By all accounts, Dexter Allen was a petty thief, prior to April 22, 2015. That was the day that things went very bad for him. His profession, if you will, was “door pulls” – popping the door handles on cars on the street. If a car was unlocked, Dexter would then jump in, removing any valuables he found. It’s not particularly easy work, since most folks lock their cars. The ones that don’t usually don’t leave much behind.
Dexter Allen: Simple Burglary to Murder
On the evening of 22-April of last year, Dexter got a surprise while he was rummaging through a white Toyota Highlander in the U9. The owner came back to the SUV, opened the door, and found Dexter in the driver’s seat. They claimed Dexter pulled out a pistol, took her keys, and drove off. He moved up in the world, advancing from petty thief to carjacker. That crime led to a string of burglaries and, before midnight, a double homicide that took the lives of my brother-in-law and nephew.
Dexter’s very bad day led to an even worse one for him on Monday, when he was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and twenty-one counts of burglary. His actions on the night of 22-April-2015 have led him to what likely will be a sentence of life in prison next month. The convictions were the climax of a 5-day trial before Judge Raymond Steib of the 24th Judicial District. I was there for most of it, and I come away with very mixed emotions.
Was justice served?
I feel confident that it was in the case of the State of Louisiana v Dexter Allen. Still, I was concerned. The murders of David and Nick Pence were high-profile. They are so for two main reasons: The victims were white and were killed in their home in the suburbs. This wasn’t a the-blacks-are-killing-each-other crime. It also wasn’t a if-you-go-into-new-orleans-you’ll-get-shot crime. New Orleans came to the Pence home, in the form of Dexter Allen and his girlfriend, Haraquon Degruy.
It was the sort of crime that lights up every local news outlet. It was also the sort of crime that the cops need to solve post-haste. The murders happened on a Wednesday night, and the Sheriff was standing before the press the following Sunday, telling the worried white people of East Jefferson that the case had been solved and arrests had been made. Part of me was relieved, but then, there was lingering doubt in the back of my mind. It wouldn’t be the first time a black man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a petty thief ends up doing time for a murder he didn’t commit.
I harbored that lingering doubt for a year and a half. As much as I wanted closure for my sister and my niece, along with Dave and Nick’s friends, it was important that the price would not be too high. Every bit of common sense I had told me the detectives of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office got the right guy. The JPSO crime scene technicians meticulously documented the scene and collected all the evidence. Fingerprint evidence from down the street put Haraquon Degruy in the neighborhood on the night of 22-April.
The detectives then engaged the services of the US Marshal’s Fugitive Recovery Task Force in New Orleans to pick the two suspects up. The arrests led to the recovery of numerous items stolen in “door-pull” burglaries on the night of 22-April-2015. They also recovered a CVS drugstore card my sister had in her purse.
Down to a plastic card
That plastic card was the link to the Pence home. Dexter saw Beth Pence’s purse on the counter in the kitchen, through the side door of the house. The state claimed that Dexter went in to do what he does, petty theft. He took the purse, but then found David asleep in his easy chair in the den. As ADA Rachel Africk said in her closing yesterday, she’ll never understand why Dexter had to kill Dave. Those shotgun blasts are why Nick came into the den from the living room (where he was playing a video game).
Dexter freaked out and then killed Nick as well. Fortunately for Beth, she didn’t come into the den from the bedroom right away; Dexter had already left the house, heading back to the SUV with Beth’s phone, iPad, and the purse with that CVS card.
The problem with all of this is that of all that stuff taken from the Pence home that night, all that showed up was the CVS card. No phone. The iPad was not recovered. No purse. Just a plastic card. Easy to drop one of those into the back of a seized vehicle.
Sure, the DNA evidence established that the odds the person who held the shotgun was not Dexter were one in one hundred billion. As JPSO’s DNA analyst said, the evidence doesn’t tell time, and nobody could say for a fact Dexter held that shotgun in the Pence home.
JPSO had the car. They had recorded video surveillance that put the car on Clifford Drive. License plate camera photos of the SUV leaving Metairie after the time of the murders existed. They had DNA from the shotgun. What ADAs Africk and Seth Shute didn’t have was direct evidence. Every piece of evidence in this case was circumstantial, and that presented a problem. If all the evidence is circumstantial, then the prosecution has to prove that no other possible theory for the crime is reasonable. It meant that defense counsel Jerome Matthews had the chance to put forward an alternate theory of the crime, in the hopes that he could sway three of the twelve jurors. (Louisiana only requires ten jurors out of twelve to vote to convict.)
ADAs Africk and Shute did their jobs. They laid down a tight timeline, from 2350 to 2356 on the night of 22-April-2015, walking the jury through those minutes. The entire trial was about laying down the foundation for their version of those six minutes. It worked; the guilty verdict was unanimous. Dexter Allen will now spend his life in prison.
No more doubt, but a lot of sadness
Hearing DA Africk’s closing and DA Shute’s rebuttal convinced me that they got it right. Mr. Matthews tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s timeline, but it was too short and tight. I’m glad Mr. Matthews did a good job of trying to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. I didn’t buy it, and neither did the jury, but it satisfied me that Dexter Allen got an adequate defense. I’m sad though, that now he’s going to be a plantation slave at Angola. I don’t know if there was any hope of rehabilitating Dexter, but that’s not going to happen in a Louisiana prison.
At least his next really bad day won’t involve taking other innocent lives.
NOTE: Opinions in this piece (and throughout this blog, in fact) are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the opinions of other members of my family, or friends of the Pences.