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Real life ‘My Cousin Vinny’?

Dejean Turner

Who could forget the smash hit movie of 1992, “My Cousin Vinny”? In it, two New Yorkers are wrongly accused of robbing and killing a store clerk in Alabama. They are most certainly set to be convicted – that is, until Joe Pesci’s hilarious character proves that numerous witnesses misidentified the real killers.

Veteran New Orleans criminal defense attorney Martin Regan used the same storyline Thursday when he told a Jefferson Parish jury how his client, 23-year old Dejean Turner, was implicated in the April 29, 2009 killing of 35-year old Leonel Rodriguez, who was shot to death during an armed robbery attempt outside his Terrytown apartment. Terrytown is a city located across the river from New Orleans on what is known as “the Westbank”.

Prosecutors Doug Freese and Brandon Kinnett described it as a crime of opportunity. Turner went to the store to buy cigars, and Rodriguez and a friend happened to be there at the same time, on a beer run.

The store’s video surveillance system captured numerous images of Turner inside and outside the business, leaving just after Rodriquez. The prosecutors say Turner and his friend, Dontanya Wilson, followed Rodriguez and his friend to their home before concealing their faces and robbing them.

Rodriguez was an illegal immigrant from Honduras.  He was shot four times while sitting in the driver’s seat of his friend’s Toyota Corolla which was parked oustide his apartment building. No one was able to see the robbers’ faces.

Regan, faced with irrefutable video placing his client with the victims minutes before the killing, calls it coincidence and this is where he raised the ‘My Cousin Vinny” defense. In opening statements, Regan said, “He was just there, unfortunately, at the wrong time.” Testimony resumes today.  Testimony resumes today before Judge June Darensburg.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office linked Turner to Rodriguez’s killing during an investigation of a carjacking just outside Gretna less than 24 hours before the killing, in which Wilson and his cousin, Michael Harris, were the perpetrators. A ballistics expert with the JPSO linked a 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol found in Wilson’s girlfriend’s apartment to Rodriguez’s killing through the six bullet casings left at the murder scene. Wilson, already in custody for the carjacking and confronted with balistics evidence, confessed and blamed Harris of killing Rodriguez. He then blamed another friend, Dominque Davis. In yet another statement to detectives, Wilson implicated Turner. That .45-caliber pistol was later linked to even more crimes, passed from criminal to criminal in what prosecutors have described as an armed robbery ring. That gun was used in the January 2009 killing of Luis George during an armed robbery attempt. Davis was convicted of that crime. Further, Wilson has implicated Turner and Davis in the Holy Saturday 2009 slayings of two children and a teenager during an attempt to rob a drug dealer in his East Monterey Court apartment in Terrytown. Davis was convicted of that crime, largely based on Wilson’s testimony. Turner is an unindicted co-conspirator in the East Monterey Court slayings. Detectives have said they are still investigating that case.

Wilson admitted he killed Rodriguez after grabbing the gun from Turner. He was indicted on charges of second-degree murder and attempted armed robbery. But secure his testimony against Davis in Holy Saturday 2009 slayings, prosecutors let him plead guilty to manslaughter and attempted armed robbery and be sentenced to 40 years in prison. Turner has no convictions, something Regan was quick to tell the jury Thursday. Jurors won’t hear that Turner was charged in 2007 with attempted second-degree murder, three counts of attempted armed robbery and an aggravated battery. Prosecutors dismissed the cases in 2009. Court records do not say why. The victims in those armed robbery attempts also were Hispanic men.

On Thursday, Freese said Rodriguez was targeted because he was Hispanic. He said Wilson confessed as much, because criminals believed that Hispanics carry lots of cash and, being in the country illegally, are less likely call police. Wilson reportedly told detectives that Turner, after seeing Rodriguez, told him in the parking lot he saw “a Mexican who might have a lot of money.” Turner was arrested six months later in a West Bank motel and initially told detectives he was at his home when Rodriguez was killed, Freese said. He changed his story and admitted to being at the store. But he said Wilson went inside and saw “the Mexican,” something the video refutes, Freese said. Turner then admitted following Wilson to commit the armed robbery. Turner admitted he tried to get Rodriguez’s wallet, but he ran away before Wilson opened fire.

Sad. I guess we’ll see how well the ‘My Cousin Vinny’ defense works out.

Arlene Culpepper, Asst. Editor-in-Chief
Arlene Culpepper, Asst. Editor-in-Chief
Vice-President & Asst. Editor-in-Chief of The Heat Magazine, Arlene is a Louisiana native, Certified Paralegal, Publicist, Owner of MIKODreamz PR, co-owner of 504Diffusion, writer, producer, and jack of all trades, who is heavily involved in her community as well as serving as Media Advisor for New Orleans Union for Entertainment (NOUE), Member of the NOLA Music Awards from 2012-present & Member of the Press Club of New Orleans. Her work is published across the web. Her PR work has been highly recognized & awarded. She was/is publicist for the late great BTY YoungN, 0017th and more. She is also working on her first novel & aspires to turn it into a film & is currently writing the authorized biography of the legendary Pimp C of UGK. She can be reached via email at Follow her on Twitter - @CategorySeven & Instagram - @hurricanearlene.


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