ST. FRANCISVILLE — A former Louisiana State Penitentiary correctional officer testified Friday that inmates Robert G. Carley and David Mathis tried to take him hostage the night Capt. David C. Knapps was killed in Angola’s Camp D.
Charles R. Cockerham testified while wearing black-and-white striped jail clothing. He was led into the courtroom in handcuffs for the hearing in Carley’s case.
The retired corrections lieutenant was arrested in Kingsport, Tenn., on a material witness warrant last month.
Prosecutors alleged in the warrant that Cockerham was trying to avoid being served with a subpoena to testify against five inmates accused of first-degree murder in Knapps’ Dec. 28, 1999, slaying.
A jury of St. Tammany Parish residents convicted Jeffrey Cameron Clark, 51, in May and sentenced him to death in the slaying. Carley’s trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection in Covington on Aug. 29.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said they were unable to locate Cockerham for Clark’s trial.
Cockerham on Friday denied that he tried to avoid being served with a subpoena and accepted a subpoena to return to Louisiana for Carley’s trial.
Presiding Judge Jerome M. Winsberg ordered West Feliciana sheriff’s deputies to release Cockerham after his testimony was taken Friday.
On the night Knapps was killed, Cockerham said, he noticed that a gate officer was not at her post near the camp’s Education Building and he opened the gate for a waiting group of inmates.
When he opened the Education Building’s door to check on the missing officer, Sgt. Reddia Walker, Cockerham testified, he was confronted by Carley and inmate David Mathis.
Carley was armed with a prison-made knife, or shank, while Mathis, now 34, swung at him with a fire extinguisher, Cockerham said.
He said the inmates ordered him inside the building, saying they were holding three other officers, but Cockerham said he backed out of the building despite their threats to kill him.
Cockerham said he told Carley several times to drop the knife, but Carley replied that the inmates already had killed Knapps and “you can’t stop us now.”
Cockerham said he shut the door when he saw other officers approaching the gate and spent the remainder of the night stationed at another gate, letting other officers in and out of the camp. After the incident, Cockerham said, he returned once to Angola to go over his written statement with investigators but took leave and eventually retired.
In addition to Clark, Carley and Mathis, prosecutors obtained indictments against David Brown, 38, and Barry S. Edge, 51, in the case.
Lead prosecutor Tommy Block, of Jefferson Parish, told the judge that the state and defense will be ready to try Brown in mid-October.
Clark and his attorneys stipulated that the judge could tell the jury that Clark was lawfully confined at Angola in 1999, a fact needed to prove an aggravating circumstance of first-degree murder. They also agreed to stipulate, during the sentencing portion of the trial, that the defendant had been convicted of another murder.
The stipulations lessened the amount of prejudicial information the jury had to consider about Clark’s past.
Carley attorneys Clayton Perkins and Tommy Thompson, however, said they would concede nothing in the next trial.
“Awesome,” said Caddo Parish prosecutor Hugo Holland, who told the judge he will be happy to put on witnesses and crime scene photographs to establish that Carley killed a St. Bernard Parish gas station attendant in 1987.
“Let’s not get too excited,” Winsberg commented.
The judge will hear a motion to reconsider Clark’s death sentence at an Aug. 12 hearing.