Judge denies new trial for ex-West Feliciana police juror

A state district judge denied a former West Feliciana Parish police juror’s motion Thursday for a new trial on three counts of felony theft involving funds from the juror’s church in Weyanoke.

John Cobb, who served 24 years on the Police Jury until his narrow defeat in 2011, was convicted on the three counts after a jury trial in October.

After denying the motion, 20th Judicial District Judge William G. Carmichael set Cobb’s sentencing for May 9.

State Police arrested Cobb and six other people in May 2010 after investigating a complaint from another member of Union Bethel Family Church about Cobb’s handling of its finances. The six included Cobb’s wife, Carol, and his mother-in-law.

Carol Cobb’s case is still pending, but the other five defendants reached plea bargains with prosecutors.

Cobb attorney Yigal Bander argued that Cobb should have a new trial because the six-member jury’s verdicts do not conform to the law or the evidence introduced at trial.

Bander also said Cobb should get a new trial because his trial lawyers, Angela Lockett and Keith Sanchez, did not adequately represent him.

Cobb is accused of accepting $80,000 in insurance money from a defunct Clinton nonprofit organization whose building burned, sending $50,000 back to the organization’s directors through third parties, keeping $15,000 for himself and putting $15,000 in the church’s account.

Cobb’s new attorneys said in their motion that the church’s finances “were managed in a way that most of us would consider unacceptable,” with Cobb bearing primary responsibility and the church bearing some for allowing him unsupervised discretion in handling its money.

His handling of the money, however, did not rise to the level of fraud or make Cobb a thief, his attorney said.

The second count against Cobb alleged that the church paid him $5,120 for a steeple on its new sanctuary, which was under construction. During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Haley Green told jurors that Cobb didn’t get the steeple built until he learned he was under investigation.

“Mr. Cobb didn’t steal the money,” Bander said Thursday, adding that Cobb promised the church a steeple and the church got one.

The third count alleged Cobb took $785 in church funds by cashing checks made out to a laborer but keeping the money himself. Bander said the laborer’s trial testimony differed from the statements the laborer gave State Police.

Bander told Carmichael the trial transcript “shows in so many ways the ineffective assistance of counsel” when Cobb was on trial.

The attorneys failed to object when prosecutors asked leading questions of witnesses, allowed Trooper Lance Kennedy to introduce hearsay evidence over 20 pages of the transcript, failed to prepare Cobb for testifying and did not introduce exhibits helpful to their client, Bander argued.

The trial attorneys also did not challenge whether prosecutors excluded blacks, through peremptory challenges, from serving on the jury, in violation of a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“All of the challenges I observed had specific grounds,” said Carmichael, who also declined to throw out pending criminal conspiracy charges against Cobb.