
During those final years, Kaynor lingered in a state somewhere between life and death. Without any ability to communicate with him, his family could only guess how aware he was of his circumstances.
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They chose to believe that this once-brilliant attorney was aware enough to fight for them, to fight for life.
“We were still able to tell what he was thinking,” Granville said in his eulogy. “We were able to tell that he could understand us. And we were able to tell that he wanted to be with us for as long as he possibly could.”
Kaynor's two children grew up surrounded by a 24-hour cycle of nurses. Phoebe was 8 when her father was cut down. Granville was 14.
Over the next five-and-half years, Grace went from hoping for a miracle for her husband to agonizing over his slow deterioration.
“I probably spent two years just in total shock. And not really accepting the fact that he wasn't going to be OK,” Grace said.
But the stark reality of the situation soon became apparent. Kaynor was rushed to the hospital on the brink of death many times.
“Ambulances show up. Then he's back home. Then he's back to the hospital again. Yeah, it's not easy,” family friend Michael Harold said.
Patti Lapeyre, another longtime friend, became an anti-crime activist after being shaken to the core from seeing what happened to Kaynor.
“Devastating, just devastating. You start to think about your own mortality,” Lapeyre said. “You start to put yourself in the place of Grace and Sandy and it's a nightmare. This could happen to my husband. This could happen to me. I'm still afraid to go out at night, to put the garbage out.”
There are many dark chapters in the Kaynors’ struggle that have never been told. Many friends – even close family members – stopped coming around, Grace said. Some couldn't bear the awkwardness. Or the sadness.
“The depression sets in,” Grace said during a candid 2017 interview. “And I take something for depression, now. And I never have had to in the past.”
She began withdrawing from the Uptown society life she grew up in, from friends she has known since their days in New Orleans debutante balls.
“Every time I go to church and I see all these families, it's just very, very, very hard,” Grace said through tears. “That's something we did together. So I don't want to go to church.”
Despite her husband’s condition, Grace continued building her interior decorating business. Even with that, finances were stretched. The family’s house is now up for sale. College tuition bills for Granville are past due.
“I grew up in a very spiritual household, especially my father. But this just make you question everything,” Grace said.
The public heard about a fundraiser for Kaynor at Jones Walker, the prestigious law firm where he worked, but they didn't hear that the firm dropped him and withheld his year-end bonus.
“Our lives changed forever in that one instant,” Grace said, “and my kids and I will have to live with it for the rest of our lives.”
Within days of the shooting, the attackers were identified as members of a loose-knit eastern New Orleans street gang known as the Marley Gang.
New Orleans Police Capt. Ronnie Stevens was commander of detectives in the Seventh District – eastern New Orleans – when the group first surfaced on police radar. The members were young, some only 14, and their crimes started small: Neighborhood car break-ins and house burglaries.
“It was a pretty quick chain of events that led to this,” Stevens said. “That's why at the beginning when we started to identify them, it was kind of about property crimes.”
The October 2012 rampage was the first evidence that the group had guns, and a willingness to use them.
“You didn't see that chain going into the violent crime end, but once you did, it was abrupt,” Stevens said.
Over a two-day period starting on Oct. 1, 2012, Stevens and his detectives linked the Marley Gang to a series of car thefts, car break-ins, armed robberies and car jackings that criss-crossed the city. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office was even brought in after a car theft linked to the group was reported just over the parish line.
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The Kaynor house, seemingly selected by random chance and criminal opportunity, was the last stop of three gang members: Byron Johnson, 20, Devante Billy, 18, and Charles Carter Jr., 16.
9-1-1 calls from neighbors began pouring in after the gunshots rang out.
Operator: “New Orleans police.”
Caller: “Yes somebody's been shot. On Camp between Delachaise and Louisiana Avenue.”
Operator: “Yes, what’s your emergency?”
Caller: “I just heard two shots and somebody screaming.”
“They were essentially ripping and running,” said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, whose office later prosecuted the perpetrators. “There is no remorse, there is no concern, there is no care for human life.”
After he was shot, Kaynor was still lingering in intensive care when Stevens and other detectives from across the city began to piece together the Marley Gang's night of terror. It was textbook police work: Fingerprints, DNA, search warrants, recovered property, photo lineups.
“It was pretty much number one running on our radar,” Stevens said.
One of Kaynor's attackers, Johnson, was arrested six days after the crime spree.
But as detectives raced the clock to zero in on the others, the suspects struck again. Seventeen days after Kaynor was gunned down, Navy veteran and UNO film student Valan May had been invited to give two young women a ride. Billy and Carter robbed him as he sat in his car.
When May could only produce $25, Billy shot May in the head, allegedly on orders from Carter, who had turned 16 three months earlier.
The shooting took place in eastern New Orleans, one block from where Carter lived with his mother, father and four brothers.
May, from Alexandria, died instantly. He was 24. His family said they are too distraught to speak about the case publicly. May’s grandmother, family matriarch Geneva May, said their heartache is just too great.
The family did travel to New Orleans for the court cases of the Marley Gang defendants.
Lead prosecutor Jason Napoli said he will never forget the family’s stoic dignity in the face of obvious despair.
“It was certainly upsetting to see a family from Alexandria have to come here under those circumstances,” Napoli said. “Not to come here to enjoy our city, but to come to the murder trial of their loved one. That was very upsetting.”
“There's never going to be a day where they don't think about Valan,” he said. “Where they don't relive that every day. There's no recovering from losing your son, your grandson. Just like there’s no recovery for Grace Kaynor and her family.”
Granville spoke about his family’s situation shortly before leaving for college last summer.
“For me, it's a feeling of emptiness. Followed by anger. And then confusion,” he said. “I'm leaving home knowing that this is the last time I may see Dad before he leaves us.”
Granville's fears became reality. He was at school when his father died on April 19.
Grace was with her husband when he passed.
“I said, 'It's OK to let go. You're so brave. You fought such a great fight. You're the most amazing person I know and I love you.’”
It was just past 1 a.m. when Kaynor took his last breath.
“I was holding his hand and he just let go. He slipped away. He opened his eyes and he looked at me and he just slipped away.”