ST. FRANCISVILLE — The judge presiding over the Angola 5 trials held a closed-door hearing Friday on undisclosed issues and issued undisclosed rulings.
The hearing apparently revolves around convicted inmate David Brown’s motion for a new trial based on information disclosed after he was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1999 slaying of Louisiana State Penitentiary Capt. David C. Knapps.
A jury chosen in St. Tammany Parish sentenced Brown, 39, to death in October.
Retired Orleans Parish District Judge Jerome M. Winsberg, who is presiding over the five trials, issued a gag order to parties in the cases in June, but the subject of the gag order is under seal.
William M. Sothern, one of Brown’s appellate attorneys, objected to the closed hearing, saying Brown has the right to be present and has the right to allow the public to witness the proceeding.
Winsberg replied that he is very much against closed hearings, but said they are necessary sometimes to protect the rights of people other than the defendant.
Brown was guarded by four Angola security officers during his court appearance.
“At no time is Mr. Brown going to be excluded,” Winsberg said.
Sothern and Brown attorney Letty S. DiGiulio said a motion filed earlier this year asserting that prosecutors from Jefferson and Caddo parishes, who are trying the cases for 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla, were sitting on a statement during the trials of Brown and Robert G. Carley that “fundamentally altered the state’s theory of the case regarding the relative culpability” of the defendants.
Prosecutors interviewed former Angola inmate Richard Domingue, 45, on June 8, 2011, at Hunt Correctional Center, where Domingue told them that defendant Barry Edge had confided that he and inmate Jeffrey Cameron Clark had decided on their own to kill Knapps when the escape plan began to unravel.
Clark also was convicted and sentenced to death, while Carley escaped the death penalty when a juror refused to consider it during deliberations.
Edge and David Mathis are awaiting trial, but Clark’s attorneys also argue he should get a new trial because of possible improper contact between St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputies and one or more jurors in his case.
Winsberg has not ruled on either Clark or Brown’s motions.
Meanwhile, the direction that prosecutors will take in trials for Edge and Mathis remains uncertain after Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles Scott forced assistants Lea Hall and Hugo Holland to resign Tuesday.
Holland and Hall have assisted Jefferson Parish prosecutors Tommy Block, Mike Futtrell and Juliet Clark in the three trials already held.
The resignations came after the state inspector general criticized the transfer of eight fully automatic M-16 rifles from the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency to the Caddo District Attorney’s Office, saying the application prepared by Hall and Holland contained false information.
Hall and Holland told Shreveport reporters their dismissals were political and they were not given a chance to respond to the allegations.
D’Aquilla, whose office cannot prosecute the five inmates because he once represented Edge as a public defender, said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick would make the decision on whether Hall and Holland will continue working on the case.
Block, the lead prosecutor, declined comment on the matter Thursday, and D’Aquilla said Connick had not made his decision.