ST. FRANCISVILLE — The judge in the Angola 5 murder case on Tuesday rescinded an earlier order appointing a New Orleans nonprofit law group to appeal inmate Jeffrey Cameron Clark’s death sentence, but questions remain about which agency would fund the legal battle to save Clark’s life.
Retired Orleans Judge Jerome M. Winsberg granted a motion on June 3 relieving court-appointed trial attorneys Tommy Damico and Joe Lotwick from further responsibility in the case after a jury convicted Clark of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in May.
The June 3 order also appointed the Capital Appeals Project to handle Clark’s required direct appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Clark is one of five Angola prisoners accused in the Dec. 28, 1999, beating and stabbing death of security Capt. David C. Knapps during an attempted escape from a prison camp.
The Capital Appeals Project is a nonprofit group that receives funding from the Louisiana Public Defender Board and other sources for handling capital cases.
Lawyers for the organization filed a motion asking Winsberg to order the state Office of Corrections Services to show cause Tuesday why the agency should not fund Clark’s appeal, as it has done in prosecuting and defending the five inmates since 2004.
Corrections attorneys Jonathan Vining and Billy Kline said the agency is not responsible for Clark’s appeal costs because the state law requiring it to pay for the prosecution does not mention appeals.
Kline said Corrections has paid almost $7 million to prosecute and defend the five at the trial level.
Requiring Corrections to pay for the appeals would put the agency into a deficit, Kline said.
Kline and Vining also said another state law specifically requires the state Public Defender Board to handle the appeals of indigent people sentenced to death in Louisiana.
Attorneys Ben Cohen and Bidish Sarma said the state board adopted a resolution on Aug. 17 that says the board is not responsible for the appeal costs because the Capital Appeals Project was appointed under the statute dealing with crimes committed in state prisons.
Winsberg agreed with the state attorneys that Clark’s appellate attorneys were appointed under the wrong statute and said he is appointing the state Public Defender Board to take the case.
“If the board wants to employ you and your staff, that’s fine,” the judge said. “It’s not up to me.”
Winsberg said, however, that he is open to delaying the order, at Cohen’s request, to allow State Public Defender Jean M. Faria to discuss the funding in another hearing.
Prosecutors and attorneys for inmate Robert G. Carley will meet Thursday to distribute questionnaires to prospective jurors in Covington, and jury selection for the second trial is scheduled to begin Monday.
A trial for inmate David Brown is tentatively scheduled for October. The other defendants are Barry S. Edge and David Mathis. All five are serving life sentences for murder.