Read the story of Jace Colby Washington and you will understand, perhaps for the first time, just how easy it is to convict an innocent man
Carlos Matinez-Carpio is dead and no one can bring him back to life. On the evening of April 29, 2007, two black males entered a trailer in Slidell, Louisiana where Martinez-Carpio and several other undocumented Latinos were living. The undocumented men were working construction and living on the cheap so they could send money back to their families. Carpio, a native of El Salvador, was talking to a family member on his cell phone when the two men burst through the door.
Court documents suggest the two black males were looking for drugs and money. Undocumented construction workers looked like an easy target; they wouldn’t dare report the crime to the authorities.
The language barrier created confusion. When the Latinos didn’t respond immediately to the demand for cash and drugs, the intruders had no plan B. Impulsively, one of the young black males started patting Mr. Martinez-Carpio down. The older man defended himself with a fork.
Shots rang out and Carpio was mortally wounded. As the assailants fled, random shots were fired in the direction of two other undocumented men but went wide of the mark. Friends raced to the nearest hospital in a pickup truck but Martinez-Carpio could not be saved.
A week later, Jace Colby Washington was arrested and held in solitary confinement for three months. A year-and-a-half later, the young man, now twenty years of age, went to trial charged second degree murder. On October 14, 2009 a jury found Washington guilty.
As I write, Jace has still not been sentenced.
The first break in the murder investigation came when a local resident saw two men emerge from a Chevrolet Tahoe and stash a gun under a pile of debris. Police quickly learned that a troubled young man named Glenn Carter sometimes drove a Tahoe. Carter was picked up and placed in “the birdcage”, a tiny cell so small he couldn’t even sit down. Forty-eight hours later, deprived of food and toilet privileges, Carter signed a confession. According to his statement, his buddy “E” (Carter wasn’t sure of his friend’s real name) had been eager to “hit a lick” (score some fast money). Carter said he’d come along, but only as a lookout.
According to Carter, no vehicle was involved; the two men walked to the trailer and left running. Carter carried a .380 handgun and “E” was packing a .45.
The following day, Edric Cooper was arrested. To hear Cooper tell it, Carter and Cooper had been accompanied by Jace Washington and Grant Gethers (former acquaintances from high school days) and everyone rode to the crime scene in Carter’s Tahoe. In Cooper’s story, Jace had the .380, Cooper had a 9mm semi-automatic and Carter used the .45.
On August 8, 2008, after fourteen hours of deliberation, Glenn Carter was convicted of second-degree murder, a charge that carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole in the state of Louisiana.
Two jurors voted not guilty; but in Louisiana it only takes ten guilty votes to convict. As King Alexander disclosed in a recent guest post, the “majority verdict” law was passed by the 1898 Louisiana constitutional convention “to assure the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.” It’s still working.
Four days after Glenn Carter’s conviction, Edric Cooper’s story changed dramatically. Carter, you will recall, had two men walking to the crime scene while Cooper had four men driving to the trailer in Carter’s Tahoe. Now, Carter and Cooper were in the Tahoe while Jace Washington and Grant Gethers rode in a separate vehicle.
In his original statement, Edric Cooper claimed that Jace Washington was armed with a .380 pistol; fifteen months later, Jace was packing the 9mm semi-automatic.
The changes are easily explained. DNA evidence taken from water bottles in Carter’s Tahoe proved Carter and Cooper had been in the vehicle, but there was no DNA from Washington and Gethers.
Secondly, when the police raided the home of Jace’s father, the Reverend Henry Washington, a 9mm pistol was seized. The weapon was never tested for DNA or fingerprints, but was used as evidence at Jace Washington’s trial.
With Glenn Carter’s trial out-of-the-way, the embarrassing fact that his confession mentioned no Tahoe, no 9mm weapon, and only two perpetrators had to be buried as swiftly and thoroughly as possible. When Jace Washington’s attorney tried to use Glenn Carter’s signed statements as evidence the document was declared inadmissible. Then the Assistant District Attorney asked the judge to rule that, if Jace Washington took the stand, he could make no mention of Glenn Carter’s statements. The judge sustained the motion.
In October of 2009, Jace Washington was convicted on the testimony of Edric Cooper.
The Latino witnesses had identified only two assailants while insisting that both men were five-foot-nine or shorter. Edric Cooper is five-foot-ten. Glenn Carter is also on the short side of average. Jace Washington is six-foot-four.
Glenn Carter escaped the death penalty by fingering Edric Cooper, but Cooper had no one to implicate. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. If a 9mm handgun was taken from Jace Washington’s father, Jace had to be carrying a 9mm. If the evidence suggested that Grant Gethers and Jace Washington weren’t in the Tahoe, Cooper simply invented a second vehicle.
