The death sentence of one of the five Louisiana State Penitentiary lifers found guilty of murdering a prison guard during a botched 1999 escape was reinstated Friday by the state’s highest court.
A retired New Orleans judge had ordered a new sentencing hearing for Angola 5 member David Brown in late 2014, ruling that prosecutors withheld a confession by another of the accused killers until after Brown, of Algiers, went on trial in 2011 in the slaying of Capt. David Knapps.
But the Louisiana Supreme Court decided Friday that because the statement is “neither favorable nor material” to Brown, the failure to disclose it was not prejudicial to him.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson dissented, saying retired Criminal District Court Judge Jerome Winsberg made the right call and that her confidence in the outcome of the penalty phase of Brown’s first-degree murder trial has been undermined.
“The state concedes that it withheld the statement of inmate Richard Domingue, which supports … Brown’s defense theory that he was less culpable in the killing of the correctional officer,” Johnson wrote.
According to Domingue’s statement, inmate Barry Edge confided in him that he and inmate Jeffrey Cameron Clark hatched the plan to kill Knapps, she noted.
“Domingue’s statement could have been used by the defendant to persuade the jury that since he was not directly involved in the decision to kill Knapps, he should be sentenced to life imprisonment rather than given the death penalty,” the chief justice added.
Brown’s attorneys argue the failure to turn over the statement violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decades-old ruling in Brady v. Maryland that requires the state to disclose evidence favorable to a defendant. Prosecutors contend the statement was not material and would not have changed the verdict.
David Brown’s attorney, William Sothern, said in a statement Friday evening: “The prosecutors suppressed incredibly significant evidence at David Brown’s death penalty trial. The trial court correctly determined that he was entitled to a new trial because of that most serious prosecutorial misconduct. We will continue to pursue every possible avenue for appeal to obtain a fair trial for him where his constitutional rights are respected and where the jury gets to hear all of the evidence.”
The jury that convicted and condemned Brown heard a recording of Brown telling investigators he dragged Knapps into an employee restroom and held him there while a co-defendant hit him with a mallet. DNA tests found that Knapps’ blood was on Brown’s hands, shoelace and clothes, trial testimony indicated.
Brown and Clark were convicted in the killing of Knapps, 49, and condemned to die. Brown already was serving a life term for second-degree murder in a 1992 killing in Jefferson Parish.
Edge and inmate Robert Carley were found guilty in Knapps’ slaying and given life sentences. Inmate David Mathis pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and received a life sentence.