Prosecutor describes vicious attack on Angola prison guard

Barry S. Edge initiated a “frenzy of violence” with other inmates at Angola when he slammed a hammer into the side of correctional officer David C. Knapps’ head, prosecutors told a jury Tuesday.

Prosecutor Tommy Block called Edge a leader and a major participant with a pivotal role in the death of Knapps during a botched escape attempt by six inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1999.

Edge is the last of five defendants to go to trial in the so-called Angola 5 case.

One of Edge’s defense attorneys, Steven Lemoine, told jurors that Edge did not intend to kill Knapps during the doomed Dec. 28, 1999, escape attempt.

He said weapons that Edge and the other inmates had were for intimidation purposes only.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Edge in his first-degree murder trial. The trial started with opening statements Tuesday afternoon.

Edge, serving a life sentence at Angola for a second-degree murder conviction, and inmates Jeffrey Clark, David Brown, Robert G. Carley and David Mathis were all indicted on first-degree murder charges following the slaying of Knapps during an escape attempt from Angola’s Camp D Education Building.

Clark and Brown were each found guilty and sentenced to death while Carley received a second life sentence after his jury failed to unanimously agree on a death sentence.

Mathis pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a life sentence.

A sixth inmate that participated in the escape, Joel Durham, was shot and killed during the standoff with law enforcement after officers stormed the building to rescue two remaining security officers the inmates held as hostages during the incident.

During opening statements, Lemoine told the jury that Edge is partly responsible for the death of Knapps but because he had no intent to kill or harm Knapps, should only be convicted of second-degree murder.

Block described Knapps as a fair and kind man who began his correctional career as a cadet at Angola in 1987 and rose through the ranks to become a captain.

Knapps, who loved to sing and play guitar, left behind two children, a fiancée, four brothers and six sisters.

Knapps was the highest ranking correctional officer working in Camp D during the escape attempt, Block said.

Edge, like the other inmates involved in the planned escape, smuggled weapons inside Camp D for the plot, Block said.

He said Edge hid two hammers in his jacket while the other inmates had a knife made from scissors and a shank.

Block told jurors Edge hit Knapps in the head with a hammer to immobilize him so he could take his uniform and pass off as a guard. After Knapps was struck with the hammer, Block said, the inmates fought to get his keys but Knapps refused to hand them over.

The inmates then dragged Knapps, already bloodied and beaten, into an officer’s bathroom in Camp D where he was beaten and stabbed to death.

Edge, who grabbed a mop and bucket and wiped the blood off the floor where Knapps was beaten, was told to guard the other two correctional officers taken hostage.

Edge tried to hide and blend in with other inmates in the building after officers regained control of Camp D, Block said.

Edge later admitted to his role in planning the escape and in attacking Knapps, Block told jurors.

Lemoine told jurors that when they listen to a recording of Edge’s confession later in the trial, they will hear details that help prove Edge is not guilty of first-degree murder.

One of Knapps’ sisters, Carolyn Whitstine, said during a short break between the two opening statements that she thought Block did a great job presenting the prosecution’s case.

“I’ll be glad when this is all over,” Whitstine said. “ I hope justice is done. We are ready for closure. We just want to move on with our lives.”

The 15-member jury, which includes 12 regular jurors and three alternates, is made up of six men and nine women.

The jury was picked in St. Tammany Parish because the pool of potential jurors in West Feliciana Parish is small and many residents in the parish work at the penitentiary or have relatives who work there.