New Orleans police and prosecutors Friday announced a lengthy indictment of a 16-year-old whom they accuse of carrying out a shocking crime spree in December, capped by three murders on one night in the St. Roch area.
Before Friday’s announcement, Cedrick Berryhill had already been arrested and indicted as an adult on attempted murder and aggravated burglary charges in the assault of a woman on Dec. 23 in the 1400 block of Port Street. The new indictment treats the 16-year-old as an adult offender, officials said. NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas called Berryhill a “very dangerous young man” at a news conference with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. A state grand jury handed up a 19-count indictment against Berryhill after an “extensive and through investigation” by the two offices, Serpas said. An attorney for Berryhill said his family was “taken aback” and “totally shocked” by the long list of crimes the 16-year-old is accused of committing. “This is not the kind of individual he is,” Richard Richthofen Jr. said. Richthofen said he has met with his client since his arrest and the earlier indictment in January and has formed doubts about Berryhill’s mental capabilities. Online court records show that Richthofen asked that psychiatrists evaluate his client’s ability to assist with his own defense, a request that was granted by Criminal District Judge Julian Parker. Three of the killings that Berryhill is accused of committing also occurred on Dec. 23, possibly within an hour or so. At least two of them appeared to be home invasions, according to the initial police accounts. They included the death of Jonathan Hall, a 27-year-old killed in his house at 1225 St. Roch Ave., whom police said was discovered by his roommate at 10:43 p.m. That same night, Delmar Noel Soto-Artega, 24, was fatally shot inside a house in the 1800 block of Allen Street, while two other people were also wounded in the attack. Soto-Artega was pronounced dead at 11:10 p.m., a spokesman for the Orleans Parish coroner’s office said that week. A homicide department document placed the time of the crime at 10:30 p.m. About eight blocks away, at 1509 Frenchmen St., Ricardo Gomez, 35, was shot in the neck, according to initial police accounts. Neighbors called the police at about 11 p.m. that night after hearing gunshots, police said. Gomez, who was identified by the coroner’s office as Ricardo Gomez-Espinoza, survived the wound for a couple of weeks, but he died in January. Police indicated earlier in the investigation that Gomez told officers he let the man into the house. After he demanded money, Gomez gave him $11, but the suspect shot him before fleeing. A news release by the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office states that the fourth killing Berryhill is accused of committing also occurred on Dec. 23. But police records show that Jesus Sanchez-Espinoza was killed four days later on the night of Dec. 27. Sanchez-Espinoza was fatally shot at 1819 N. Prieur St. Police reports at the time said Sanchez-Espinoza’s roommates said he was in the front room of the residence talking to his wife on a cell phone. There was no forced entry into the home. He died at the scene, according to the coroner’s office. Along with the second-degree murder charges for each of these killings, Berryhill was charged with associated crimes including various counts of attempted second-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping, aggravated burglary and attempted armed robbery. In a separate incident on Dec. 13, Berryhill is also accused of aggravated burglary, second-degree kidnapping and two counts of aggravated rape in the 1400 block of St. Ferdinand Street. “This kid obviously is a very dangerous predator who has no regard for the social systems that we live in,” Serpas said at Friday’s news conference. Cannizzaro said his office received many e-mail messages about Berryhill, even more than after the tragic killing of 2-year-old Jeremy Galmon in September 2010. “Many citizens came forward and helped us in this,” he said. Although Serpas has emphasized that the majority of the murders in New Orleans occur between people engaged in criminal activity who know each other, these murders don’t fit that profile, he said. “This is a case where we believe strangers were attacked by a stranger,” Serpas said. “And look at how quickly we were able to get assistance from the community to bring this case to a conclusion with an indictment and hopefully a successful prosecution.”