Two indicted on murder counts in Feb. 1 attack on Indiana native

A man and a boy, who authorities suspect might have been out to see who could punch harder, were indicted Thursday on second-degree murder charges in a Feb. 1 attack that led to the death of a 55-year-old Indiana native.

John Patrick Bannon, who moved to Baton Rouge about five years ago, died Feb. 14 from blunt force head trauma that caused a brain hemorrhage. His death was ruled a homicide.

His alleged attackers — Donnell Harris, 15, 852 Princewood Court; and Windall Lavel Herring, 19, 8211 Perkins Road — were charged Thursday by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury.

Harris and Herring were arrested Feb. 18, and police said then they thought the two attacked Bannon in an attempted robbery, possibly to see who could punch harder.

“Reports indicate that these individuals were involved in attempts to inflict serious physical harm to others, particularly Mr. Bannon, with their fists and possibly to rob victims of their belongings,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday.

Bannon’s family said after the arrests that they just want to know why the compassionate and caring Bannon was targeted.

“Why him, of all people, (who) didn’t bother anybody,” asked Susan Smith, Bannon’s sister, who lives in Tennessee.

Herring would face an automatic term of life in prison without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence if convicted of second-degree murder.

Harris, because he was 15 years old at the time of the crime, could receive a life term, but it would not be automatic.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could no longer automatically sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole in murder cases without first holding a sentencing hearing to consider the defendant’s youth, upbringing, circumstances of the crime and other factors.

In direct response to that decision, the Louisiana Legislature approved a measure during the 2013 regular session requiring a sentencing judge to hold a hearing to determine whether the sentence should be imposed with or without parole eligibility.

If a sentence is imposed with eligibility for parole, the legislation gives incarcerated offenders a shot at freedom after serving 35 years for first- or second-degree murder.

The state law took effect Aug. 1.

The attack on Bannon occurred a few blocks from Bannon’s Clear Lake Lane home.

An arrest warrant says Bannon was found unresponsive on a sidewalk in the 1600 block of Lake Calais Court shortly after 9:30 p.m. Feb. 1. He died of injuries sustained when he fell onto the concrete sidewalk during the attack, fractured his skull and suffered brain hemorrhage, the warrant says.

A witness told police Herring and Harris hit Bannon, then fled after Bannon fell and hit the ground, the warrant states.

Harris later broke his arm during a bad landing following a leap out of a second-story window while trying to elude authorities, police have said.

The murder case has been assigned to state District Judge Tony Marabella.