Jury convicts Edge of murder in last of Angola 5 cases

A jury of eight women and four men convicted Angola inmate Barry S. Edge on Saturday of first-degree murder in the slaying of a Louisiana State Penitentiary security officer nearly 14 years ago.

Presiding Judge Jerome M. Winsberg directed jurors to return to court Sunday for the penalty phase of the trial, in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Edge and defense attorneys will argue for a life sentence.

Edge, 53, was the last of five inmates to face trial in the Dec. 28, 1999, beating and stabbing death of Capt. David D. Knapps, 49, during a failed escape attempt from the Educational Building of the Angola prison’s Camp D.

Six inmates took part in the escape attempt, and one, Joel Durham, 26, was shot and killed when Angola security officers regained control of the building and freed two other employee hostages.

Edge already is serving a life sentence at Angola for the 1985 shooting death of Clifford Stover Jr. in Jefferson Parish.

The jury and three alternates, like the other jurors chosen for the Angola 5 trials, were chosen in St. Tammany Parish and began hearing testimony Tuesday at the West Feliciana Parish courthouse. The penitentiary is in West Feliciana Parish.

Lead prosecutor Tommy Block, of Jefferson Parish, told the jury Saturday that Knapps “gave his life to honor the oath he took” and that his actions to thwart the escape potentially saved the lives of fellow employees, inmates not involved in the plot and people outside of prison.

“Barry Edge hit David Knapps in the head with a hammer,” Block thundered during his rebuttal to defense attorney Steve Lemoine’s closing argument that Edge did not have the specific intent to kill Knapps.

Block repeated variations of his statement four more times during his closing argument.

Lemoine and co-counsel Nick Trenticosta contended that Edge is guilty of, at most, second-degree murder because he did not participate in the other inmates’ fight to the death with Knapps and only smuggled two leatherworking mallets into the educational building as weapons to intimidate the officer into giving up his uniform, keys and radio.

Lemoine said Edge did not intend to kill Knapps or inflict great bodily harm when he hit Knapps but merely meant to stun him to allow the other inmates to wrestle the officer to the ground.

“A nice, nonviolent escape; that’s what Barry Edge signed up for,” Lemoine told the jury.

In a statement to investigators shortly after the killing, Edge said he hit Knapps with a glancing blow to the head as the officer walked through the building’s hallway, but Durham and several others rushed Knapps and prevented him from striking another blow.

Edge said he then mopped up blood from the hallway floor while the struggle continued with Knapps in an employee restroom. Inmates testified Edge was ordered to guard them and hostages Reddia Walker and Douglas Chaney in a classroom.

“His statement alone is enough to convict him of first-degree murder,” Jefferson Parish prosecutor Mike Futrell said in his closing argument.

“Barry Edge was the first to draw blood and the last to stop resisting,” Block said in his later argument.

Other St. Tammany Parish juries gave the death penalty to co-defendants Jeffrey Cameron Clark, 53, and David Brown, 40. Another panel convicted Robert G. Carley, 45, of first-degree murder but could not unanimously agree on the penalty, resulting in Carley receiving a second life sentence.

Inmate David Mathis, 37, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and received a life sentence.

North Louisiana lawyers Hugo Holland and Lea Hall assisted Block and Futrell in prosecuting the five.

The defense called one witness, Florida-based forensic pathologist Dr. Ronald K. Wright, who criticized the autopsy and conclusions of Dr. Alfredo Suarez, a pathologist at Earl K. Long Memorial hospital until it closed earlier this year.

Wright differed with Suarez’s conclusion that head wounds that caused Knapps’ death were delivered by one or more of the plastic mallets that Edge smuggled into the Education Building as part of the escape plan.

Wright said the potentially fatal blows were more likely caused by Brown’s size 14 boots.