An Orleans Parish jury convicted a 41-year-old man on Friday for a murder spree that took the lives of three relatives and a family friend — killings allegedly driven by anger over being shortchanged in his grandmother’s will.
Felton “Peanut” Bernard will serve a life sentence for the 2006 massacre that left brothers Leon Miskell, 49, and Lionel Miskell, 51 — Bernard’s uncles — dead at the Camelia Street house in New Orleans East that was the source of the inheritance dispute.
Three hours later, their sister, Diane Miskell, 52, and her boyfriend, John Robinson, 47, were gunned down in their FEMA trailer not far away on Dodt Street. Ballistics tests tied a pair of handguns from the first shooting spree to the second, where no witnesses survived.
Prosecutors claimed Bernard and a friend, Corey Berniard, set out on the November 2006 shooting rampage because of a family dispute over the house.
Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras agreed to sever the two defendants’ trials after Berniard said he planned to pin the blame wholly on Bernard. No trial date has been set for Berniard, 32.
The case included testimony from Felton Bernard’s brother, Tony, who said he is bipolar and schizophrenic. Tony Bernard identified his brother as the killer from the witness stand.
Tony Bernard, who was within feet of the shootings on Camelia Street, also gave police a statement just days after the shootings. He testified this week after spending nearly two weeks in jail under a material witness bond.
“It really boiled down to whether you believed Tony. And as flawed as he was, I think the jury did not believe a brother would lie about his own brother killing his uncles,” said Jeffrey Smith, Felton Bernard’s defense attorney, after the verdict. “As cantankerous as he was and as belligerent as he was toward the District Attorney’s Office for arresting him (to testify), he basically looked at his brother and said, ‘You need to take your rap.’”
Smith sought in vain to convince the jury that there was not enough evidence to know who did the murders.
The case dragged on for years largely because a grand jury had indicted Bernard for first-degree murder, which prompted numerous legal challenges over the years. Ultimately, current Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office declined to pursue the death penalty.
Testimony at the trial also included a police account that one of the victims identified his nephew as the shooter before dying.
Assistant District Attorney Brittany Reed told the jury of seven men and five women Friday that the dying relative, an uncle, confirmed it was Felton Bernard who shot him.
“There was absolutely nothing, not a single thing on this earth that would legitimize him killing those four people on that night,” Reed argued.
Trying to appease Bernard’s anger over being denied a share in his deceased grandmother’s house — by trying to calm him down or giving him some money, which Tony Bernard said he tried — would have done no good, Reed said.
“You cannot rationalize with that type of evil,” she said. “They knew what they came there to do. They did what they did, and they fled that scene.”
Ballistics tests matched bullets from both crime scenes.
Smith tried to cast doubt on the identification of Felton Bernard, saying he had not known he was wanted for the murders when police tracked him down in Texas.
The jury voted 11-1 for murder in the Camelia Street killings and 10-2 in the Dodt Street murders.
Sentencing for Bernard is scheduled for Nov. 8.