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Wednesday, November 21, 2018



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Court denies appeal in Larose double-murder case

Court denies appeal in Larose double-murder case

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed a Thibodaux man’s convictions and sentences for the 2013 killings of a confidential informant and her acquaintance.

A jury on Jan. 27 found 22-year-old Traveyon Blackledge guilty of second-degree murder in the shootings of 41-year-old Nikki Landry, of Larose, and 54-year-old Harry Lefort, of Cut Off. Their bodies were found Sept. 22, 2013, in Landry’s apartment.

Blackledge was given two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Authorities said Blackledge’s father, 39-year-old Toronzo Thompkins, of Raceland, ordered him and 39-year-old Jerrard Major Sr., of Raceland, to kill Landry. She was set to testify against Thompkins in his cocaine distribution trial the day after she and Lefort were found dead.

Thompkins was convicted of cocaine distribution anyway and is serving a life sentence. He was also later convicted of Landry’s murder and found guilty of negligent homicide in Lefort’s death.

Major is still awaiting trial.

Blackledge’s attorneys for his appeal argued that portions of jail calls made by Thompkins to people other than Blackledge shouldn’t have been allowed as evidence. Thompkins had called several other people in an effort to get in touch with his son.

The 1st Circuit determined that the calls were made “in furtherance of the conspiracy” to kill Landry and showed the defendant’s motive.

Blackledge’s attorneys also argued that his police statements should have been excluded as evidence because of an intellectual disability.

State District Judge Walter Lanier, who presided over Blackledge’s trial, heard testimony that the defendant’s IQ was as low as 40. However, he accepted Gretna forensic psychologist Rafael Salcedo’s theory that Blackledge purposely gave wrong answers in an evaluation to make himself appear mentally handicapped.

Blackledge told detectives that he and Major entered Landry’s apartment and he shot Lefort. His cellphone records showed he’d called Landry the night of Sept. 21, 2013, and that he was at the scene in the early morning of Sept. 22, 2013.

“During the interviews, the defendant gave a willing account of the events,” the 1st Circuit said in its judgment. “He provided responsive, intelligent answers to questions and gave a comprehensible account of the facts of the offenses. There was no indication that the defendant ever asked for an attorney despite being repeatedly advised of his rights. Further, the totality of the interviews clearly conveys that the statements were not being made because of any promises, coercion or threats.”

The third reason for Blackledge’s appeal was that, after he refused to testify during his trial, Lanier didn’t tell the jury not to hold that against him. However, the 1st Circuit noted that Blackledge’s trial attorney never objected to the judge’s instructions.

Lafourche Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet, who handles appeals for the District Attorney’s Office, said the 1st Circuit’s judgment confirmed what prosecutors already knew.

“It’s apparent they did a great deal of work looking through the record,” he said. “It also validates what the trial court did.”

New Orleans attorney Roger Jordan Jr. and Baton Rouge attorney Gwen Brown represented Blackledge for his appeal.

Jordan agreed that the 1st Circuit was meticulous in reviewing the filings but said he disagreed with the interpretation of the law. He said the next step will be to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

 

-- Staff Writer Bridget Mire can be reached at 448-7639 or bridget.mire@dailycomet.com. Follow her on Twitter @bridget_mire.