Death sentence reversed in killing of CO

Judge overturned death sentence given to one of five inmates convicted of killing CO during a failed escape attempt

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans judge has overturned the death sentence given to one of five state inmates convicted of killing a corrections officer during a failed escape attempt at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1999, according to defense attorneys.

Retired Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Jerome Winsberg, who is handling the case, let David Brown's conviction stand but has ordered a new sentencing hearing, according to a statement sent Friday for defense attorney Billy Sothern. It said Winsberg ruled from the bench on Thursday in West Feliciana Parish, without a written opinion.

Winsberg ruled that prosecutors improperly withheld another inmate's alleged confession until after Brown went on trial, The New Orleans Advocate reported.

Brown was one of two inmates sentenced to death for killing Capt. David Knapps. Three others are serving life sentences.

One of those serving life, Barry Edge, allegedly told a cellmate that only he and Jeffrey Cameron Clark killed Knapps — and that they alone made the decision to kill him.

Prosecutors failed to disclose this before Brown's trial, telling jurors that Brown was equally to blame and deserved death, according to the statement.

Winsberg ruled that there was enough evidence to show that Brown tried to escape, so his conviction stands, but that prosecutors had failed to reveal evidence that he had neither killed Knapps nor intended to kill him.

"There is nothing worse a lawyer can do than hide favorable evidence from a defendant facing the death penalty," Sothern said. "We hope that the judge's ruling affirming that principle by throwing out David Brown's death sentence will allow for the resolution of this case after 15 years of litigation, expense, and uncertainty."

During Brown's trial in 2011, prosecutors from Jefferson and Caddo parishes played a the jury of Brown telling investigators he dragged Knapps into an employee restroom and held him there while a co-defendant hit him with a mallet.

DNA tests found that Knapps' blood was on Brown's hands, shoelace and clothes, according to trial testimony.

Prosecutors argued later, at Edge's trial, that it was Edge who took a hammer to Knapps' head.

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