• 81°

Those arrested in shootout claim self defense; Cases remain active following Reserve man’s death

RESERVE — A Saturday morning music video production that was supposed to be a close-knit affair quickly changed to a violent shootout that turned deadly between two rival factions.

It’s been nearly three years since the O.K. Corral-style gunfight took place in the 1100 block of Reserve’s River Road.

What’s known is Demario Gray died as a result of the altercation, another man was wounded and two additional local men were arrested on murder-related charges.

One of the men arrested — 41-year-old Juan Alexander — was convicted June 14 of felon in possession of a firearm and illegal use of a dangerous weapon.

Juan Joseph Alexander

A 12-person jury found him not guilty of first degree murder, and, according to the St. John Clerk of Court’s Office, on the charge of attempted second degree murder, Alexander was found guilty of attempted manslaughter.

Following the verdicts, Alexander was released from jail after posting a $150,000 post-conviction bond.

St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre described Alexander as a “habitual violent offender,” expressing dissatisfaction with the “low post-conviction bond.”

“This only adds to witnesses of violent crime being reluctant to coming forward and assisting law enforcement on past, present and future cases,” Tregre said.

The St. John District Attorney’s Office subsequently filed a motion for an increased bond, which was heard in Judge J. Sterling Snowdy’s courtroom.

After arguments from both sides, Snowdy essentially doubled the bond, leading to Alexander’s return to custody, where he remains today.

Alexander expressed frustration that his bond was raised, noting the facts of his case and his criminal history did not change following his initial bond posting.

Alexander, who claims to be the true target of the 2015 shootout, said Tregre’s characterization of him is inaccurate and was said simply to create headlines.

“It’s all political,” according to Alexander. “This guy lied and said a habitual violent offender. I have never been convicted of any violence. He is using the newspaper as a platform to lie to the public.”

When contacted this week, Tregre said he was not interested in adding additional comment to his first statement, and added Alexander had plenty of opportunity to tell his side of the story during June’s jury trial.

Sentencing

Alexander is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 25, but defense attorney Gary Wainwright said he plans to file for a new trial next week.

“I don’t believe that verdict in this case was well supported by the evidence,” Wainwright said. “There is no question that Mr. Alexander was lawfully where he had the right to be when a group of men aggressively came up and told him and the entire video crew that they didn’t have their permission to be in their hood.”

Wainwright, who was hired by Alexander’s family shortly after the June verdict, questioned the legitimacy of Alexander’s defense, adding his trial attorney failed to call crucial witnesses to the stand.

Wainwright said the judge would have a different impression of whether or not the jury heard the whole story after his motion is filed and heard.

Investigation

According to the St. John Sheriff’s Office, detectives identified suspects in Gray’s killing based on evidence gathered at the scene and through witness interviews, moving quickly in the days after the shooting to name and arrest Alexander and Bryant Hayes Jr.

Bryant Hayes Jr.

At the time of the shooting, Tregre identified the victim as Demario Gray, 29, of Reserve, noting Gray succumbed to his injuries the next day. A second man, who recovered from his injuries, was also shot during the melee.

In the days that followed, a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told L’OBSERVATEUR nothing was discovered that identified the victims as criminal contributors in the shooting, noting authorities were not searching for other suspects.

According to Alexander, he was at a closed grocery store on River Road with the permission of the location’s owner on the morning of the deadly shooting to film a music video, starting at 9 a.m.

He said after production had basically wrapped, Gray and numerous other individuals drove into the parking lot, coming by way of a multi-vehicle caravan, and blocking his and others’ ability to leave the scene.

Alexander acknowledges many in the community have heard stories about him being a bad guy, saying they would often make him laugh because of their outlandishness. However, he said that reputation and a long-lasting beef Gray had with him led to a violent scene back in December 2015.

“Demario (Gray) pulls in first, (one of Gray’s friends) pulls in behind him with at least four cars,” Alexander said. “We can’t leave. So when I see them pull up, I know who these guys are. They have been shooting shots at me on social media and I have been ignoring them.

“This dude came up here with a gun hanging out of his pocket. He let me know, this is what it is. So, I bring my son to the truck. My godson is trying to get out the truck (with a gun,) I take the gun from him and tell him, ‘lay down.’ I arm myself and proceed to where they are already getting into an argument with my people.”

Alexander said he noticed one of the men placing his hand on a gun during the argument, saying that individual pulled first, setting off a barrage of gunfire that eventually led to Gray’s death.

While Alexander says he does not know who shot and killed Gray, he is adamant it was not him and any actions he took were in self defense.

Trial

The self-defense claim is one attorney David Belfield said is central to his client’s defense. Belfield is representing Hayes, who has yet to go to trial.

A status hearing is scheduled Sept. 19, at which time the court is expected to set a trial date.

“My case is going to trial, and I hope there is a jazz band out there playing when we go to trial,” Belfield said. “That is how serious I am about this case.

“These guys jumped out of several cars with guns in their hands, and Juan Alexander and Bryant Hayes aren’t supposed to defend themselves? People are shooting. Bryant and Juan arm themselves to defend themselves and the police come after them like they are bad guys. Really?”

Belfield said he intends to prove the prosecution’s supporting witnesses lied to police about why they were there, how they got there and how many people were there.

“They even lied about having guns and weapons on the initial police report,” he said.

“They have never determined what bullet shot Demario Gray. They don’t even know what bullet killed that young man.”

Citing the ongoing nature of the case, District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut declined to comment of the particulars of her office’s prosecution.

According to Belfield, Hayes faces principal to second degree murder, attempted murder and felon with a firearm charges.

“I’m not saying that Demario Gray deserved to die; don’t get me wrong,” Belfield said. “My blood boils that these young black men that are getting killed with gunfire, but this is really pathetic. Everybody in St. John Parish should be standing on their head for letting the police department allow this.”