The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case of David Brown, the “Angola 5” member whose death sentence for the killing of a prison guard during a 1999 escape attempt was overturned by a state judge, then reinstated in February by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The denial marked a victory for Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office.
Defense advocates had hoped the case would prompt the high court to scold Louisiana over what they describe as a persistent failure to adhere to Brady v. Maryland. That landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense all evidence favorable to a defendant, and Brown’s attorneys argued that his case was strikingly similar to Brady’s.
Brown had joined a group of prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the escape attempt, but he claimed he wasn’t there when Capt. David Knapps was killed inside a bathroom.
Brown had helped drag Knapps there and got the victim’s blood on his prison uniform, but he said he had left before other inmates killed Knapps. He said murder wasn’t part of the plan.
The state never accused Brown, who at the time was serving a life sentence for a different murder, of striking Knapps. But it argued that he was guilty of first-degree murder for joining in a plot with the specific intent to kill, and a jury agreed.
At issue in his legal challenge was a statement from another state inmate, David Domingue, claiming that another man accused in the murder, Barry Edge, confessed that he and fellow inmate Jeffery Clark alone had decided to kill the guard. That statement never found its way to Brown’s attorneys before his conviction and death sentence for the guard’s slaying.
Retired Criminal District Court Judge Jerome Winsberg overturned Brown’s death sentence, but not his conviction, in 2014, finding that “there is a reasonable probability that the jury’s verdict would have been different had the evidence not been suppressed.”
An appeals court reversed Winsberg’s ruling, and in February, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to keep Brown’s death sentence in place. The justices ruled that Domingue’s statement “provides no additional evidence as to who actually killed Capt. Knapps” and “simply does not exculpate Brown.”
Connick’s office argued that Brown jumped the gun in going to the U.S. Supreme Court when he can still ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to rehear the case.
Connick’s office, which handled the prosecution after a series of recusals by other agencies, also argued that Domingue’s statement wouldn’t have been admissible at Brown’s trial, and that even if it were, it was “neither favorable nor material” to his cause.
Prosecutors described Domingue’s statement as “wholly extraneous” to their argument for a death sentence for Brown, which they said “focused on the fact that a life sentence would be the equivalent of no punishment at all because David Brown was already serving a life sentence at the time of the murder.”
Brown’s case was up for a decision Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court justices on whether to hear it. The court does not explain why it declines to hear cases.
Brown’s attorneys say the fight to spare him a death sentence isn’t over. They plan to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to rehear the case and, failing that, to try again with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Connick’s office declined to comment on the decision, citing a policy of not commenting on open cases.
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