FOX 8 Investigates: Still on the Street

Leo Riles (OPSO photo)
Leo Riles (OPSO photo)

New Orleans, La. - It was complete chaos along Simon Bolivar Boulevard when bullets started flying from what seemed like every direction.

Gunmen shot and killed 5-year-old Briana Allen, along with a 33-year-old mother of three, Shawana Pearce. She was shot while driving a car when a stray bullet traveled more than a block.

Three others were shot, including an 8-year-old boy.

On that hot May afternoon last year, it was an act of thinkable violence that left even the Mayor wondering who could be responsible.

Just 24 hours after an intense manhunt began, 18-year-old Leo Riles turned himself in to police.

"In this case, we find another example of a beautiful child killed by someone who had no right to be on the streets," says NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

It turned out, Riles has a criminal history that had him facing jail time just days before the Simon Bolivar shooting, but instead of being locked up, he was allowed to walk.

"Why did he get a break? Briana Allen didn't get a break. Why did he get a break?" says Chief Serpas

To find that out, FOX 8 started digging into his criminal history.

Less than four months after Riles turned 17, police arrested him for criminal trespassing. Riles pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days, time served in OPP.

Two months later, Riles had another run in with the law. This time, police arrested him on three felonies, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, aggravated flight from an officer and illegal possession of a stolen auto.  In court, he pleaded guilty to all counts.  Judge Ben Willard of Section C sentenced him to a 3-year suspended sentence, meaning no jail time.

Riles was released from OPP in December of 2011 and Judge Willard placed him on probation. The conditions included completing a GED program and providing community service until employment was obtained.

"It's a privilege that a judge gives to someone to not go to jail but allows them to stay out to exercise and maintain their freedom but they have to satisfy certain terms and conditions of the probation," says District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro

Two months after Riles was released, the office of Parole and Probation found that Riles did not comply with his conditions of parole. The probation officer filed a motion in Criminal District Court to have Riles's probation revoked.

FOX 8 obtained the court records.  According to the motion, Riles never attempted to register with Parole and Probations and when the probation officer tried to locate him at the address, the motion states "The subject failed to provide a valid address to his agent."

On May 11, just two and half weeks before the Simon Bolivar shooting, Riles appeared before Judge Willard for a hearing on whether or not to revoke his probation. FOX 8 obtained a copy of the transcript from that hearing.

Riles's attorney tells Judge Willard, "Judge, one of the main things is he attends, Judge, classes."

Willard says, "What's your class schedule Mr. Riles?"

Riles answers, "Nine to One, Monday through Friday."

Judge Willard wouldn't go on camera about the case but did tell us by phone, Riles's attorney showed him documentation to prove he was in school.

Part of the documentation was a letter written by Sister Lilianna Flavin. She works in the Adult Learning Center at Hope House, a non-profit faith-based organization.

Sister Flavin says she remembers Leo Riles when he first showed up there to begin working on his GED.  "I guess the guy that I met that day was a person who had a very sweet disposition. Leo is a very gentle young person,' she says.

Sister Flavin recounts how, when she was around Riles, he never showed signs of being a person capable of allegedly murdering a child.

"Whenever I met Leo on the streets, he would walk away from his group of friends and he would give me a hug and a big bear hug at that," says Sister Flavin.

Sister Flavin says she never testified in court to Riles's character but did write a letter notifying Judge Willard that Riles was attending the program. According to the transcript, Judge Willard accepted the letter and asked Riles in open court for a new address where the parole officer could reach him and then released him.

With Riles back out on the street, Sister Flavin says he did return to Hope House, but it was a short visit.

"He just came back and again he came in and gave me a big hug. I said great Leo, I'm so happy to see you and we talked. He didn't stay very long when he returned at the time and I'm not sure what happened with that," says Sister Flavin.

Sister Flavin says she never saw Riles again.

About a week and half later, she remembers seeing the news.

"It seemed like it was just something so crazy. It didn't seem like the child was targeted or that anybody in that group was targeted and then I realized that a young child had been killed and I was devastated," says Sister Flavin.

The next morning, she returned to work. "One of the Hope House staff said to me, Leo Riles was looking for you. She said he left and he looked worried," says Sister Flavin.

Riles turned himself in to police and was booked on two counts of first degree murder.

Since the murder arrest, Judge Willard did revoke his probation.

Now Riles faces possible life in prison if convicted.

DA Leon Cannizzaro couldn't speak specifically about the Riles case, but points out that giving a person probation isn't necessarily a bad thing.  At the same time, he says there are reasons why revoking probation, sometimes, is necessary.

"You want to give a person probation. You want to give them a chance but probation has got to be meaningful. There's got to be some teeth in the probation in the event that the person doesn't live up to the conditions of that probation," says Cannizzaro.

Chief Serpas says his officers often arrest the same people over and over, who have gone through the criminal justice system and become repeat offenders.  Many times, those people are on probation and he believes judges should revoke them if any condition of that probation is not followed.

"I think the minute someone doesn't do what they said they would do, because otherwise you were supposed to be in jail to being with. To me, it's a no brainer," says Serpas.

In the case of Leo Riles, Serpas isn't holding back.  "I'm disgusted. It's absolutely amazing that young people have so little respect for the system and that comes from growing up without respect for any system. I get that. I'm a teenage parent and I've heard all that. What I don't understand is when a Judge says to you, son I'm going to not put you in jail if you just agree to tell us where you live. Leo couldn't even do that," says Serpas.

Again, Leo Riles is charged with two counts of first degree murder.  Under Louisiana law, if he's convicted, the penalty is either life in prison or the death sentence.