Elizabeth Privitera held up a black leather ball cap with a dime-sized hole in the back, the exact spot where a bullet penetrated Milton Womack’s skull.
Moments earlier, during her closing argument in federal court in New Orleans, the prosecutor turned toward the four defendants, asking jurors to find the men guilty of conspiring and gunning down Womack on July 27, 2012, in Gentilly.
“They are killers,” Privitera said as she pointed to the defense table. “They are not victims like their attorneys want you to believe. There is only one victim in this trial, and that is Milton Womack.”
Jurors agreed. On Wednesday, after 2½ days of deliberation, they found Louis Age Jr., Louis Age III, Ronald Wilson Jr. and Stanton Guillory guilty of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder, in addition to a bevy of other crimes connected to Womack’s death. They face mandatory punishment of life in prison at their sentencing, which U.S. District Judge Barry Ashe scheduled for Aug. 4.
A tangled web
The government said Age. Jr. was the hub of a tangled web of greed and arrogance leading to Womack’s death. In 2011, Age Jr. as well as several relatives and associates were accused of filing fraudulent home health care claims through his business, South Louisiana Home Care.
“He’s the one this case begins and ends with,” Privitera told jurors.
Womack, too, was part of the $17.1 million scheme, recruiting patients, prosecutors said. But Womack struck a plea deal with the government, making him a federal witness against Age and the others.
Age saw the deal as a threat, prosecutors said, and ordered a hit on the 60-year-old Womack, offering to pay for the slaying. To carry out his homicidal wishes, he relied on his son, Age III; a family friend, Ronald Wilson; and a member of the New Orleans’ Young Mafia Fellaz street gang, Stanton Guillory, prosecutors said. Age III contacted Wilson, who connected the younger Age to Guillory, who pulled the trigger.
Womack’s killing, however, was for naught: Age Jr. was convicted in 2013 of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, among other crimes, and sentenced to 15 years behind bars. He and his accomplices stole $17.1 million from Medicare.
Witnesses connect the dots
At the trial of Womack’s accused killers, prosecutors showed evidence connecting the defendants: Call logs between Wilson and Age III, for example, and a transcript from a recorded jailhouse call Guillory made to a friend, in which the friend tells Guillory to ask “Big Lou,” or Age III, for the money that Age III owed Guillory.
But they also relied heavily on the testimony of several witnesses, including Age Jr.’s daughter, Ayanna Age, who was implicated in the Medicare fraud case and accepted a plea deal that required her to testify in the trial against her family. She has yet to be sentenced for her role in the fraud.
Ayanna Age described how the plot to kill Womack unfolded slowly, as they at first tried to silence him through threats and cash payouts. When that didn’t work and Womack accepted his plea deal, she said, their plans turned to murder.
Daughter is blamed
Defense attorneys tried to discredit Age and other witnesses, saying they fabricated their stories in hopes of leniency when it came to their own sentences. For example, Ayanna Age had hired Womack to participate in the Medicare fraud scheme, paying him to recruit patients, said Richard Bourke, Age Jr.’s defense attorney.
“All the evidence points to Ayanna,” Bourke said.
And although Age testified that she had texted with Wilson about the killing, defense attorney Anna Friedberg highlighted that prosecutors did not present those texts as evidence. That’s “because the messages would have proven Ronald Wilson didn’t participate” in the conspiracy, and prosecutors’ “theory about this conspiracy is wrong,” Friedberg told the jurors.
Steven Lemoine, defense attorney for Age III, pointed to another witness, a family relative, who had testified Ayanna Age was a liar with a history of mental health issues, before poking holes in other witnesses’ stories. If the jurors couldn’t believe them, he asked, “what do you have?”
Defense attorney Kerry Cuccia, who represents Guillory, said some of those other witnesses – including two teens who were with Guillory when he shot Womack -benefited significantly by testifying against their friend, earning reduced sentences by cooperating.
Privitera asked jurors to look not at witnesses individually but at their stories holistically.
“This trial is not about any one witness; it’s about all of them,” she said. “They each brought you bits and pieces of the evidence, and they each proved these four men were the killers.”