On cusp of trial, man pleads to killing

On the day he was slated to stand trial for the 2005 drive-by killing of a rival’s mother, 28-year-old Javin Barnes pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and two attempted murder counts. Criminal District Judge Benedict Willard sentenced him on Tuesday morning to a 17-year prison term.

Barnes agreed to the plea deal for the killing of 46-year-old Yolanda Jerome on June 10, 2005, as well as for the shootings of two others in the same Pigeon Town shooting spree.

According to police, Barnes drove the truck that brought him and two other men, Gary Pitt and Jermaine Dorsey, both now 30, to the scene of the shooting. Pitt and Dorsey still await trial in the case, confronting the same charges that Barnes had faced before his plea.

Barnes’ attorney, Mark Lane, said prosecutors were ready to wheel out an eyewitness who had identified Barnes in the shooting. Willard sentenced Barnes to 17 years for each of the three counts, with all three sentences running concurrently.

“He was looking at life plus 100 years. You put this in the hands of a jury — I don’t have a crystal ball,” Lane said.

A spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office said the case had been dropped under then-District Attorney Eddie Jordan, but was resuscitated under a brief, city-funded program in which a slew of investigators revisited about 300 “cold” cases for possible prosecution.

The murder was among 30 cases that Cannizzaro’s office reinstituted under the program.

Barnes, Dorsey and Pitt each were originally charged with first-degree murder. When he brought the case back nearly two years ago, Cannizzaro charged them each with a single count of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder.

“The older a case gets, the harder it is to prosecute,” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman. “The 17 years this individual will spend in prison for this crime is 17 years more than he would have spent if the case had remained dormant.”

Between the time he spent in jail on his initial arrest, and the time he’s since spent waiting for trial after Cannizzaro’s office refiled charges against him, Barnes has served about four years of his sentence. Lane said he would be credited for those years.

The victim’s son, Dallas Jerome, then 24, allegedly went on a retaliatory rampage right after the shooting, killing three. He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, but the charges were dropped in early 2007.

Five months later, Dallas Jerome was killed at the corner of Eagle and Spruce streets. He died from gunshot wounds to his body and head.

Pitt and Dorsey are due back in court on Friday, possibly to set a trial date.