As the judge put it, there were two sets of actors in the murder of Alexus Rankins-- those whose actions led to the 14 year old's death and then those who tried to keep the ones responsible from getting caught.
In court today the shooters' parents were sentenced. In July, Sean Newton was sentenced to life in prison for killing Rankins in a drive by shooting near the mall. Today it was his parents turn-- to find out their punishment for accessory after the fact to murder and, in his mother's case, obstruction of justice.
Rodney and Nina Newton were convicted of accessory after the fact-- that is helping to throw up a smoke screen to protect their son Sean after the murder. And Nina was also convicted of obstruction of justice-- for helping to destroy evidence and get rid of the gun used in the driveby shooting that killed Rankins.
Rodney was sentenced to three years in the parish jail and Nina got ten years with the State Department of Corrections on the obstruction charge, plus five for accessory which will run at the same time.
District Attorney John DeRosier says it's a reminder of what can happen to people who help cover up a crime or try to help those responsible avoid getting caught. "If we were to allow that kind of conduct to continue in Calcasieu Parish, then coverups of homicides would occur on a daily basis. And it would seriously impede the ability of our law enforcement agencies to solve crimes and that's something we simply cannot permit as much as we understand parental actions relative to their children."
However, defense attorney Todd Clemons still believes Rodney is innocent. "There was no evidence viewed in any light that the man committed any crime and I think it's a travesty that the man has been convicted and he's in jail for something he did not do. And as an American citizen I find that appalling."
And he had hoped for more leniency toward Nina. Plus Clemons argues the process was unjust because he says witnesses were induced to say what the state wanted them to say to save their own skin. "I'm very confident that they have unwritten agreements, they had understandings with these people and with these people's attorneys that if you cooperate, if you testify, in return we're going to dismiss the charges."
However DeRosier disputes that. "Every time a case goes bad for a defense lawyer, he or she has to say something that it's somebody's fault other than the defendant's. And in this case it's the fault of a witness that was offered some kind of immunity, according to them, and that did not happen."
Charges are still pending against others allegedly involved.
The remaining family member, Brandon Newton, has been granted a new trial on charges of obstruction and accessory after the fact. In his written ruling Judge Clayton Davis indicated the evidence failed to show Brandon intended to help his brother avoid arrest or escape-- and that he was not an active participant in helping to burn a shirt that was evidence or get rid of the gun.
The judge's written ruling says, on the accessory charge, evidence during the trial showed that Brandon Newton played no active role in communicating with law enforcement and did not show he intended to keep his brother from being arrested or help him escape.
On the obstruction of justice conviction, Davis writes, "The defendant notes, and the State does not disagree, that this charge focuses on the burning of a shirt at Joshua Lambert's house on the night in question and the disposal of the gun used in the shooting. As to both the burning of the shirt and the gun, there was no evidence that Brandon Newton was an active participant in either event. Brandon Newton was bystander to the shirt-burning episode." As well, the judge writes, "There was no evidence that Brandon Newton did anything with the gun or was aware of anything being done with the gun."
Brandon Newton's conviction for inciting a riot at the mall still stands but, sentencing on that was put off because prosecutors and the defense attorney disagree about which potential penalty applies in his case. They'll be back in court at 9 a.m. Friday for Brandon's sentencing.