Ascension jury finds three Baton Rouge men guilty of murder

An Ascension Parish jury found three Baton Rouge men guilty Tuesday of second-degree murder in the slaying of Gerald “Butta” Wilkins in Sorrento in January 2013.

Darryl “Hoops” Jones, Cecil Ray “Unc” Beals and Calvin K. “Dirt” Williams were convicted by a jury of seven men and five women at the parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales after three days of testimony that concluded Monday and closing statements that lasted all morning Tuesday.

As prosecutors and defense attorneys sought to bring home their cases Tuesday, they recounted a largely circumstantial case that gave a small peek into the in-and-out, up-all-night drug culture prosecutors claimed emanated from Jones’ Mayfair home at 9429 Avis Ave., Baton Rouge.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Colby, pointing the fingers on her right hand in the shape of a gun, imitated the sound of three gunshots to the head that prosecutors say ended Wilkins’ life along sparsely populated, wooded LV Road early on Jan. 12, 2013.

Colby claimed Wilkins, 41, 1123 N. Sabine Drive, Baton Rouge, had been a problem for his boyhood friend, Jones, allegedly stealing his drugs and passing counterfeit money to others for drugs. Colby accused Jones, 42; Beals, 55, who lived in Jones’ garage; and Williams, 39, Beals’ great-nephew, of conspiring to kill Wilkins. She also claimed Williams and Beals participated in the murder in Sorrento between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. Jan. 12, 2013, while Jones monitored with his cellphone from Baton Rouge.

The relationship was summed up by prosecutors as Jones the leader, Williams the enforcer and Beals the driver.

Colby told jurors how sheriff’s investigators believe Wilkins — based on the lack of defensive wounds; his clean white shoes and white shirt, despite the muddy conditions that morning; and the other evidence — did not know what was planned as he was urinating along the side of the road.

“The third shot. He’s dead, dead, dead. Problem solved. Mission accomplished.”

His body was found 125 yards from the home of Williams’ half-brother.

Colby reviewed cellphone data, some of Beals’ own statements to prosecutors that revealed he knew information of the slaying that had not been made public, and there was undisputed video of him at a gas station a little more than a mile from the murder scene about 3:30 a.m. Jan. 12. Colby also reviewed the testimony of jailhouse snitch Jeremiah Billingsley, who claims Beals admitted the murder to him.

The jury retired about 1:14 p.m. Tuesday after Judge Ralph Tureau of the 23rd Judicial District read the jury instructions. Prosecutors said jurors were unanimous in the guilt of Beals and Williams and voted, 10-2, on Jones, the minimum allowed by law for a second-degree murder conviction.

Tureau, who presided over the three-day trial and the two days of jury selection that preceded it, deferred sentencing for a pre-sentence investigation.

With second-degree murder convictions, the men face mandatory life sentences.

Defense attorneys for Jones, Beals and Williams attempted to highlight holes they said were in the prosecution’s largely circumstantial case, which lacked DNA evidence tying Williams to Jones’ car. Prosecutors claim it was Jones’ car that took Williams, Wilkins and Beals to the murder scene. Williams and Jones had alibi witnesses who claimed they were in bed that night and morning.

Jones’ defense attorney Jarrett Ambeau went through a detailed review of cellphone records. Ambeau claimed prosecutors allegations based on the calls were “fantastical connections,” noting the records did not indicate Jones’ calls were picked up by the other phone in all cases and said nothing about what he may have been discussing when he did get an answer.

“It’s like making something out of nothing,” he said.

Prosecutors had attempted to tie Williams to the cellphone that Jones was calling in Sorrento and that a man named Marvin “Messy” Magee had lent to Williams some time on the night of Jan. 11. But Ambeau and other defense attorneys attacked Magee’s credibility and memory, as they noted Magee admitted he was painting inside Jones’ garage that January night and smoking crack cocaine for hours.

Beals’ attorney Shannon Batiste attacked the credibility of Billingsley, reminding jurors that his ex-wife claimed on the stand that he was a liar who could not be believed.

That woman, Nicole Billingsley, had left Jeremiah Billingsley for Jones after a long-term relationship with Jeremiah in which Batiste claimed Jeremiah Billingsley prostituted her for drugs.

Despite these and other attacks, Assistant District Attorney Stephen Sheets, Colby’s co-counsel, appealed to jurors to use their common sense in assessing the evidence and putting it together as prosecutors saw it.

“The evidence is not perfect, but it’s as good as it’s going to get. This is real life. You understand,” Sheets said.