Simmons faced death penalty in 2012 Algiers slaying
A 21-year-old man accepted an 85-year prison sentence Thursday in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, pleading guilty in the execution-style killing of a Southeastern Louisiana University student who had gone to an Algiers gym for an early morning workout but ended up dead in the parking lot.
If the case went to trial, Marke “Fresh” Simmons faced a possible death penalty and the prospect of a jury viewing graphic video of gunmen opening fire on Fernando Eyzaguirre near the Tall Timbers neighborhood where the 27-year-old computer technology student lived.
The same footage helped a jury convict fellow gunman Milton “Bullet” Wilson in May, and it has prodded guilty pleas from three others for their involvement in an armed robbery attempt that led to murder or in the getaway that followed.
Simmons, who was considered the primary, if not the lone, shooter, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and armed robbery for the Nov. 25, 2012, killing as Eyzaguirre’s parents sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery.
“It was an abomination what you did. It’s inexcusable. It’s unforgivable. It’s one of the most heinous acts I’ve ever seen,” Judge Karen Herman said. “I hope you suffer when you think about what you’ve done. It’s despicable.”
Eyzaguirre had gone for a workout at Anytime Fitness in the 6100 block of Gen. de Gaulle Avenue and was sitting in his car with the dome light on when men approached him. One pointed a gun at him and forced him out of his car.
Eyzaguirre handed over his keys, but prosecutors claimed Simmons and Wilson fired on him anyway.
In May, a jury convicted Wilson of second-degree murder after deliberating for less than an hour. His attorney, Edward Rantz, acknowledged after the trial that the video was “hard to overcome.”
Erin Doucet and Desmonique Reed, two others involved in the incident, pleaded guilty last month.
Doucet, 19, the alleged getaway driver, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and armed robbery with a firearm, accepting a 25-year sentence and agreeing to testify against Simmons.
Reed, 20, pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder and armed robbery. She was accused of taking a phone call from a jailed Simmons, who directed her to call another accomplice, Jaroid Washington.
Washington, 18, accepted a 23-year sentence in February after pleading guilty to manslaughter and armed robbery in exchange for his testimony against the others. But his refusal to take the witness stand in Wilson’s trial has placed his agreed-upon sentence in jeopardy.
Wilson is scheduled to be sentenced Friday, when Herman said victims of Eyzaguirre’s killing will be able to offer statements to the court.
Dwight Doskey, an attorney for Simmons, noted that he was the only one of the defendants in the case old enough to be eligible for the death penalty.
“It was very difficult for him to admit to his actions,” Doskey said. “I think both the state and the defense feel a sense of relief. I think it’s a fair resolution.”
Eyzaguirre’s father, Gilberto Eyzaguirre, who has described Simmons as the “brutal killer” in the group, sounded less enthusiastic at the outcome than he has with the prior convictions in the case.
He said he had met with the judge and prosecutors with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. They tried to explain the benefits of Simmons’ plea deal — namely, the certainty of a conviction — but the father said he didn’t like the idea of downgrading the crimes.
“My idea was to request a trial,” he said. “Victims don’t get any say.”
In a statement, Cannizzaro called the victims’ desires “a very important consideration, but not the only consideration.”
He said he had “a responsibility to the community to obtain the conviction” against Simmons.
“No one should have to suffer what these victims suffered, and I certainly sympathize for them. However, this was not a close call, and my responsibility to the community required me to accept what essentially amounted to a life sentence,” Cannizzaro said in the statement.
Under the deal, Simmons received 85 years for the armed robbery count and 40 years on a manslaughter charge, with the sentences to run concurrently.