Angola 5 inmate being tried in Knapps’ murder

ST. FRANCISVILLE — Blood on the hands, clothing and shoes of Angola inmate David Brown links him as an active participant in the December 1999 slaying of a prison security officer when an escape plan fell apart, a prosecutor told a jury Saturday.

“The blood found on David Brown binds him to the final moments of Capt. David Knapps’ life,” said Tommy Block, a Jefferson Parish assistant district attorney.

The first-degree murder trial of Brown, 38, began with opening statements and testimony from three witnesses before a jury of eight women and four men chosen Friday night.

The state is seeking the death penalty against Brown, the third of the so-called Angola 5 defendants to go before a jury.

Co-defendant Jeffrey Cameron Clark, 50, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in May, while another jury convicted Robert Carley, 43, of first-degree murder in September but could not reach a unanimous verdict on sentencing him to death.

Presiding Judge Jerome M. Winsberg later sentenced Carley, already serving life, to a second life term.

Brown is the only black defendant, and the jurors and three alternates are all white.

Jurors for the St. Francisville trials are being chosen in St. Tammany Parish because of pre-trial publicity in West Feliciana Parish and the links many of its residents have to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Defense attorneys Mark Marinoff and Clay Calhoun tried unsuccessfully to get Brown’s jury chosen in another parish, but prosecutors told jurors during the selection proceedings that race is not an issue in the case.

White residents make up 83.6 percent of St. Tammany’s population, according to the 2010 federal census.

Clark’s jury had no black members, while Carley’s had one black juror and one black alternate juror.

Assistant district attorneys from Jefferson and Caddo parishes are prosecuting the case for 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, who briefly represented co-defendant Barry Edge while he was a public defender.

Block said Brown was part of the escape plan, and “his immense size would be his weapon.”

The prosecutor said the state would prove that Brown held Knapps by the shoulders while Knapps was being beaten and stabbed inside an employee restroom, where his body was later found.

While Knapps was being attacked in a hallway, Block said, the officer asked Brown, “Why are you doing this to me?”

At that point, Brown picked Knapps up “like a rag doll” and carried him into the restroom where he was attacked again, Block said.

Marinoff told the jury that Brown did not plan the escape from Camp D’s Education Building, but inmate Joel Durham, who was shot to death when officers entered the building, developed the plan and “needed a large guy to control the other inmates.”

“The plan was to not kill anyone,” Marinoff said.

The plan, which quickly foundered, was to take officers’ uniforms and persuade a gate officer to let them out of the camp, where they would steal a car, the defense attorney said.

Far from being a leader, Brown was instructed on every step he took, Marinoff said.

“You’ll find the evidence is not as clear as you would hope,” Marinoff said.