NEW ORLEANS – The only man arrested after a deadly 2014 shooting spree left a tourist dead in New Orleans' French Quarter was either an aggressive gunman avenging the theft of marijuana from his friends or a potential victim who gamely protected himself and others from a "Bourbon Street terrorist."
Jurors who will decide the fate of 22-year-old Trung Le heard the starkly different characterizations Tuesday morning during opening statements in Le's trial on charges of manslaughter and attempted second-degree murder. A young woman from Hammond, Louisiana, died in the melee that broke out early on the morning of June 29, 2014, as tourists milled about New Orleans' popular strip of nightspots. Nine other people were injured in an outbreak of violence that stunned the tourism-dependent city and prompted state police to help beef up the city's patrols in the Quarter.
The second gunman has never been captured or identified.
Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue told jurors that a group of Le's friends had been robbed of some marijuana more than an hour before the shooting in a drug deal gone bad. They summoned Le, who, Rodrigue said, showed up to Bourbon Street armed.
Gunfire broke out after the group spotted the mystery man at the corner of Bourbon and Orleans streets about 2:45 a.m.
Defense attorney Martin Regan acknowledged that Le fired first, but said he shot only after the other man — referred to by Regan at times as "the unknown terrorist" or "the Bourbon Street terrorist" — produced a gun and threatened him and his friends.
Rodrigue told jurors the shooting and aftermath were captured on videos of varying quality from 36 surveillance cameras. The case will hinge on the prosecution's and defense attorneys' widely differing interpretations of the video and on the credibility of key witnesses, including Le's friends. Rodrigue noted that Le disappeared after the shooting and refused to cooperate with police after he was captured days later in south Mississippi. His friends also were uncooperative, giving conflicting statements to police, she said.
Regan acknowledged as much but said the video will support the claim that Le fired in self-defense. "They denied this, they denied that," he said. "But what no one can deny is what's on the screen."
Killed in the shooting was Brittany Thomas, 21, who is believed to have been struck by a bullet by the still-at-large mystery gunman. Among the wounded was Nicholas Williams of Grenada, Mississippi, who pulled up his pant leg during testimony to show jurors where a screw protrudes from a leg surgically repaired following the shooting.
In an odd twist, Rodrigue also told jurors that one witness firmly believes he was saved by a Styrofoam cup containing a frozen daiquiri. A bullet went through the cup, she said, but appears to have only bruised his chest.