Juvenile killer seeks legal release from prison

A young man serving a life sentence for murder enjoyed a taste of freedom in the 1970s and the early 1980s, but his apparent desire to be a policeman landed him back in Angola.

Now, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling has given him another chance to get out of prison, this time legally.

LeRoy Jenkins, now 57, pleaded guilty on March 1, 1972, to second-degree murder in the shooting death of 63-year-old Edward Trask in a rural area of East Feliciana Parish near the Mississippi state line.

He was accused of taking Trask’s wallet and several hundred dollars after shooting him with a .22-caliber rifle stolen from a hunting camp in July 1971.

Jenkins was 15 at the time the crime was committed. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the benefit of parole.

Jenkins didn’t stay long in prison, however.

Louisiana State Penitentiary authorities said Jenkins escaped in December 1973. He made his way to Chicago, where he got a job and settled down until he was arrested again in 1982.

Jim Boren, the attorney who now represents Jenkins, said his client’s downfall in Illinois apparently was filling out an application to become a Chicago police officer.

“The way that it’s described to me is that they said, ‘Come on in. We think your application is great, and we’d probably hire you except for the fact that you’re an escaped convict out of a murder conviction in Louisiana,’ ” Boren said.

Boren said another irony in the case is that Jenkins pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, and two days later, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the death penalty as it was then imposed.

As a result of a U.S. Supreme court ruling last year, Jenkins is now asking a judge to declare him eligible for parole consideration.

The high court ruled in a 5-4 decision that states can no longer automatically impose life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles in murder cases.

In response, the Louisiana Legislature amended the sentencing law this year to give defendants such as Jenkins a chance for parole if a judge determines they are eligible and they meet a list of other conditions, including serving at least 35 years in prison.

The 20th Judicial District Attorney’s Office did not object to Jenkins’ motion to vacate his sentence, which ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsberg granted in April.

Winsberg is hearing the case because 20th Judicial District Judges George H. Ware Jr. and William G. Carmichael were prosecutors in the Feliciana parishes when Jenkins was tried for simple escape and attempted unsuccessfully to throw out his conviction in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Winsberg has set a Sept. 16 sentencing hearing in the case.

District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said he will present testimony “to let the judge know what happened” in the 42-year-old case.

Jenkins’ attorney in an unsuccessful 1990s federal appeal of his conviction, Gary W. Bizal, said in a court document that Jenkins was “released from jail” in 1973.

An incident report written by an Angola officer describes his “release” in a little more detail, however, saying Jenkins and another inmate escaped on Dec. 21, 1973, while working on a farm line. They left the field from behind Angola’s sugar mill, the report says.

Chase teams followed the two into the hills between Angola and Fort Adams, Miss., then learned that two escapees had broken into a house, tied up a woman and taken a shotgun and a pickup truck.

Angola officers talked to a man at Pond, Miss., who said he came home to find his mother tied up and two inmates armed with his shotgun and two cane knives. The two left after taking $400 and his truck keys, the report says.

Police later found the stolen truck in Scotlandville, and the other inmate was arrested in August 1974 in Morgan City.

Bizal wrote that Jenkins got a job with a steel company in Chicago and his employer “considered him an exemplary employee.”

“He was arrested following his application and acceptance as a police officer,” Bizal wrote.

Bizal added that Jenkins pleaded guilty to simple escape in West Feliciana Parish and drew an additional two-year term.

“He was unable to prove that his release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary was official,” Bizal wrote.

Boren said he believes he could win a new trial on the murder charge for Jenkins but seeking parole eligibility would be a faster route out of Angola.

“We feel like he should not have pled guilty in the first place,” Boren said.