Man pleads guilty to role in covering up hit-and-run death of NOPD officer _lowres

Officer Rodney Thomas

One of six people charged in the hit-and-run death of former New Orleans police Officer Rodney Thomas and a subsequent cover-up attempt pleaded guilty as charged Friday in Criminal District Court.

Bill Cager, 35, the owner of a body shop where the Porsche Panamera that struck Thomas was taken after the July 2013 accident, pleaded guilty to being an accessory to manslaughter, obstruction of justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and conspiring to be an accessory after the fact to manslaughter.

Under the terms of a plea deal, Cager received the maximum sentence for each count, with the sentences suspended. He has already spent a year in jail.

Cager’s attorney, John Fuller, said the deal doesn’t require Cager to cooperate in other prosecutions over the case, in which five other people still face charges: Justin McKey, 26, Kenneth Halley, 29, John Chambers, 29, James Ratliff, 39, and Nephateria Jones, 28.

McKey and Halley were both allegedly in the Porsche when it struck Thomas on the Interstate 10 high-rise over the Industrial Canal after the officer got out of his truck to check on damage to another car.

McKey turned himself in the day after the July 7 accident, saying he was driving when the car struck Thomas. Police have said Halley, who owned the car, drove it to a friend’s house and then to Cager’s body shop, in the shadow of police headquarters. Both men are charged with manslaughter, suggesting authorities weren’t sure who was driving the vehicle.

Chambers, Ratliff and Jones are all charged with roles in the cover-up.

Cager admitted hiding the Porsche in his body shop while knowing that it had been driven in a fatal hit-and-run, Fuller said.

“The state’s theory was that he knew that someone had been killed via the car, and he was going to help fix the car up,” Fuller said.

“All parties involved — the state, myself, Mr. Cager, the officer’s family — were all on board with the sentence,” Fuller said.

He said Cager potentially could have faced more than 37 years in prison if convicted in the case.

Cager was to be released Friday after spending the last year behind bars, Fuller said.