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The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: looking at Caddo Parish's perjury cases

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Shreveport Fire Capt. Tommy Carpenter Shreveport Fire Capt. Tommy Carpenter
Donnie Ray Baker Jr. Donnie Ray Baker Jr.
SHREVEPORT, La. - Caddo Parish's three high-profile perjury cases have one person at the helm: assistant district attorney Dale Cox.

"There are certain cases where the perjury is vital to the overall prosecution, and you simply can't ignore it," Cox said.

Shreveport Fire Captain Tommy Carpenter was not the target of a recent Caddo Parish grand jury investigation, but his testimony landed him behind bars on a perjury charge.

According to the indictment, Carpenter originally told jurors in March that Chief Craig Mulford told him and others couldn't talk to law enforcement "without getting prior approval from the fire department," effectively impeding a criminal investigation. During an April appearance, he reportedly recanted the testimony.

In May, a Caddo Parish jury convicted Donnie Ray Baker Jr. of aggravated kidnapping and carjacking, but his time on the stand earned him another charge: perjury. Baker told jurors he was selling the victim drugs when she took off with his product and the resulting struggle behind the wheel was his attempt to steer them to safety.

Previous article: Shreveport man convicted of 2013 aggravated kidnapping, carjacking from Broadmoor Baptist parking lot

December 2013, notary public Ronald Norman was arrested on charges of forgery and perjury for his participation in Linda Kate Passaniti's murder-for-hire case. He originally told jurors he had helped murder victim Ernest Luttrell change his power of attorney documents before his death but later recanted that information.

Cox stops short of calling the perjury charges a trend, but says there is a growing malaise regarding truth and honesty.

"I'm sad to have to say this, but after almost forty years in this profession a lot of people do not take the oath seriously," Cox said. "And they do not consider it anything more than a formality."

On the other side of the courtroom, Public Defender Alan Golden says perjury charges are uncommon. He's never had one involved in his cases over thirty years. Golden says most of false information told on the stand are honest mistakes.

"In the criminal realm, there's a lot of mistrust especially because the stakes are very high," Golden said. "For that reason, we always tell our witness, tell the truth. Testifying in a court of law is a very daunting experience and witnesses get nervous, understandably say things they don't mean and they do get flustered. As an attorney, we take remedial action as soon as we can. We'll often tell the prosecutors, 'Look, this witness testified mistakenly about this or that part. Here's what the witness had to say."

Golden says they prepare witnesses by instructing them to tell the truth and stay quiet if they're unsure of the correct answer. His staff informs witnesses of the consequences of lying and won't call anyone to testify if they know the witness intends to perjure himself or herself.

The penalty for perjury escalates depending on the trial in which it's committed. For cases with the potential for a death sentence or life imprisonment, offenders are fined up to $100,000 and five to forty years.

Additional link: Louisiana Revised Statute 14:123 - Perjury

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