Cassandra Jones pictured with her daughters Akila Jenkins, Jaylan Blount and Jania Blount.
On the morning of June 27, 2022, Cassandra Jones was shot multiple times in broad daylight, and the murder was recorded on a cell phone video from a nearby apartment. The New Orleans Police Department identified the killer as Jones’ ex-boyfriend, BJ Brown, whom she had obtained a temporary restraining order against the prior month.
Now, nearly a year later, Brown hasn’t been charged for Jones’ death, and her three daughters desperately want to know why.
The short answer: The way the criminal justice system operates has delayed justice for Jones and her family. The longer answer is more complicated and involves how criminal cases are handled across state lines and passed among different law enforcement agencies.
“I just feel like they haven’t taken her case seriously,” Jaylan Blount, one of Jones’ twin daughters, said in a recent interview.
Last June, Jania and Jaylan Blount’s social media accounts started buzzing with news that someone had been shot multiple times outside of their mother’s apartment building in the Iberville neighborhood. The twins, 19 at the time and living in Jackson, Mississippi with their father, frantically tried calling their mother but got no answer. Eventually their older sister, Akila Jenkins, reached them to say that their mother had been shot and was in the hospital.
The Blount twins raced to New Orleans and every so often they would get pictures texted to them of their mother lying on the sidewalk outside of her apartment building. The images were circulating rapidly on social media. The daughters heard Jones had been shot three times in the leg, and they couldn’t wait to get to the hospital to give her a hug and talk about what happened.
Instead, they were greeted by a doctor who told them their mother had died during surgery.
After they identified their mother’s body, the grieving daughters started walking out of the hospital when they were stopped by a friend of Jones, who beckoned them over to her cellphone.
“Look at this,” Jania said the woman told them, before showing a video circulating online of Brown shooting their mother with an assault rifle.
“We didn’t know that we were about to watch that,” Jaylan said.
Jania recounts throwing up as Jaylan cried. They hadn’t realized there was video footage of the incident, and they said they certainly wouldn’t have decided to watch it, especially at that moment. Jania said she still replays the video in her head, hearing her mother shouting for help, and sometimes has nightmares that she was the one shot. Jaylan says she doesn’t like to ever be alone anymore so that she doesn’t replay the scene internally.
My heart is broken in pieces. We don’t know when we’re going to get justice for what he did to my mama.
– Jania Blount
Brown fled to Erin, Tennessee, outside Nashville, where authorities say he shot a police officer during a traffic stop and ran into the woods. He was eventually taken into custody after a statewide manhunt, according to The Times-Picayune.
Jones’ daughters have received updates from Tennessee authorities about Brown’s upcoming trial for attempted murder of a police officer. The last time they heard from New Orleans authorities was a month or so after their mother was killed, when a U.S. Marshal told them he would keep them updated on any future court dates.
Jones’ family said they called the U.S. Marshal back, but he hasn’t responded to their requests for updates.
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Family unaware Tennessee has first rights
So far, there are few police or court records to document Jones’ death and the aftermath for Brown. According to the NOPD, an arrest warrant was obtained for Brown on a charge of second-degree murder. Because he was already arrested in Tennessee, Brown hasn’t been booked in New Orleans, which means the district attorney’s office was never officially given the case.
The DA’s office has victim advocates to help keep families informed of important dates and the legal process. But because Brown’s case hasn’t reached that point, her daughters don’t have anyone assigned to them.
The NOPD did not respond to questions about whether it offers victim advocacy services. In 2018, the department hired social workers to link victims’ families to support services.
New Orleans-based criminal defense attorney Sarah Chervinsky, who is not connected to the case, said standard operating procedure is that when someone accused of crimes in more than one state is arrested, the state that makes the arrest first gets the right to decide if they will move forward with charges.
“Whichever state actually has the defendant in physical custody will be able to keep that defendant in their physical custody until that state has released him from all of the things that are holding him,” Chervinsky said.
Unless New Orleans authorities request that Tennessee extradite Brown so he can be charged with Jones’ murder before he is tried for the shooting there — and Tennessee complies — Brown’s arrest warrant in New Orleans will remain active. Once he’s done serving any time he is sentenced to in Tennessee, that state’s authorities will contact Louisiana to arrange an extradition.
Jones’ daughters only learned that Tennessee authorities had first rights to prosecute Brown when the Illuminator shared this information with them. When they heard the news, they were incredibly disappointed.
“All the attention is going to the officer, when he murdered my mama and the officer is still living!” Jania said. “I feel like he should be charged with my mother’s death first then the officer.”
“My heart is broken in pieces,” she continued. “We don’t know when we’re going to get justice for what he did to my mama.”
Domestic abuse proceeded murder
Jania and Jaylan said they learned about the domestic abuse allegations their mother made against Brown from news reports. A month prior to her murder, Jones had filed a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Brown, alleging he strangled her, punched her and threatened her life, among other accusations, according to court records.
Brown didn’t show up to court for the protective order hearing, so the TRO expired, which is common in domestic abuse cases. On average, it takes about seven times before a victim leaves their abuser, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“A temporary restraining order has no effect at all on firearm ownership,” said Kim Sport, an advocate for domestic abuse survivors. “Only a protective order can dispossess someone of a firearm.”
The majority of domestic-abuse related homicides occur once the survivor begins separating themselves from the abuser, reports the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness.
“That period of time when a victim has only a TRO is probably the most dangerous time of his or her life,” Sport said.
The twins said when they went to Jones’ house after her death, they found her bag packed with a knife next to it. Jones, who had broken up with Brown a few months earlier, had been commuting back and forth between her job in Louisiana and her twins’ place in Mississippi. Occasionally she’d stay at her apartment in New Orleans, and Jania had spent the weekend with her mother just days before her murder.
Two weeks prior to Jones’ death, her daughter Akila Jenkins and her grandson, Karson, whom Jones called her “little prince,” had moved back to Mississippi from Metairie. Jones was in the process of returning to Mississippi to join them after eight years in New Orleans.
After Jones’ death, her daughters were further traumatized by the victim-blaming they saw on social media. People left comments on the video of her mother’s death saying she shouldn’t have dated a man with a criminal history, that she should have left him after prior abuse, that she shouldn’t have dated someone younger.
The sisters try to find comfort in understanding these people didn’t know their mother. Instead, they want people to remember Jones as the open-hearted, beloved, helpful friend, mom and grandmother they knew.
“She thought she was a movie star,” Jaylan said, smiling at the memory. “They called her Hollywood San.”
Despite their grief, the daughters hope to help other domestic abuse survivors and their families.
“I want her story to be heard so that other children, or mothers, can understand not to be afraid to speak out or let their children know [about abuse],” Jania said. “You’d never know something was wrong. She showed us how to be strong because she was a strong woman.”
If you or someone you know is being abused, you can seek anonymous, confidential help at the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
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