In exchange, Edric Cooper accepted a plea agreement and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Why was it so difficult for the DA’s office to see through Edric Cooper’s desperate game?
Simple. Carter’s inventions provided an excuse for taking another young black male off the streets.
If you think I am exaggerating, consider these famous words from St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain.
“For some reason, New Orleans chooses to coddle criminals in that area that tend to get away with a great deal. We will not coddle that trash in St. Tammany Parish. If they come to St. Tammany Parish, we’re gonna pursue them, we’re gonna arrest them, our prosecutors are gonna prosecute them, and our judges are gonna convict them . . . If you’re gonna walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy.”
Jack Strain doesn’t prosecute defendants, but the Jace Washington and Kelvin Kaigler cases suggest that law enforcement and the DA’s office are pretty much on the same page in St. Tammany Parish.
Jace Washington and Grant Gethers have been implicated in a crime they did not commit by a young man desperate to avoid a lifetime behind bars.
Kelvin Kaigler and James Bishop are suffering the same fate for the same reason. A young man named Frank Knight testified that he drove with Kaigler and Bishop to the trailer where four people were gunned down in the summer of 2006. Knight wasn’t present at the scene. Neither were Kaigler and Bishop. But issues of guilt and innocence are of little concern to man facing the prospect of life imprisonment.
I am confident that Frank Knight will eventually recant his testimony.
We don’t have to wait for Edric Cooper to confess his sins.
On March 4, 2010, Edric “E” Cooper signed a written affidavit in which he admitted that his various statements to the police have been a tissue of lies because “Jace Colby Washington was never with myself and Mr. Glenn Carter during the incident . . .”
“My reason for giving the satement as if Mr. Jace Colby Washington [was at the scene] is because he has never been in any kind of criminal trouble and I know that if I would have told the sheriffs that his participation . . . all the blame would (sic) taken off of me.”
“Glenn Carter and Jace Colby Washington do not know each other,” Cooper admitted, “but was made to know each other through my made up statement to the Sheriffs.”
“I am also giving this statement,” the affidavit concluded, “to prevent myself from disrespecting the court and to prevent of being (sic) charged with perjury while under oath during any proceeding in connection with Mr. Jace Colby Washington.”
I have copies of Cooper’s original written statement and his written recantation–the handwriting is identical.
Jace Washington made a copy of Edric Cooper’s affidavit and had the presence of mind to mail it to his parents.
He was just in time.
The following day, the inmates of the St. Tammany Parish Jail were taken from their cells and held for several hours in the courtyard outside the complex. When Jace Washington returned to his cell, all this personal belongings were missing. The legal documents Jace had carefully preserved had disappeared. When Jace’s father, Rev. Henry Washington, asked the Parish clerk for Jace’s file he was told that it was in the possession of the DA’s office. Prison officials have told Rev. Washington that his son’s paperwork appears to have been misplaced.
If Jace Washington wasn’t involved in the crime neither was Grant Gethers.
Tragically, Mr. Gethers, fearing that he would share Jace Washington’s fate if he took his chances with a St. Tammany Parish jury, accepted a plea agreement in early February, 2010.
On March 16, 2010, Edric Cooper signed a second affidavit that spells out what his original statement implied:
I, Edric Cooper, am writing this to let it be known that Jace Washington nor Grant Gethers (sic) took no part in the armed robbery/murder crime that took place on April 29th, 2007. Mr. Washington nor Mr. Gethers was not present nor aware of the crime. I falsely implicated (sic) Jace Washington and Grant Gethers because I was scared. On October 13, 2009, I also lied when called as a witness for the State of Louisiana against Jace Washington. I lied about his involvement and Mr. Gether’s involvement in the crime on April 29th 2007.
So who do we believe: the Edric Cooper of May 7, 2007, the Edric Cooper of August 12, 2008, or the Edric Cooper of March 16, 2009?
In 2007 and 2009, Mr. Cooper was telling the authorities what they wanted to hear to escape a life sentence.
In 2010, Mr. Cooper is telling a story so unacceptable to the authorities that they deprived Jace Washington of his constitutional right to legal documentation relevant to his case. Edric Cooper, it appears, would rather face the wrath of the State of Louisiana than the torments of his own conscience.
Whether Mr. Cooper’s bold recantation will help Jace Washington and Grant Gethers only time will tell. But this bizarre story shows yet again how easy it is to frame an innocent man with bribed testimony.