GONZALES — The editor of a local website agreed Monday to permanently take down a story about Murphy Painter that the onetime candidate for Ascension Parish president said used a misleadingly edited recording to make it sound as if Painter was involved in the criminal cover-up of child rapes.
The story was published online Oct. 18 and Painter, a former sheriff's chief deputy who ran second in the Oct. 12 primary, withdrew from the runoff three days later against eventual winner Clint Cointment.
The Ascension Parish grand jury later found no evidence of a cover-up.
Painter sued the website, the Pelican Post, and its editor-in-chief, Wade Petite, earlier this month in state district court and asked for a court to order that Petite stop publishing the story online.
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On Monday, Petite agreed to take the story down after testy exchanges with Painter's attorney, Kim Segura Landry.
Before the hearing began, Petite and Landry met privately with 23rd Judicial District Judge Alvin Turner Jr. in his chambers.
Petite emerged with Landry and appeared to have agreed to take the story down. But he withdrew the offer after Landry questioned whether Petite, as an individual and not an attorney for his publication, could legally represent the news website corporation, Pelican Post News LLC.
"How about this, judge? The deal's off," Petite could be heard telling Turner during a conversation at the bench with Landry.
Petite, who formerly practiced in Louisiana as a lawyer, represented himself before the court as an individual, known as being "in proper person," and not as a lawyer, which is an officer of the court.
Petite is one of the website corporation's managing members along with his wife. To satisfy Landry's concerns that he could speak for his company, he later stated on the record that he was also authorized to speak for the corporation before the court.
An order formalizing the permanent order to take down the story is pending.
Painter has said that he was no longer chief deputy of the parish Sheriff's Office at the time of the alleged child rapes in the 1990s and prosecutors have announced the case apparently referenced in the excerpt was handled appropriately.
The suit Painter file alleges Petite published the comments from the recording and the companion story to help Cointment in the parish president's race, even after prosecutors had received the recording excerpt months earlier and declined to pursue a case against Painter.
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Painter's suit also claims the comments were from a meeting with insurance agent Dustin Clouatre on Feb. 7, 2019. Clouatre has previously denied making a recording, though he said they met around that time.
On the stand Monday, Painter said he believed the recording was made during the February meeting with Clouatre because the next day he received a text message saying Petite had recordings of him from the conversation. Painter added that he was informed Petite would do everything he could to "make sure I was exposed."
Petite, in his publication, has been an outspoken supporter of Cointment. But both he and Cointment have denied any coordination between the publication and Cointment's campaign.
Landry's questioning of Petite happened before he agreed to remove the story from his website. She probed for the source of the recording and other alleged recordings of Painter, how they were made and who else may have copies of them.
Landry told Judge Turner that a subpoena has been issued to the 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin's Office seeking the recordings that Petite turned over for the grand jury proceedings.
She said the D.A.'s office has indicated the recordings would be turned over but has not yet received them.
She told Turner that she needed access to the recordings to make her case that the allegations raised in the Pelican Post story were false.
Under questioning, Petite said he turned over to Ascension prosecutors a thumb drive, a kind of electronic storage device, of multiple recordings of Painter. He said he destroyed or threw away any other copies of recordings of Painter.
Petite acknowledged that he did not make the recording he posted on his website and said he had not edited the full recording from which the published excerpt was created. He said he lacked the technical skill to make the excerpt.
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He refused to identify the source of the recordings on the thumb drive that was "delivered to my home."
Landry pressed Petite on the news story he ran in he Pelican Post with the excerpted recording, as well as other news accounts quoting Petite as linking the excerpt to interviews Petite said he did with Painter in 2015 and 2017.
Petite said he couldn't recall making the comments, nor would he say whether his own story indicated the excerpted recording came from July 2017 interviews referenced in the Pelican Post story.