Cynthia Thompson Perkins (left) and Dennis W. Perkins (right)

Cynthia Thompson Perkins (left) and Dennis W. Perkins (right)

Editor's note: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse of children.

An appeals court said Wednesday that next week's trial of a former Livingston Parish sheriff's deputy on sex-crime charges should be delayed because his lawyer is also scheduled to represent a woman in a murder trial in a different parish on the same day.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said Judge Erika Sledge of the 21st Judicial District abused her discretion by not rescheduling Dennis Perkins' trial because his lawyer, Jarrett Ambeau, was double-booked and Perkins' trial had not been subjected to any previous delays. The trial had been set to start Monday in Livingston.

The judges, in a 2-1 decision, said Ambeau "demonstrated that the trial of the instant matter (Perkins) and a first degree murder trial in another parish, in which he is also counsel of record, are commencing on the same day." Chief Judge Vanessa G. Whipple and Judge Jewel E. "Duke" Welch voted to delay the trial. Judge Elizabeth P. Wolfe would have denied the request, but didn't offer a written reason.

The decision offered a degree of resolution to weeks of logistical wrinkles that have thrown the circumstances of the high-profile trial into question. The uncertainty stemmed from whether Dennis Perkins and his now-ex-wife, Cynthia Perkins, a former Livingston Parish school teacher, should be tried together and when their trials should begin.

Dennis Perkins, 45, and Cynthia Perkins, 36, together face 150 felony charges alleging rape, child pornography, sexual battery of a child, video voyeurism and tainting pastries that children later ate at school. Their alleged victims include two children, two adults and a dog.

Ambeau first asked Sledge to delay the trial in early June as Dennis Perkins sought a plea deal with the attorney general’s office. A month earlier, Ambeau had asked that the couple’s trial be severed because he believes Cynthia Perkins’ testimony could prejudice a jury against her ex-husband if they are tried jointly.

The couple was indicted on the same court document after their 2019 arrest, setting them up to go to trial together.

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Sledge ruled at a motions hearing last month that the couple’s trial should be severed, after new evidence surfaced supporting Ambeau’s complaint that Cynthia Perkins would seek to pin blame on her ex-husband on the witness stand. 

The judge declined, though, to delay the trial’s start date, prompting Ambeau to appeal to the high court.

Separately on Wednesday, the state attorney general's office failed in its effort to re-attach Dennis Perkins’ trial to Cynthia’s. The Appeals Court denied the prosecutor's request because the attorney general’s office “failed to consider all of the evidence considered by the trial court in ruling on the motion to sever” when it appealed to the high court. 

After having her case separated from her ex-husband’s, Cynthia Perkins’ trial was left on the court calendar for Monday, but her lawyer has also requested a delay. A ruling has not yet been made on that request.

Dennis Perkins’ trial could now begin as late as 2022, Ambeau said in an interview Wednesday.

The extra time will give his client more opportunities to reach a plea bargain with the attorney general's office, he said — an offer prosecutors have not made.

“We will continue to defend my client and will continue to work on a possible plea,” Ambeau said.

The Attorney General’s office “stands ready to get justice for the victims,” said Emily Fuson, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor, “no matter the date or time.”


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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