Naomi Martin and Helen Freund
A homeowner said he shot a 14-year-old boy because he thought the teen was trying to break into his house. But police said the teen was unarmed and did not pose an "imminent threat" when he was shot early Friday and have charged the owner with attempted second-degree murder.
The family of Marshall Coulter said the teenager, who was shot in the head, could move only the right side of his body a little, but not the left. Doctors told the family that if Coulter survives, he would likely be severely brain damaged.
Coulter's family acknowledged the teen's history of burglary arrests but said he had never used a gun.
Police said that Coulter did not pose a threat to the homeowner, Merritt Landry, who works as a building inspector for the Historic District Landmarks Commission.
Police said the teen was near Landry's vehicle when he was shot about 2 a.m. Landry's friends said the vehicle was in the driveway behind a gate just a few feet from the house's backdoor.
According to an NOPD arrest warrant, Landry shot Coulter from 30 feet away, evidenced by the distance between the blood found on the ground and the single bullet casing outside Landry's house in the 700 block of Mandeville Street.
Landry told police that he approached the boy from his front yard, near his vehicle. As he grew closer, he said, the boy made a "move, as if to reach for something" -- possibly a weapon -- so Landry shot him, the warrant states.
NOPD Detective Nicholas Williams spoke with an unidentified witness who gave an account that differed from Landry's, though the detective did not specify how. Williams wrote in the warrant that Coulter was not trying to enter Landry's house and did not pose an "imminent threat" to Landry.
Judge Franz Zibilich set Landry's bond at $100,000. Landry posted a property bond and was released late Friday.
Landry's attorneys, Michael Kennedy and Miles Swanson, issued a statement after the arrest saying, "This incident is terrible, and Mr. Landry feels terrible about how things have occurred. Nevertheless, we remain convinced our client has done nothing wrong, and we are sure -- as facts come to light -- it'll become clear that Mr. Landry will be fully exonerated of any wrongdoing."
A spokesman for the City of New Orleans said Landry has been placed on emergency suspension without pay, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, Coulter's mother would not leave his hospital bedside. His grandmother and older brother sat outside the family's home on Elysian Fields Avenue on Friday afternoon, grieving and upset.
Coulter is the seventh of eight children. Coulter's 23-year-old brother, David Coulter, said he had largely raised the children after their father died three years ago of stomach cancer. David said he and his mother did his best to keep Marshall out of trouble.
Marshall Coulter, who had been on medication for attention deficit hyperactive disorder, was awaiting trial for "stealing stuff," his brother said.
"He would steal -- he was a professional thief, sure," David Coulter said. "But he would never pick up a gun, not in a million years. He was too scared to aim a gun at the grass, let alone aim it at a person. No way. Before he'll ever pick up a gun, he'll be your friend first.
"He's still a little boy," the brother said. "Who pulls a trigger on a 14-year-old? What if it was your little brother or your sister? How would you feel?"
But Landry's neighbors and friends said they could understand where Landry's actions. They said that Landry, who has a pregnant wife and baby daughter, believed the teen was trying to break into his house.
"Merritt is a friend. I can't blame him one bit," Charles Hazouri said. "He's got a family. You've got to protect your own."
Hazouri, who owns property near Landry's house, said his surveillance cameras captured two juveniles riding BMX bikes up and down Mandeville and Dauphine streets around 1:44 a.m. One of the teens was wearing a blue tank top with white stripes; the other was wearing a light-colored T-shirt, Hazouri said.
Earlier in the evening, a different neighbor said the teen in the blue tank top had been biking around the area around 8 p.m. and the neighbor believed he was looking at different houses.
"I thought about calling the cops, but the last thing I want to do is racially profile a little kid who's just biking," said the neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The neighbor and Landry are white; the two teens are black.
Hazouri said his video, which he gave to NOPD detectives, shows the two teens talking in the middle of Mandeville Street outside of Landry's house. The video then shows the teen in the light-colored T-shirt walk his bike across Mandeville toward Landry's house. Then, the teen walks back out to the middle of the road before climbing over Landry's fence, Hazouri said. The other teen in the tank top stayed on the other side of Mandeville Street, Hazouri said.
Landry's large dog started barking, which alerted Landry to the teen being inside his yard, according to Landry's friends.
Hazouri acknowledged the potential for his friend to be in legal trouble, nodding to the recent controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. Zimmerman's trial brought issues of self-defense shootings, racial profiling and Castle or "Stand Your Ground" laws to the national spotlight.
"Unfortunately, I feel bad about it because I hope it doesn't turn out to be another Florida deal," Hazouri said. "I'm a permit holder and a gun owner myself. You've got to stand up for your family."
The comparisons that many have drawn with the Trayvon Martin case disturbed Coulter's brother. "That's a different story," he said. "That was Trayvon, this is Marshall. This is a whole different world. This is my little brother's life on the line - I don't care about anything else."
David Coulter said he hoped Landry would be imprisoned for the shooting. "I want to see a prosecution, not somebody who gets out after a couple of years," he said. "I want to see the system do its job for once."
Marshall Coulter was a student at Renew School Network in the 2012-2013 school year, but his mother chose to send him to another school for the 2013-2014 school year because she wanted to separate him from his younger brother, according to the schools' chief executive officer, Gary Robichaux.
Renew School started last Monday, and Marshall Coulter's little brother has been in school all week. "It's just a really sad situation," Robichaux said between tears, "and we just wish he had been in school this week."
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