Ex-clerk of court employees accused of stealing drugs, guns from evidence vault
Two former East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Office employees — one the son of a state judge — pleaded not guilty along with four others Thursday to charges stemming from the alleged theft of 48 pounds of cocaine and five guns from the clerk’s evidence vault last year.
The case rocked the 19th Judicial District Courthouse downtown and the clerk’s office, spawned a testy squabble over which judge should hear the matter and hastened planned changes at the evidence room.
The changes included more cameras and locks, written logs and random drug-testing.
The prosecutor handling the case said after Thursday’s arraignments that attorneys for several of the indicted defendants have approached her about possible plea bargains.
“I think things will move fairly expeditiously in this case,” First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns predicted outside the courthouse.
Frank Holthaus, who represents William Bates Colvin, 31, son of 19th Judicial District Court Judge Kay Bates, said Colvin intends to take responsibility for his actions.
However, Holthaus said, “We don’t want to take responsibility blindly.”
He said he couldn’t guarantee there won’t be a trial.
“There are no deals,” Holthaus said. “There never have been any deals.”
The next court date for Colvin and his co-defendants is Jan. 27.
Colvin, of Baton Rouge, and Debra Vicknair Bell, of Maurepas, who was once romantically involved with Colvin, both worked at the clerk’s office at the time of their arrests in December but were fired shortly thereafter.
Colvin has been jailed since his arrest and attended his arraignment in an orange Pointe Coupee Parish Prison jumpsuit.
Bell, 55, who is free on bond, wore a black dress.
Their co-defendants are Bell’s son, Colt Weston Bell, 30, of Baker; and Terrance Sloan Ramirez, 30; Deroy Joseph, 41; and Larry Collins, 26, each of Baton Rouge.
Colt Bell and Ramirez also remain behind bars.
The six pleaded not guilty before retired Judge Marion Edwards, who was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court in late August to preside over the case after the high court disqualified the entire 19th Judicial District bench from hearing it.
Edwards is a former state district judge in Jefferson Parish and also sat on the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna.
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted Colvin and his co-defendants in July.
The charges agains Colvin and Debra Bell include malfeasance in office and possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine; Colvin also is charged with obstruction of justice.
Colt Bell and Ramirez are accused of extorting Colvin to commit more thefts from the evidence vault in the downtown courthouse.
Joseph and Collins are charged with cocaine possession.
“He realizes how profoundly he’s messed up his life,” Holthaus said outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors have said Colvin faces a minimum of 15 years in prison due to the amount of cocaine involved.
In early August, before the state Supreme Court tabbed Edwards to preside over the case, prosecutors cited jailhouse recordings in which Colvin told his fiancée he expected preferential treatment because of his connections in the courthouse.
Holthaus has said Colvin was suffering from severe substance-abuse issues at the time he smuggled the drugs out of the courthouse.
The indictment says the thefts occurred between September 2012 and Nov. 30.
Colvin has admitted smuggling cocaine from the vault and distributing it for profit — to the tune of $200,000.
Colvin told detectives he spent $20,000 of the money on a vehicle and $30,000 on assorted jewelry, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Debra Bell admitted she had her son distributed some of the cocaine, one police affidavit alleges.
She also told authorities she knew her son and Ramirez began extorting Colvin in order to get more cocaine from the evidence vault.
Debra Bell said Colvin paid her son and Ramirez $5,000 for their silence, the affidavit says.
Burns and District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who also attended the arraignments, have said the stolen cocaine and firearms — three pistols and two shotguns — had been seized from accused drug dealers and murderers.
None of those cases were compromised by the loss of that evidence, they said.
Two of the stolen weapons had been used in the commission of two murders, the indictment states.
The defendants in those two cases were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.