Joseph “Big Joe” Evans, 41, and his 17-year-old son, Joseph “Little Joe” Elliott, were shot to death on January 8, 2012, in what Assistant District Attorney John Alford described as a “senseless” murder in opening statements Wednesday. The two were killed at a home in the 2600 block of St. Louis Street where Elliott’s mother lived, and the other half of it was occupied by Tabari Butler — now facing two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Evans and Elliott.
Jurors heard grim and garbled 911 tape Wednesday morning when 911 Operator Yolanda Haynes took the stand. Homicide Detective Darryl Doucette, from the New Orleans Police Department, said he arrived on scene to find “two bodies laying in the hallway” face-down.
Firearms examiner Meredith Acosta, also from the New Orleans Police Department told jurors her analysis of ballistics recovered from the scene revealed there were two firearms, a 9-mm gun and a .45 caliber gun. Both men suffered multiple gunshot wounds, with the fatal blows coming from two gunshots to the head each, said pathologist Michael Defatta, who conducted their autopsies.
Elliott’s mother was the first family member to take the stand and begin painting a picture of the evening. Just after the Saints playoff game, Sabrina Elliott said she and her daughters heard a commotion outside. As they stepped to the window of their upstairs apartment, she said she saw Butler and his girlfriend arguing. When the couple noticed the onlookers, Butler’s girlfriend directed some comments to Elliott, and Elliott took offense to the comments directed at her daughters and came downstairs with two others, she said.
In front of the house, Elliott and Butler’s girlfriend exchanged words, Elliott said. When “Big Joe” and “Little Joe” arrived at the house in the middle of the argument, the older man acted as a peacemaker and tried to break up the argument, she recounted.
Defense attorney Don Donnelly honed in on differences between Elliott’s testimony and the statements she made to detectives following the murder. In her original statement, Elliott named the gunman, but Wednesday, she said she didn’t see who pulled the trigger on her son. She did maintain she saw Butler running from the area with a gun.
The state also called two 17-year-old witnesses, who were at the residence at the time of shooting. Their testimony mirrored Elliott’s, with slight differences from their original police statements which Donnelly rapidly pointed out. They both said they saw the victim get shot in the face, while Defatta’s report maintained the men were shot in the back of the head.
“Are you going to kill me?”
Also at the house that night was 21-year-old Joseph Tate, a friend of Butler’s who was the final witness to take the stand late Wednesday. Tate also faced two second degree murder charges in the case, until last Friday when he accepted a plea deal that reduced his charges to accessory to murder, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, rather than a life sentence.
Tate had carried a 9-mm on him that day, with “no intention of using it,” he said. But when things got heated between Elliott and Butler’s girlfriend, Tate sprang into action, he said. Upon hearing Elliott call someone, Tate said he asked Butler to drive him to get another gun, the .45-caliber from a friend.
When they arrived back at the home on St. Louis Street, Tate handed the gun to Butler — never firing the weapon himself, he insisted.
“Are you going to kill me?” Tate recalled Joseph Elliott asking as the men feuded.
When a relative in the courtroom reacted audibly to this statement, Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo whisked the jury out. He had the woman escorted out and continued with the trial.
“No,” Tate said he responded, thinking the maximum altercation would be a fistfight.
Donnelly asked Tate if he told detectives the truth in his police statement. Tate said he had not wanted to implicate himself at that time so only “partially” told the truth. When Donnelly said he wanted to play the video of the statement to the jury, Marullo decided to recess the trial until 11 a.m. Wednesday and play the video when the proceedings resumed.