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Agency handling area death penalty defense services could close - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Agency handling area death penalty defense services could close by the end of the year

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Caddo Parish Courthouse Caddo Parish Courthouse
Kenneth Willis (Photo: CPSO) Kenneth Willis (Photo: CPSO)

Kenneth Willis' attorneys says they don't have the staff or money to take his case to trial as scheduled Oct. 13, and foresee a similar fate for all the area's publicly-funded capital murder defense cases.

Willis is accused of first degree murder for the 2007 death of his infant son, Zamian. In June, his attorneys Jason Waltman and Elton Richey filed motions to withdraw from his case citing funding issues for their organization Capital Assistance Project of Louisiana, or CAPOLA.

The group would be unfunded July 1 unless they worked out a new contract with the Louisiana Public Defender's Board.

Although they had a verbal agreement and averted an immediate shutdown, the financial troubles persist. CAPOLA hasn't received any money since the start of the fiscal year and could now close before the end of 2014.

At least one Caddo prosecutors isn't buying the story and says it could be a tactic to abolish death row practices from a corner of the state using it most.

"To suggest that these lawyers aren't adequate because they had to bad outcomes, if that's all you look at, why don't you look at the whole body of work over forty years, and see what the outcomes are," Caddo assistant district attorney Dale Cox said.

The Louisiana State Public Defender Board ordered a review of CAPOLA services in late 2013 after jurors returned the death penalty in back-to-back Caddo cases: Marcus Reed in October and Rodricus Crawford in November. During the review period, jurors handed the same fate for cab driver Brian Horn in DeSoto Parish.

Previous article: Louisiana Public Defender Board pulled funds for local death penalty cases after unsuccessful trials

After the review, the board decertified one attorney, reportedly put CAPOLA director Richard Goorley on provisional certification, and declined to continue the contract July 1 with a plan to work towards renewal.

Facing a funding crisis and running only on cash reserves, CAPOLA's since slashed office space and lost staff in search of a more stable paycheck.

Goorley says some of the agency's employees, primarily younger professionals, "read the writing on the wall." Six people have left CAPOLA since Jan. 1, including two attorneys.

Previous article: Defense attorney files motion to withdraw as council in Kenneth Willis' child murder case

ADA Cox says he's practiced law long enough to know when an attorney is doing a good job and blames the CAPOLA losses on the facts rather than performance.

"If your position's that the CAPOLA group has had such poor outcomes that they don't deserve renewal of their contract, they why not decertify all their lawyers?" Cox asked.

Since it's founding in 2002, CAPOLA's handled 87 capital cases. The agency had only had one death penalty returned- and upheld after appeal- in the years before 2013. Last year alone, they had three.

Cox says a record of four death penalty returns over 87 cases suggests to him that the state board seeks to manipulate the system, at least slowing down the legal process if not effectively banning the death penalty by getting rid of all the lawyers qualified to try those cases.

LPDB Capital Case Coordinator Jean Faria denies board members have an abolitionist agenda.

"We have always anticipated when we dealt with CAPOLA... we would grant the funding," Faria said in Caddo court Aug. 27.

Goorley seconded Faria's sentiment saying, "I feel the concerns they had were legitimate concerns. I just have serious problems with the way they handled those concerns."

The state board has two independent parties assessing CAPOLA and expects a recommendation sometime next week.

If CAPOLA can't reach a funding agreement, there are a couple of options.

First, Goorley could cut staff down even further, but that would likely require taking primary attorney Elton Richey off of Willis's case and the payroll entirely. Next, Goorley said he would ask the court to cover their costs.

If neither of those methods work and CAPOLA closes, the State Board would add local cases to the state-wide wait list, which already has four cases in the queue for representation, including State v Reginald Williams.

When a Caddo grand jury upgraded Williams' charges from second to first degree murder Aug. 20, it was wait listed because CAPOLA can't take new cases while unfunded.

CAPOLA currently has four cases scheduled for trial:
Sept. 8: Stacey Juneau-Blount
Oct. 13: Kenneth Willis
Nov. 3: Tarika Wilson
Jan. 19, 2015: Robert Barthelemy

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