Surprise Plea: Guilty

In an eleventh hour reversal, a New Orleans man pleaded guilty Saturday to murdering a New Iberia teen three years ago in the West End.

Ricardo J. Irvin Sr., 21, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee on trial for shooting 18-year-old Jamon “Monty” Rogers, avoided a possible death penalty with the plea and was sentenced to life in prison.

The plea followed five days of jury selection and brought an abrupt and emotional end to a capital murder trial nearly three years in the making. Lawyers for both sides had agreed on 11 jurors when Irvin told his attorneys of his change of heart during a break.

The plea deal had been on the table for months, but Assistant District Attorney Rob Vines said Irvin appeared to be under “some misconception” that witnesses, including a victim wounded in the same shooting, would not show up to testify.

“Each day through the process, the defendant came to the realization that there is a group of jurors here … and they are willing to consider imposing the death penalty,” Vines said in an interview. “It was a decision in the making.”

Irvin’s about-face appeared to be welcomed by everyone involved in the proceedings. Prosecutors, though they spent months preparing for trial, congratulated each other and said justice was served.

About three dozen potential jurors, facing a week or more of sequestration, applauded and pumped their fists in excitement after state District Judge Charles L. Porter dismissed them.

Irvin, for his part, avoided death by lethal injection, though he could be extradited to Houston where he faces capital murder charges in a separate homicide.

Rogers’ family, despite many tears and two emotional outbursts in the courtroom, said the plea ensured no other family would be devastated by Irvin’s violence. Rosalind Bobb, Rogers’ mother, fell inconsolably into her husband’s arms as prosecutors recounted the details of her son’s death. But she nodded approvingly as Porter outlined Irvin’s mandatory life sentence.

“I thank God today that this animal is off the streets,” Bobb said. “It’s been a struggle. It’s been a long and hard road. When he killed my son, he killed me.”

One family member not present in court Saturday was Rogers’ two-year-old son. “All he has now is a picture to look at,” Bobb said of her grandson.

As Rogers’ family members wiped their eyes and made their way to the exit, Irvin, who was also crying, apologized for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

Two of Rogers’ family members mocked and cursed Irvin as they left the courtroom. One woman shouted that Irvin would “rot in hell.” Several minutes earlier, she told him, “I hate your guts. Don’t you ever forget it.”

Double shooting

Before his guilty plea Saturday, Irvin had been awaiting trial for more than three years. The charges stemmed from a midnight shooting in April 2006 on Jacob Alley. In addition to shooting Rogers in the back, Irvin reportedly wounded Antonio “Tony” Allen in the same shooting, but that charge was dismissed Saturday as part of the plea agreement.

Court papers show Rogers had a “beef” with Irvin in the days before the shooting. Detectives’ reports suggest the dispute involved drugs, and court documents show Rogers had been arrested at least twice on drug charges before his death.

Irvin, known to some in the West End as “the dude from New Orleans,” was something of an outsider when he arrived in New Iberia, court papers show. A local inmate told detectives investigating Rogers’ death that Irvin was “crazy” and that none of the gangs wanted anything to do with him.

But prosecutors were not initially convinced Irvin was their man. Duane Simon of New Iberia was jailed for months on charges of attempted first-degree murder in connection with Allen’s shooting, as some witnesses placed him at the shooting. Allen eventually said under oath he did not see Simon at the shooting, and prosecutors dropped the charges against Simon in March.

Several witnesses identified Irvin as the shooter, but investigators had difficulty finding him. Irvin was on the run for nearly two months before his capture. He was eventually found in an apartment near downtown Baton Rouge after someone reported his whereabouts to the authorities.

Though Irvin avoided the lethal injection in the Rogers shooting, Houston prosecutors could seek the death penalty in a double shooting that happened about two months before Irvin arrived in New Iberia. In February 2006, Irvin and Richard Foster, another Katrina evacuee, were charged with robbing and killing 19-year-old Gregory Sartain, the son of a New Orleans homicide detective.

A second victim, Bennie Lee Curtis, was shot and left for dead but found three days later under a mattress, prosecutors said. Foster was arrested in New Orleans in May 2006. Though prosecutors sought the death penalty against him, Foster was convicted and sentenced to life in prison about a year ago.

Vines, the Iberia Parish prosecutor, said he “presumed” Irvin would be extradited to Houston to face the murder charge there.

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