‘Murders are related’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011



LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Wayne L. Jones said Monday he has assembled an 11-man task force that will focus on a trio of unsolved murders in Reserve over the past two months

At a news conference in LaPlace, Jones said two of the killings, which occurred in early May, are related. He said the third, which happened Friday, may also be related. He said his frustration with the pace of progress in the cases prompted him to organize the task force of veteran investigators.

“This is certainly a ‘Code Red’ case,” said Jones. “It is of the highest priority.”

Jones said the group is made up of experienced officers who are most familiar with the Reserve area where all three murders took place. He added it is crucial the officers have the support of community members who might have seen anything that could help bring about an arrest in the case.

“We have video surveillance of the first murder, and there were also close to 10 eyewitnesses,” Jones said. “We know there are people who saw something, and we are asking for their assistance.”

The most recent killing occurred early Friday morning in the 100 block of East 14th Street. Frank Dwayne Lewis, 42, was shot and killed as he was leaving his home for work at around 5:22 a.m. that morning.

The other two happened on May 6, when Jamar Vinnette, 23, was found shot and killed in a ditch in the 100 block of East 13th Street, and May 8, when Eliza Fleming, 29, was found shot to death inside his home in the 200 block of East 23rd Street.

Jones said forensic evidence from the crime scenes has linked the deaths of Vinnette and Fleming. He added investigators are waiting on forensic evidence from the third, specifically an autopsy on Lewis, to determine if that incident is also related. Jones indicated signs are pointing to the third being related.

Jones said the victims were all intended targets and the person or persons involved in the killings knew the victims. He said the killings were all likely drug related.

“We have brought in numerous individuals for questioning and have been able to shoot down their alibis,” Jones said. “At that point, they all ‘lawyer up’ and cease talking. We have had some witness participation to some degree, but many fear retaliation.”

Jones said he understands many residents would have liked an arrest already, but he added his investigators need a solid case and don’t want to jump to any conclusions.

“We are just trying to encourage residents to come forward if they saw something,” Jones said. “These people who live in those communities don’t deserve to live in this sort of environment.”

Statements also came from Lewis’ sister, Eliza Eugene, who spoke of her brother’s past troubles but added he was working to make a better life for himself.

“We can no longer stand by and stay silent,” Eugene said. “We must rise up and take our community back. I cry out to the residents to work with investigators and the Sheriff’s Office to bring these killers to justice.”

Also out in support of the Sheriff’s Office and the community was Rev. Donald Brown of Providence Baptist Church in Reserve.

Brown had spearheaded a crime watchdog campaign back in 2006 known as “Stop the Violence” and said he is looking to reenergize it in response to the recent crime in the area. Brown is staging a rally Thursday evening.

“The residents are living in fear because they don’t know what to expect from day to day,” Brown said. “We need to get family members involved, and parents need to step up to stop this cycle of violence.”

Jones said anyone with any information regarding any of the murders is asked to contact the St. John Sheriff’s Office at 985-652-6338 or Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111. He said he is willing to work with other law enforcement agencies, including State Police, to ensure the safety of witnesses and those with information.