A 41-year-old New Orleans man, accused of gunning down four relatives seven years ago because he thought he was treated unfairly in his grandmother’s will, is no longer facing the threat of execution as he stands trial this week on a charge of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors decided they will not pursue a capital verdict against Felton Bernard, one of two men charged in the 2006 massacre of his family.
The families of the four victims asked that he be spared.
Bernard and a friend, Corey Berniard, allegedly went on a shooting spree in November 2006 that spanned three hours and two homes.
It was sparked, police said, by Bernard’s rage that other members of his family inherited his grandmother’s house in New Orleans East.
Bernard’s grandmother raised him. His defense attorneys, Jeff Smith and Lance Unglesby, said Bernard watched his father beat his mother with a pistol until she was permanently brain-damaged. Then his father was killed, and his grandmother took him in.
She died in December 2004 and willed her Camelia Street house to her children, Bernard’s uncles and aunt.
Nearly two years later, those siblings were all slain.
Brothers Leon Miskell, 49, and Lionel Miskell, 51, were shot just before 10 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Camelia Street house.
Three hours later, their sister Diane Miskell, 52, and her live-in boyfriend, John Robinson, 47, were killed in their trailer several blocks away on Dodt Street.
Leon Miskell lived for several weeks, and identified Bernard and Berniard, a family friend, as his killers.
Berniard indicated at an earlier hearing he intended to blame the entire affair on Bernard.
Prosecutors pointed out two guns were used in the shootings on Camelia Street, but only one was fired at the second home on Dodt Street.
The two men are being tried separately, and Berniard’s case remains pending.
For nearly seven years, since their arrests, both men have been charged with first-degree murder, punishable by a possible death sentence.
Two weeks ago, Assistant District Attorney Brittany Reed notified the court that the state would no longer seek the death penalty against Bernard.
“We’ve been working really tirelessly for a long time to show them why it wouldn’t be a good case for the death penalty,” Smith said.
He pointed to his client’s long history of child abuse and trauma, his relationship to the family and his good behavior since he’s been in Orleans Parish Prison, where he is now working as a tier representative for other inmates.
Christopher Bowman, spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, pointed to the more technical complications of executing an inmate convicted of murder: Such cases often drag on through the appeals process for years, sometimes decades, at a great financial cost to taxpayers and an emotional cost to the victims’ families.
And in Louisiana, those sentenced to death are seldom actually executed.
In Bernard’s case, the families of the siblings asked prosecutors not to seek a death sentence.
If convicted, he will face an automatic sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Attorneys seated a jury in the case late Tuesday, with testimony expected to begin Wednesday morning.