Woman testifies against cousin in triple murder trial

Andrea Price kept her shackled hands clasped on the witness stand inside an Orleans Parish courtroom Wednesday as she tried to fend off accusations that she was telling a convenient lie about her first cousin’s role in an armed robbery that ended with three people fatally shot inside a house in New Orleans East.

Begrudgingly, she admitted that she agreed to testify against her cousin, Jubbard Price, to secure a plea deal that last year landed her a 20-year sentence for her own role in the slaughter on the morning of Jan. 12, 2012.

She also acknowledged that she changed her story only after she heard that Jubbard Price was “running his mouth” about her involvement in setting up the crime. But during two hours of testimony, the 23-year-old said that now she was telling the truth.

She stood up, stepped forward and pointed a finger at her cousin, implicating him in a robbery and hostage scenario that her now-deceased boyfriend, Donald Johnson, had hatched.

The two men had never met, she said, until three days before the bloody melee at a house in the 7400 block of Devine Avenue, where Johnson had stayed months earlier, and a block from where she lived.

She said Johnson asked her to introduce him to her cousin. She heard Johnson tell Jubbard Price that “he had a little lick” — meaning a crime he was planning. Even with no details, Jubbard Price “was down with it,” she testified.

“The plan was we were going into the house, tell everybody we were about to smoke (marijuana), then rob them,” she testified.

She said her cousin brought a .38 caliber snub revolver — “a cowboy gun,” she called it — and a knife with him to the house, a drug den frequented by prostitutes where police found drugs, bulletproof vests and hand grenades.

Jubbard Price gave the knife to Johnson and kept the gun, Andrea Price said. Authorities say Price would later wave the gun at five people he ordered to the floor inside the garage area of the house, saying, “Get down, I’m in charge!”

Johnson then strode into a back room. Andrea Price said she was in the kitchen, near the garage, when she heard two shots, “like pow-pow,” she said.

Keishaune Keppard, 20, and the house’s owner, Troy Leslie, 37, were dead. Johnson returned, and Andrea Price said she watched as 60-year-old Reyland “Diggem” Berry managed to wrestle the gun away from Jubbard Price, then take a fatal bullet.

By then, she was by the front door and didn’t see who had shot Berry, she said.

Some of the victims asked Johnson what he wanted and told him to take it, whatever it was.

“I want souls,” replied Johnson, who had the words “Demon” and “Kid” tattooed above his eyebrows.

Andrea Price said she fled down the street, then saw Johnson and her cousin taking a safe out of the house, She said she jumped into Leslie’s red Pontiac Grand Prix. Johnson drove the car and was killed by police gunfire after crashing into a pole in Gentilly.

With Andrea Price’s plea deal, Jubbard Price, now 23, was left as the only suspect to face a jury, in a trial that started Monday. Charged with three counts of second-degree murder and five counts of kidnapping, he sat quietly in a crisp white dress shirt, leaning forward Wednesday as defense attorney Nandi Campbell tried to tear into his cousin’s story during cross-examination.

Campbell mocked the version of events that Andrea Price had just delivered under friendly questioning from Bobby Freeman, a prosecutor in District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.

Campbell noted that Andrea Price, who was wounded in the shoot-out with police, originally told police Detective Jeffrey Vappie that she wasn’t at the house. That interview, conducted the day after the murders, was played in the courtroom Wednesday.

She lied in that interview because she was scared, Andrea Price testified. She didn’t know whether her boyfriend, Johnson, was dead or alive, she said.

“The time was not right to say the truth,” she said.

Campbell sought to portray her as a ringleader who put her boyfriend and cousin together for the robbery, then tried to save her own skin as she faced a possible life sentence.

Price pleaded guilty last year to three counts of manslaughter, five counts of kidnapping, possession of stolen property and battery on a correctional officer. She had a prior conviction for prostitution, from 2011.

She also admitted lying to her mother in a call from jail, and said she wanted to tell her story in the call because she knew it was being recorded. Campbell suggested that she was auditioning a tall tale to help her cause.

“You sell out your blood for 20 years and may cost him his life, when you brought him to the house?” Campbell said. “Today you come here to earn your 20 years, correct?”

Andrea Price stayed silent.

“To tell the truth, correct?” Campbell added.

“Yes, ma’am.”

None of the evidence so far appears to directly implicate Jubbard Price in the murders.

But Freeman argued that Andrea Price has been consistent on several points: that Jubbard Price held five people at gunpoint in the house, that he and Johnson dragged the safe outside, and that her cousin was an active player in a robbery that turned deadly.

“He was in that house. He knew what was going on,” she said. “Just like I knew what was going on.”

The trial will continue Thursday.