GONZALES — Harrison Cage, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s personal butler and a longtime state prison trusty, asked a state district judge Monday to reduce his mandatory life sentence for a 1991 second-degree murder, as a state prison warden and the Governor’s Mansion coordinator testified they believe Cage is no longer a risk to the public.
Irene Shepherd, mansion coordinator, testified that Cage handles any duties she asks of him for the Jindal household and is the first to arrive for work each day and the last to leave.
Shepherd testified she has no concerns about Cage, who works routinely with Jindal and his children.
“You can’t get any closer to the governor than he is,” Shepherd said at the Ascension Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
Shepherd said that Cage, 52, is one of two trusties she has known during her past 16 years working at the mansion whom she would feel comfortable having as her next-door neighbor.
Cage, formerly of Baton Rouge, has lived in the State Police Barracks since 2006 and has worked in the Governor’s Mansion for eight years.
After a mistrial in 1992, a second Ascension Parish jury unanimously convicted Cage in March 1993 of second-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of his nephew, Tyrone Clark.
According to court papers, Clark, 19, was found with multiple stab wounds to his head and neck in a wooded area of Oak Grove in September 1991 after the landowners had spotted Cage next to a pickup on their property with a pool of blood by the vehicle.
The landowners testified they saw a bloody knife in Cage’s back pocket. Cage drove off and the landowners, who were suspicious of foul play, later found the body in the woods.
At trial, Cage took the stand and denied his involvement, claiming Clark was attacked by two strangers.
Wearing trim khaki slacks and a yellow, long-sleeve button-down Polo shirt, Cage testified again Monday in Gonzales. He said he has taken advantage of every prison program available to him in his years in prison, has earned his GED certificate and is a tutor to other prisoners trying to get theirs.
Cage testified he would like Judge Jessie LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District Court, to give his life sentence some kind of term, possibly 45 to 50 years, so he could seek parole. He has served 24 years in prison and would like parole for the remaining time.
Under Louisiana law, a second-degree murder conviction brings mandatory life “without the benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.” Then-Judge A.J. Kling Jr. gave Cage just that sentence.
It was not immediately clear under what basis the hearing to reduce that sentence was held Monday.
A post-conviction appeal for Cage was filed in 2001 and appears to be still pending. That appeal, however, centers around Cage’s claims of ineffective legal assistance during his second trial in 1993 and does not raise claims that Cage is a changed person deserving of a reduced sentence nor cite the case law that would allow such a reduction of a mandatory life sentence.
The appeal has been continued various times through the subsequent 14 years.
Defense attorney Johnny Gutierrez declined to discuss his client’s legal strategy after the hearing Monday.
Charlotte Guedry, spokeswoman for the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said she could not immediately discuss the nature of the appeal hearing but said the office opposed it.
Assistant District Attorney Joni Buquoi noted her objection with LeBlanc as the hearing began Monday, saying the appeal was no longer timely. LeBlanc overruled her and noted the series of continuances through the years.
Despite the objection, Buquoi chose not to cross-examine Shepherd, Cage or Jerry Goodwin, warden of David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, and offered no witnesses in rebuttal.
Goodwin, who traveled four and a half hours for the hearing Monday, testified that he too would have Cage as his neighbor and spoke of his belief that Cage is not a risk to the community.
Goodwin said Cage, who was at David Wade Correctional from 1993 to 2006, was an orderly at the prison conference center and handled preparation of food and other duties.
Burnniette Woodfolk, 60, of Baton Rouge, who is Cage’s sister and the mother of the victim, Clark, testified she also supports releasing her brother and would be willing to have him live with her.
On Buquoi’s cross-examination, Woodfolk said she was neither asked nor pressured to testify on her brother’s behalf but was testifying because she loves her brother.
“He knows I love him. He’s always known that,” she said.
LeBlanc issued no ruling Monday but took the case under advisement.
When asked if Jindal believes his personal butler should receive a reduced sentence, Alexis Nicaud, Jindal spokeswoman, said his office cannot comment on court proceedings.
Nicaud added that Jindal’s office doesn’t “make decisions on pardons until after the pardon board makes recommendations to our office.” Cage’s hearing Monday was not before the state Board of Pardons and Parole.
Jindal, who was not made available for comment, has granted clemency to 62 people since 2008, Nicaud said.
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