GONZALES — Bobby Jindal’s personal butler who cares for his children while they’re at the Governor’s Mansion failed to persuade a state district judge in Ascension Parish to reduce his mandatory life sentence in a fatal 1991 stabbing and possibly open the door to his release from prison on supervised parole.
But Harrison Cage, 52, did gain some understanding from 23rd Judicial District Judge Jessie LeBlanc after state officials and the victim’s mother testified on his behalf at a hearing earlier this year.
LeBlanc ruled she was given no evidence of ineffective counsel for Cage — the major thrust of his post-conviction appeal — though the judge did question whether continued imprisonment for Cage, given his apparent rehabilitation and trustworthiness, was anything other than “being punitive.”
During an evidentiary hearing May 18, which happened after a 14-year delay aided by at least 20 continuances from his previous attorney, Cage asked LeBlanc to amend his life sentence to 40 to 50 years so he could seek supervised parole after 24 years in prison.
An Ascension Parish jury unanimously convicted Cage in March 1993 of second-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of his 19-year-old nephew, Tyrone Clark, in September 1991 in Oak Grove.
Cage, formerly of Baton Rouge and a longtime trusty in the state prison system, has lived in the State Police Barracks since 2006. He has received his GED certificate, tutors other prisoners and has taken advantage of other prison programs, according to court testimony.
In LeBlanc’s ruling Sept. 4, she noted that a state prison warden, the coordinator for the Governor’s Mansion and Cage’s sister, who is the mother of his victim, testified on Cage’s behalf.
“There is no doubt that Mr. Cage has utilized his time in jail in a productive manner. He has developed skills that will last him a lifetime and has garnered the trust of the governor of this state,” LeBlanc wrote. “He has the forgiveness of the victim’s mother, who also believes he has been punished enough. This court does not know what further benefit incarceration serves Mr. Cage, other than being punitive.”
In addition to testifying that Cage had been punished enough, the victim’s mother, Burnniette Woodfolk, testified she loved Cage and that he could live with her if released.
LeBlanc wrote that Jerry Goodwin, warden of David Wade Correctional Center in Homer where Cage had served most of his sentence, and Irene Shepherd, the mansion coordinator, testified they trusted Cage and would have no problem with him living next to them.
Shepherd also testified, LeBlanc noted, that Cage had worked with her for eight years in the Governor’s Mansion and oversees Jindal’s children, “feeds them and is left alone with them.”
Johnny Gutierrez, Cage’s defense attorney, said Monday that he was not considering an appeal but was planning a clemency application.
Doug Cain, spokesman for Jindal, reiterated on Tuesday earlier comments from Jindal’s office in May that Jindal will not make a decision on clemency until after the state Board of Pardons and Parole makes a recommendation.
The board considers various kinds of clemency applications, including an executive pardon and a commutation of sentence.
In an executive pardon, the governor unconditionally releases a defendant from all punishment, forgives that person’s guilt and restores all rights of citizenship. State policy says the board cannot consider executive pardons while someone is in prison unless “exceptional circumstances exist.”
With a commutation of sentence, the governor can reduce the term of a defendant’s sentence but cannot restore the person’s civil rights such as being able to own a gun.
Defendants in prison can apply for a commutation under certain conditions, including that they are disciplinary-free for at least two years before the application is made, have a marketable job skill and receive a written statement from the trial judge that the sentence now appears excessive.
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