Thursday, May 14, 2009

Possible Witness Intimidation a Factor in Cassimere Murders, Pastors Decry City's Violence

Almost immediately after news broke that the daughter of Pastor Olander Cassimere Sr., 79, and his wife, Alphatheda Cassimere, 77, found the couple shot to death in their New Orleans Pontchartrain Park home, relatives told police that they believed the murders are connected to the alleged kidnapping of the elderly couple's grandson. The young man also witnessed an armed robbery.

Witness intimidation may be the motive for the murders, say news sources, but New Orleans Chief of Police Warren Riley, stops short of agreeing with that assessment, reports WWL TV. In a story by the station, Riley said a potential suspect in the murders kicked down a door to a Slidell, La., home earlier this month looking for the Cassimere's grandson. WWL identifies that suspect as Carl Novell, 31, per court records, the station says. Novell turned himself in today, reports the Times Picayune.

A woman also may be connected to the murders, Kashie Fernandez, 29. The Times Picayune says a judge has increased Fernandez's bond to one half million dollars, finding the woman "has violated the terms of her pre-trial release by missing her 6 p.m. curfew on May 9." She's been linked to the alleged kidnapping and robbery.

Clergy outraged:
... Riley, three City Council members, federal law enforcement officials and about 30 clergy colleagues of Olander Cassimere gathered at Fifth Church of God in Christ in Gentilly to angrily decry a rising tide of violence in New Orleans.

Cassimere was pastor of Third Church of God in Christ in the Lower 9th Ward, where his wife sang in the choir.

Several speakers said they felt New Orleans was crossing an invisible boundary, entering a never-before-seen landscape of violence driven by African-American teens and young men drifting without supervision or employable skills.

... Meantime, Bishop Gerald Hawkins of Cassimere's denomination, the Church of God in Christ, presented Crimestoppers, the citizens' anonymous tip line, with a donation of $5,000 for information on the Cassimere slayings.

That brings the total Crimestoppers reward to $11,000, said executive director Darlene Cusanza. Separately, local lawyer John Cummings has offered a $10,000 reward.(from
Another concern -- youth violence

In addition to this news, the recent murder of a 13-year-old by a 14-year-old in a case unrelated to the Cassimere's murder is stirring discussion of a surge in teen crime (video). This local story echoes similar concerns in Chicago, where a woman started a memorial of stones dedicated to young people who've died violent deaths. The memorial now has 159 stones.

Chief Riley said New Orleans youth are hardened to a level he's never seen, and their crimes include not only murders and beatings but also same-sex sexual assault.


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