The jailed son of a former Baton Rouge state judge accused of stealing large quantities of cocaine and five guns from an evidence vault in 2012 was given an ultimatum Tuesday: Plead guilty to three charges by Aug. 10 with a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, or stand trial Nov. 2 on 10 counts that carry even more prison time.
Prosecutor Darwin Miller made that offer to William “Billy” Bates Colvin, a former East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office employee, shortly before Colvin’s former girlfriend and fellow ex-Clerk of Court worker Debra Vicknair Bell pleaded guilty to charges of principal to malfeasance in office and possession of cocaine.
If Colvin pleads guilty to malfeasance in office, obstruction of justice and possession of 400 grams of cocaine by Aug. 10, Miller said, five other obstruction counts and two more drug counts will be dismissed.
“That offer is open until that date,” the prosecutor said as Colvin, his attorney, Frank Holthaus, and retired Judge Marion Edwards listened. Miller said no plea negotiations will take place after Aug. 10.
When Colvin pleaded not guilty in October 2013, Holthaus told reporters Colvin intended to take responsibility for his actions.
Colvin, 32, of Baton Rouge, faces a minimum of 15 years in prison but potentially much more if he goes to trial and is found guilty on all counts. Miller’s offer to Colvin did not come with a sentencing recommendation.
Colvin sat in the jury seating area and said nothing during his court appearance. His mother, former 19th Judicial District Judge Kay Bates, attended the status hearing but had no comment afterward. She retired in December.
Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, Colvin has been behind bars since his high-profile December 2012 arrest.
Colvin worked in the Clerk’s Office’s criminal records division. Bell worked in the civil division.
Bell, 57, of Maurepas, admitted Tuesday that she took cocaine from the state courthouse that Colvin stole from the evidence vault in the Clerk’s Office.
Miller said in court that Bell was once romantically involved with Colvin. She will be sentenced Aug. 10 to seven years of active supervised probation. She will receive a suspended five-year prison term.
Bell’s attorney, Randy Trelles, said outside the courthouse that Bell did not learn until sometime later that what she had transported from the 19th Judicial District Courthouse in her car was actually cocaine.
“The ultimate Greek tragedy involving romance,” he said, adding that Bell to this day does not know where the criminal evidence locker is located in the courthouse.
Baton Rouge police officers alleged in an affidavit that Colvin and Bell recruited others, including Bell’s son, Colt Bell, to distribute some of the stolen cocaine.
Colvin admitted in a written statement that he was temporarily entrusted with the key to the evidence vault in October 2012, the affidavit says. Debra Bell told police she received money from Colvin that he earned from cocaine distribution, the affidavit states.
Colvin told authorities he made $200,000 distributing the stolen cocaine.
Debra Bell also told authorities she knew her son and Ramirez began extorting Colvin in order to get more cocaine from the evidence vault, and Colvin paid Colt Bell and Ramirez $5,000 for their silence.
Miller said in court that the thefts took place into December 2012.
In addition to more than 48 pounds of cocaine, Colvin is accused of taking three pistols and two shotguns from the vault.
Prosecutors have said no cases were compromised by the loss of the evidence.
Miller said Bell cooperated with authorities and led them to where some of the guns were thrown into a canal. Some of the stolen firearms have not been found, he added.
Bell’s son, Colt Weston Bell, 31, of Baker, and another man, Terrance Sloan Ramirez, 31, of Baton Rouge, pleaded guilty in February to extortion-conspiracy and drug charges in the case and were sentenced to 12 years and nine years in prison, respectively.
Two more defendants in the case — Larry Collins, 27, and Deroy Joseph, 42, both of Baton Rouge — also are scheduled to stand trial Nov. 2 on cocaine possession charges. Collins also faces an unrelated charge of possession with intent to distribute heroin.
The Louisiana Supreme Court appointed Marion Edwards, a former state district and state appeals court judge, to preside over the courthouse theft case after the high court disqualified the entire 19th Judicial District bench from hearing it.