Justice pulls out of death penalty case after radio remarks 

Defense lawyers said the justice also talked about recent litigation challenging the state's protocols for lethal injection

Michael Kunzelman 
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana Supreme Court justice disqualified himself Tuesday from a death row inmate's appeal after a talk radio interview in which he cited the man's case in expressing support for capital punishment.

Justice Scott Crichton didn't specify a reason for his recusal from David Brown's case, but the inmate's attorneys had questioned whether the elected justice could be impartial.

Brown was one of five inmates charged with first-degree murder in the killing of a corrections officer, Capt. David Knapps, during a 1999 escape attempt at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Brown is appealing his conviction and death sentence.

Brown's lawyers said in court filing Monday that Crichton mentioned the so-called "Angola 5" case during an Oct. 23 talk radio interview in which he expressed support for the death penalty as a deterrent against prison killings.

"Specifically, he and his interviewer agreed that inmates with life sentences 'have nothing to lose' and that murders by prisoners, like 'the Angola 5 in South Louisiana,' prove that the death penalty is a deterrent because inmates who have been executed cannot then harm prison guards," the lawyers wrote.

Defense lawyers said the justice also talked about recent litigation challenging the state's protocols for lethal injection. Crichton suggested death row inmates should be given a choice between three methods of execution: a three-drug mixture, a single-drug injection or a firing squad, according to the lawyers.

The lawyers said the justice has expressed his personal opinions about the death penalty during other recent interviews on radio shows, encouraging listeners to contact legislators "to prevent the abolition of the death penalty." They argued the justice's comments violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and warranted his recusal from Brown's case.

Louisiana hasn't executed an inmate since 2010. All of the state's death penalty cases remain hold until at least 2018 pending the outcome of the litigation challenging the state's lethal-injection protocols.

Crichton's 10-year term on the state's highest court began in January 2015. The 63-year-old justice previously served as a state court judge in north Louisiana for 24 years. His biography on the state Supreme Court's website says he is "a frequent lecturer throughout the state on Ethics."

Brown was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction when Knapps was fatally stabbed and beaten in a prison bathroom. Brown told investigators he helped drag the guard into the bathroom but claimed he wasn't present at the time of Knapps' death.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Brown's case.

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