NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Outside the criminal courthouse at Tulane Avenue and Broad Street, relief and gratitude were palpable Thursday night.
After six hours of deliberations, a jury convicted three men who prosecutors said were members of the notorious 110-ers gang for the 2012 killings of 5-year-old Briana Allen and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce, a mother of three.
"Thank God for the verdict and we're grateful for everything that God has done,” said Pierce's sister-in-law, Kiwanna Harris, as Pierce's three sons and their father looked on.
Pierce's sister thanked prosecutors, police and the mayor for making sure those responsible for her death were caught and tried.
"My sister can rest now. Her boys, they are going to be upset because they don't have their mother for the rest of their life, but justice has been served and this is all that we asked for,” said Laura Pierce.
Briana was killed during wild gunfire on Simon Bolivar Avenue as she stood on a porch as a birthday celebration was underway. Pierce just happened to be driving in the area when gunfire struck her car.
The three convicted men - Demond Sandifer, Sam Newman and Tyron Harden - all under 22 years of age, were accused of going after rival gang members when they began shooting.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro decided to charge them in a broad racketeering indictment.
"All three of the defendants were convicted of murder charges, two of the three defendants were convicted of being involved under the racketeering statue, which means they are looking at an additional 50 years consecutive to any other sentence that they receive,” Cannizzaro said.
“This is a picture of Briana Allen. It has been sitting in my office since the week after she was killed,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Landrieu said getting justice was a priority.
“Today we delivered on our promise to the people of the city of New Orleans. We told them that we were going to find a new way to identify the individuals in this city that had no regard for themselves or anybody else. That for whatever reasons have decided to shoot and kill each other and not be concerned about who was going to be in their way,” said the mayor.
Defense attorneys left court disappointed but respecting the verdict. They said two of the defendants were 16 years old at the time of the murders and appeals are warranted.
When asked how he client Sam Newman was taking the verdict, defense attorney Stavros Panagoulopoulos responded, “Like any other 18-year-old at this point who just found out that the rest of his life is now going to be spent in Angola.”
The attorney for Sandifer said using a racketeering statute - which he said was meant for the mafia - was a stretch.
"There was no show of them being organized for a purpose, criminal commercial purposes as it were. They weren't running women, they weren't selling drugs, they weren't controlling a neighborhood. These were teenagers fighting each other,” said Michael Idoyaga.
The victims' family members said though getting justice took years, the wait was worth it.
"Almost two-and-a-half, three years. May 29th makes three years. That's all we were asking for Noni and Briana, because they didn't ask to leave here,” said Lauren Pierce.
All three men face mandatory life sentences. They will be formally sentenced in March.