House panel backs expansion of death penalty

A Louisiana House committee voted 14-1 Wednesday in favor of advancing legislation that would expand the application of the death penalty.

Under House Bill 278, the killing of a prison worker would become a capital crime. First degree murder already covers the deaths of firemen, peace officers, Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory civilian employees, taxi drivers, young children and the elderly.

“We’ve had several tragedies, one in the last probably 10 years or so,” state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, told the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice. Havard’s House district is home to two state prisons.

The most recent prison worker killing in Louisiana dates back nearly 15 years ago. Capt. David D. Knapps, 49, died during a failed escape attempt from the Educational Building of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola prison’s Camp D.

Because an aggravating element was involved the escape two inmates received a death sentence in Knapps’ slaying. Three others received life sentences.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, noted that HB278 would apply to any prison worker. “If you’re a secretary, anybody,” he said.

Havard said prison employees work in dangerous situations.

Landry cast the lone dissenting vote against the legislation, which now moves to the full House for debate.