Javonte Sanders is an inmate at “Angola,” the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.
Sanders was featured on Dateline NBC’s “Justice for All” series. The first episode focuses on the prison, once known as “the bloodiest prison in the world.”
Read more about the Louisiana State Penitentiary here.
Sanders was sentenced to life in prison following a bench trial in 2018. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 47-year-old Sherri Ann Payton, whose body was found in the bathroom of her home in Hyde Park, according to the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office. Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence at hard labor in Louisiana, without the possibility of parole, according to the Louisiana crime statute.
Payton’s son was Sanders’ childhood friend.
NBC’s Lester Holt spent two days behind bars for the series and spoke to inmates, including Sanders and Sammie Robinson. Robinson has been in the prison since 1953 when he was only 17. Read more about Robinson here.
Sanders opened up to Holt while the men were working in the fields. Some of the inmates, a majority of whom are black, do hard labor tending and harvesting crops on the prison grounds, which were formerly a plantation. Armed guards on horseback monitor the men as they work.
“I certainly can’t escape the optics,” Holt said on a voiceover on the show. “Look around – mostly black men working on a former slave plantation under the watch of armed guards on horseback.”
Sanders spoke with Holt about his childhood and his fears while he is behind bars.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sanders Was a Former Neighbor of the Woman He Was Convicted of Murdering in Shreveport
Sanders is serving a life sentence in the murder of his former neighbor, 47-year-old Sherri Ann Payton. Her son, Kory Hill, was the state’s first witness in the case. He testified Sanders was his childhood friend, according to court documents filed in the case. You can view the documents here.
Near her nude body, investigators found someone wrote “die” upside-down in her journal, the court documents said.
Sander’s fingerprints were found in Payton’s home, and DNA evidence linked to Sanders was found under her fingerprints, the court documents said. There were no fingerprints recovered from the journal.
Sanders was convicted of simple burglary in 2013, according to the district attorney’s office.
2. Sanders Has Children & Did Not Know His Own Father
Sanders has children, and did not know his own father, he told Lester Holt on Dateline NBC’s “Justice for All” series. He said he is concerned for his children while he is behind bars. You can view the clip here.
“Are you afraid for your children?” Holt asked Sanders.
“Yeah, I definitely am,” Sanders responded.
He told Holt he did not know his own father.
The men were working in a field on the former plantation that serves as the grounds for the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Sanders’ sentence is life in prison at hard labor.
3. Sanders Was Connected to the Cold Case Murder with Fingerprints & DNA Evidence
The 2010 murder of Sherri Ann Payton had gone cold when investigators turned up new evidence in the case. The 47-year-old woman’s body was found in the bathroom of her Lynbrook Boulevard home in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in the Caddo Parish District. Her Pontiac Grand Am was missing, but later found at a Shreveport apartment complex, according to the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Investigators collected fingerprints and DNA evidence from the scene, but that evidence only excluded suspects in the case. The case grew cold until law enforcement received a tip that Sanders was involved in the case.
“His fingerprints were matched to fingerprints found at the crime scene and DNA evidence recovered from underneath the victim’s fingernails was linked to the defendant,” a statement from the district attorney’s office said.
4. Sanders Sentence Was Affirmed in May After He Filed an Appeal
Sanders argued that the evidence in his case was circumstantial, although his DNA was found under Payton’s fingernails and his fingerprints were found in the house. He claimed his fingerprints were likely in the house because he visited in the past. Payton was his neighbor, and he was childhood friends with her son. Several witnesses testified he had no reason to be in the house, and several witnesses described Payton as a “a neat freak.”
“In his first assignment of error, Sanders argues the evidence introduced by the state at trial to convict him of second degree murder was circumstantial in nature and was not sufficient to negate every reasonable hypothesis of innocence,” court documents said.
5. Sanders Is Serving a Life Sentence at Angola, Louisiana State Penitentiary At Hard Labor
Sanders was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor following a bench trial. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 47-year-old Sherri Ann Payton in 2010. He began serving his life sentence about one year ago. The murder case went cold after investigators could not tie forensic evidence to suspects, according to the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office.
In Louisiana, second-degree murder carries a minimum life sentence in prison at hard labor without the possibility of parole, the Louisiana crime statute says.
Sanders works in the field as a part of his sentence, tending crops and harvesting food for the prison from the former plantation. He told Holt on Dateline that working in the field is the worst job in the prison. Inmates make 2 cents working in the field.
“This is like the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “The field? Nobody wants to be in the field.”
Holt said on the show he was unsettled by seeing prisoners, who are mostly black, working in the fields of a former plantation.
“I certainly can’t escape the optics,” Holt said on a the show. “Look around – mostly black men working on a former slave plantation under the watch of armed guards on horseback.”