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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Suspect found guilty in double murder

Suspect found guilty in double murder

Toronzo Thompkins, a man who had long been suspected as being the mastermind behind a plot to kill a confidential informant, was found guilty of second-degree murder Friday.

A jury convicted Thompkins, 38, of Raceland, of the second-degree murder of Nikki Landry, 41, of Larose. He was also found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Landry’s acquaintance, 54-year-old Harry Lefort, of Cut Off.

Thompkins is accused of ordering his son Traveyon Blackledge, 21, and Jerrard Major Sr., 38, to kill Landry in order to prevent her from testifying in his cocaine distribution trial that was set to begin Sept. 23, 2013.

The two were shot Sept. 22, 2013 in Landry’s apartment on West Fourth Street.

In the days leading up to his cocaine distribution trial, Toronzo Thompkins was getting desperate, Sgt. Kevin Johnson said during his testimony. He knew Nikki Landry, a confidential informant who’d bought drugs from him, would be a key witness and testify against him. Her identity had been revealed in court a few days before.

Thompkins made several phone calls from the Lafourche Parish jail, asking recipients to connect him to his son, Traveyon. He mentioned needing a lawyer and talked about “stacks.” Johnson said a stack is $1,000.

Jurors heard several recordings of Thompkins’ jail calls.

State trooper Kate Stegall, who was working in the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office’s narcotics division at the time of the murders, testified that she listened to jail recordings because investigators were suspicious Thompkins may have been involved in the murders.

A search for calls using Thompkins’ personal identification number yielded no results, so she searched for calls involving Blackledge and was able to figure out the PIN Thompkins was using.

“I’m trying to prevent myself from going to trial,” Thompkins said in one call.

He mentioned wanting to have his trial delayed and said he needed a private attorney rather than a public defender. He said if Landry didn’t appear for his trial, the case would be dismissed.

“That (expletive) woman down there is playing with my (expletive) life,” Thompkins complained in one call.

Johnson acknowledged that sometimes when Thompkins spoke of a lawyer, he meant an actual attorney. He even made a call to Thibodaux attorney Nelson Dan Taylor, trying to get him to take the case. But other times, Johnson said, Thompkins was using lawyer as a code word for hitman.

Thompkins said Landry needed to “get out of Dodge.” At one point, he told Blackledge to “seal the deal.”

Johnson said the things Thompkins said as well as his “sense of urgency” raised red flags.

In other recorded phone conversations at the jail, Thompkins said he knew the agents would “snatch” Nikki Landry.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Chatagnier said Thompkins was aware of narcotics agents’ practice of putting confidential informants in a hotel a few days before a trial to make sure they showed up for court.

So, Chatagnier said, Thompkins had to get to her first by way of a hitman.

Thompkins was found guilty of the cocaine distribution charge despite Landry’s death and is already serving a life sentence.

The last witness to testify Thursday was Lafourche sheriff’s Lt. John Champagne. He said Landry had been a confidential informant for about two years and that agents had planned to put her up in a hotel the day she was murdered.

After Thompkins was found guilty of the drug charge, Champagne testified, Thompkins told Champagne that a higher court would throw out the conviction because there was no witness.

He allegedly smiled and said, “Her blood is on your hands, not mine.”

Champagne said it was like Thompkins was taunting him.

On Jan. 27, a jury convicted Thompkins’ son Traveyon Blackledge of two counts of second-degree murder. Major is still awaiting trial on the same charges.

According to state law, murder involves “specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.”

Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet said the verdicts showed the jury took that definition into account.

“I think it just demonstrated that the jury didn’t just understand the evidence, they understood the charges,” he said. “From the get-go, Toronzo Thompkins is sitting in a jail cell and clearly has the specific intent to kill Nikki Landry. It’s not necessarily the same with Harry Lefort, although he is absolutely responsible for his murder just the same as Nikki’s.”

Attorneys Wilbert Billiot, of Dulac, and C.J. Cheramie, of Cut Off, represented Thompkins. Billiot declined to comment on the verdicts.

Information obtained from Daily Comet / Houma Courier reports.