A judge was forced to postpone the first pretrial hearing in a racketeering case tied to Knight Oil Tools on Thursday after a former Lafayette Parish sheriff’s deputy, who is accused of helping set up an oil executive’s brother in a drug arrest, found himself in court without an attorney.
Former Deputy Jason Kinch, who is broke, out of jail on bail and living in Florida working a $2,000-a-month job, was without a lawyer after the one he was paying for — William Goode — quit the case in January when Kinch ran out of money.
Kinch’s second attorney, just-appointed 15th District public defender Elliott Brown, begged off the case on Thursday. Brown told Judge David Smith the Louisiana Bar Association had rendered an opinion that Brown’s representation of a former lawman could get legally dicey because Kinch could still be called to testify against poor criminally charged defendants Brown represents.
Smith then ordered the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office to appoint another attorney for Kinch. But that will take some time due to a funding crisis hitting public defenders offices across Louisiana.
“It’s not going to happen today,” Brown said.
Kinch was one of three defendants in the courtroom Thursday who are accused of helping set up Mark Knight’s brother, Bryan Knight, in a June 2014 arrest on possession of cocaine, methadone and painkillers. The Knight brothers at the time were embroiled in a bitter legal fight over ownership of Knight Oil Tools, one of the biggest privately held drilling tool rental companies in the country.
Kinch declined to comment to a reporter while sitting in the courtroom Thursday. Asked if he had an attorney yet, Kinch said “No, and if I did, he would tell me not to tell you anything.”
Two of the case’s other defendants — Mark Knight, the former Knight Oil Tools CEO, and former Louisiana State Trooper Corey Jackson — also were in court. The hearing for the three defendants was reset for Aug. 25. No date has been set yet for a trial, according to court records.
Former Knight Oil employee Russell Manuel, accused of playing a large role in Bryan Knight’s bogus drug arrest, was not in the courtroom Thursday. Manuel skipped the hearing after his attorney sought court appearances separate from the other three defendants.
Manuel’s attorney, Pat Magee, asked for and received another pretrial hearing, which was set for April 7. He also got the court to set a trial date of Sept. 12 for Manuel. Efforts to reach Magee for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
A Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office investigator characterized Manuel as Mark Knight’s “henchman” who allegedly hid drugs in containers magnetically attached to the underside of Bryan Knight’s Cadillac Escalade.
The alleged drug planting occurred outside an attorney’s office in Lafayette’s Oil Center, where a mediation session was underway about ownership of Knight Oil Tools.
Bryan Knight was arrested after the session. But the Sheriff’s Office later focused the investigation on Mark Knight and the two lawmen who allegedly help set Bryan Knight up, Kinch and Jackson, who police believe were given cash and gifts for their services.
The defendants were charged with two counts each of drug racketeering. All have pleaded not guilty.