Prosecutor: Angola 5 inmate leader

ST. FRANCISVILLE — A prosecutor told a jury Tuesday that Angola inmate Robert G. Carley was a leader in an escape plot that led to the death of prison security Capt. David C. Knapps nearly 12 years ago.

Carley, now 43, participated in the stabbing and beating death of Knapps, 49, inside the Education Building at Angola’s Camp D when the escape plan began to fall apart on the night of Dec. 28, 1999, said Tommy Block, lead prosecutor in the so-called Angola 5 murder trials.

“The blood found on Robert Carley binds him to those final moments of Capt. David Knapps’ life,” Block said during opening statements in Carley’s first-degree murder trial.

Attorneys in the case chose the jury of five men and seven women from St. Tammany Parish on Tuesday morning, and the panel was taken to St. Francisville for the trial.

Jury selection began Aug. 29 but was delayed by Tropical Storm Lee.

Retired Orleans Parish Judge Jerome M. Winsberg is presiding over the trial, the second of five trials planned in Knapps’ slaying.

Another jury drawn from St. Tammany Parish convicted inmate Jeffrey Cameron Clark, 50, in May and sentenced him to death.

The state is seeking the death penalty against Carley.

Block is assisted by Mike Futrell, of Jefferson Parish, and Lea Hall and Hugo Holland, both of Caddo Parish.

Twentieth Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla recused himself from prosecuting the suspects because he briefly represented one of them before he was elected to office.

Tommy Thompson and Clayton M. Perkins are representing Carley, a New York native serving a life sentence for the Oct. 15, 1987, murder of gas station attendant Robert Esposito during an armed robbery in St. Bernard Parish.

Thompson told the jurors in his opening statement he will concede Carley helped plan the escape and engaged in an aggravating kidnapping, two of the elements the state must prove to convict Carley of first-degree murder.

The defense also will concede Knapps was a peace officer acting in an official capacity when he was killed and Carley was lawfully confined at Louisiana State Penitentiary, having been convicted of a felony, Thompson said.

The question jurors must decide is whether Carley had the specific intent to kill Knapps, Thompson said, suggesting inmate Joel Durham was the main instigator of the escape plan and was “suicidal and homicidal” when the plan fell apart.

Angola security officers killed Durham, 26, when they rescued two other officers being held hostage in the building.

Thompson said the testimony would show Carley surrendered first and offered to go back into the building to end the standoff without further bloodshed.

“We will never bring David Knapps back. God, I wish we could. But don’t kill Robert Carley. He’s not the man who killed David Knapps,” Thompson said.