She held him. "Bennie, Devyn is gone," she said.
The rest of that evening, Thompson drifted in and out of a daze, crying and muttering, "I can't live without my son. Somebody's going to have to shoot me." By the time he got home that night, his girlfriend, Heisser, was so alarmed that she suggested to two friends who were at the house, Carter and Derrick Jones, that Thompson's two guns be removed from the premises. Thompson wanted to keep one of the weapons, a .357 Magnum, for protection, but he agreed about getting rid of the second gun, an Uzi-type assault weapon. It was, like the murder weapon, a 9-mm. Thompson had painted it red to match his Mercedes, and he says that the last time he had fired it was in celebration, perhaps on Super Bowl Sunday 1995, in his backyard. Thompson feared being caught with the red gun; he had bought it privately and had no license or papers for it. So the red gun disappeared, and Thompson never saw it again.
The cops caught up with Thompson that night. He showed them the .357 Magnum, but he lied when asked if he owned a 9-mm. Kelly and Kohnke knew that Thompson had threatened Tangie for exposing Devyn to White—he had recently sought the lawyers' advice on a strategy to win sole custody of Devyn—and they knew that Bennie and Tangie had quarreled not long before the murders. "I'm not going to take this anymore," Thompson had told his lawyers. "I've had enough of this." When he heard the news of the killings, Kelly thought, Oh, s---.
Kelly and Kohnke bolted for Thompson's house, only to learn, to their dismay, that the police had already talked to him. Not only that, but he had also agreed to give a formal statement to the cops the next day. "Bennie was in shock," Kelly says. The lawyers told Thompson he would give no statement on Monday. As Kohnke left Thompson's house, he noticed the vanity plate on the front of Thompson's Mercedes: DEATH ROW. Thompson meant it as a reference to the gangsta-rap record label. But it now made another allusion, one that wouldn't do Thompson's case any good. "Bennie, take that off and give it to us," Kohnke said.
The police complained indignantly when the lawyers canceled Thompson's statement the next day. Meanwhile, homicide detectives began interviewing people who had known Bennie, Tangie and White. A section of their confidential report, compiled over the next week, told of the Thompsons' turbulent relationship, Bennie's threats against Tangie's life and a confrontation that Bennie had had with Tangie and White at a nightclub 10 months earlier. In one interview, Tangie's sister, Raynell Hurst, described Tangie as sounding like Nicole Brown Simpson living in fear of O.J. Hurst quoted Tangie as saying, after one of Thompson's threats, "I'm not running from Bennie anymore. If he kills me, then I guess it's my time to go."
Knowing that the cops were focusing on Thompson, his two lawyers went on an offensive of their own. Kohnke had a network of sources on the New Orleans streets, former clients and informants he had worked with over the years, and he sent out word that he needed to know what was behind the Morrison Road killings. From the start, Kohnke says, the word from his street sources was emphatic: "This was purely a drug hit. Drugs and money."
Maniacal interest in the Simpson trial heightened the media frenzy around the Morrison Road case, trapping the cops in a brightening glare of lights. In turn the heat increased on Thompson. He had admitted in a March 31,1994, deposition connected with his divorce case that he had threatened to kill Tangie. In seeking a temporary restraining order against him, Tangie had alleged that Bennie had once "physically attacked" her. That story broke at the worst of times. On Feb. 10, 1995, Thompson's 32nd birthday and the day before the funeral, the New Orleans Times-Picayune led its front page with an article relating the threats and the alleged abuse. The four-column headline read, murdered EX-WIFE CLAIMED THOMPSON THREATENED HER. As 400 mourners gathered at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church the next day, with Guter wailing hysterically and Thompson near collapse, the lead story in the paper ran under a one-column head reading, EX-SAINT DENIES ABUSING WIFE.
Thompson had been in no condition to hold a press conference. "He was catatonic," Kelly says. "Totally blank. Never saw a thing like that in my life." Kelly and Kohnke wrote this statement, which ran with the Times-Picayune story: "Bennie Thompson is deeply distraught by any suggestion that he is in any way responsible for these brutal killings. Though involved in an emotionally charged divorce proceeding, which sometimes resulted in unfortunate comments, Mr. Thompson has never caused any harm to his former wife."
Thompson finally gave the police a sworn statement on Feb. 13, but it would only sink him further into trouble. He was home alone on the night of the killings, he said, and telephone records would bear out his alibi. As he had sworn before, he denied owning a 9-mm gun. Near the end of February, as he lived in seclusion at Heisser's house, Thompson got a call from an angry Kohnke: "Get down to my office as soon as you can!" Kohnke had just learned, from one of Thompson's friends, about "the Uzi" she saw one day in his house.
"Do you own a red gun?" the lawyer asked Thompson.