Three New Orleans teenagers facing possible life sentences for murder

NEW ORLEANS – All three of the suspects involved have been formally charged for the murder.

63-year-old Zelda Townsend was killed during a botched car burglary on May 8, in Mid-City.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office secured non-capital first-degree murder indictments against 17-year-old Emanuel Pipkins, 18-year-old Byrielle Hebert,  and 16-year-old Alvin Robinson.

The death penalty is not being sought, so the suspects instead face mandatory lifetime prison sentences, without the possibility of parole.

Because of their ages at the time of offense, Pipkins and Robinson, if convicted, would each be sentenced to life without parole or to life with parole eligibility after 25 years.

The trio also was charged with attempted first-degree murder for the shooting of the slain woman’s husband, Danny Townsend.

The couple was fired upon after coming out of their home in the 2700 block of Cleveland Avenue to investigate a car alarm sounding shortly before 10 P.M.

New Orleans police said the Townsends discovered Pipkins rummaging through their automobile and attempted to hold him inside.

That’s when someone in the getaway car yelled for Pipkins to shoot the couple.

Mr. Townsend also had a gun, and he and Pipkins exchanged gunfire.

Zelda Townsend was hit in the head and died from her injuries.

Danny Townsend was shot in the arm but survived.

Pipkins soon arrived at a local hospital with a gunshot graze wound to his back.

The special grand jury additionally charged Pipkins and Hebert with two counts of attempted first-degree murder for a similar incident the previous night, on May 7.

Investigators determined through ballistics testing that the gun Pipkins used to kill Zelda Townsend was the same weapon used to shoot at two people who interrupted another auto burglary by the teens outside the Homedale Inn bar, in Lakeview, in the 600 block of Homedale Street.

“The tragic murder of Zelda Townsend, a 63-year-old wife and grandmother, was not simply part of some one-off, youthful indiscretion,” Cannizzaro said. “This investigation has revealed that these teens were engaged in a deliberate, planned series of car burglaries in which they used stolen cars and were willing to shoot people without hesitation once they were cornered.”

The 12-count indictment charges Pipkins and Hebert each with the first-degree murder of Zelda Townsend, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, obstruction of justice in a homicide investigation, conspiracy to obstruct justice, two counts of illegally discharging a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, auto theft, possession of stolen things (a 2015 Audi sedan), simple burglary and conspiracy to commit simple burglary of automobiles.

Robinson is charged with the first-degree murder of Zelda Townsend and the attempted first-degree murder of her husband.

A known juvenile co-conspirator is charged with conspiracy to commit simple burglary of automobiles.

As that is not a crime of violence eligible for transfer to adult court, the charged juvenile’s identity is shielded by state law and that charge will be adjudicated in Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.

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