In April of 1973, Forest “Saint” Hammond Martin was a juvenile of 17 years in Baton Rouge, who was to graduate from Capitol High School. The African-American (1/4 Blackfoot Indian and 1/4 Jewish) was a local football star with a full athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois College (SIC) in his pocket. His future looked glorious – maybe too glorious. He had lost his mother at the age of 14, worked hard for his father’s janitorial business, was invited to many parties, had several girl-friends, had fathered a little baby-girl, had no criminal record, and yet, he was street smart with a tendency to overestimate himself.
Saint’s life changed dramatically on April 10, 1973 when he was present at an attempted armed robbery going wrong in a drugstore of his hometown. This is the story that Forest Hammond Martin tells in his autobiography “With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion: From Angola to Free Man”, edited by Tom Aswell and published by the Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, Louisiana, in 2012.
The author writes that the only reason why he was at the crime scene was that he wanted to convince the triggerman, whom he did not know, of not doing it before someone got hurt. Saint admits that he did make a grave mistake in that pharmacy though. The white murder victim was Billy Middleton, a 55 year old pharmacist. Middleton was friend with District Attorney Ossie Brown and Judge Elmo E. Lear of East Baton Rouge Parish who both handled this criminal case.
The authorities did know that Saint was not the killer. They also had the true perpetrator in custody soon, who confessed. Nevertheless, at least four uniformed police officers with a shotgun and revolvers in their hands, two policemen with dogs and motorcycle cops came to the high school student’s house, put him in handcuffs telling his father that his son was not arrested but merely driven to the station to let Saint look at some pictures. They pretended that the handcuffs were needed by law for insurance reasons only. Therefore, no Miranda warnings had been given to Saint and no defense attorney was called.
The detectives told Saint that they had arrested two other boys and that one of them – the shooter – implicated Saint in the crime. Nevertheless, the officers promised the youngster that he could go to college, if he gave a statement to them. In the statement itself however, Saint was to say that no promises had been made to him. Manipulations of any kind violate the Miranda doctrine. Saint got jailed and faced the danger of being raped for the first time in his life.
On May 18, 1973 one of the detectives testified in a hearing before District Judge Elmo E. Lear that they had arrested Saint at his home reading him the Miranda rights in front of his father and that they had not been aware of the fact that the arrestee had a scholarship to play football in college. They also denied their misconduct regarding the promise they had made to the football star.
As in Vincent Simmons’ case, the detectives lied to cover up their unethical conduct and illegal practices. The difference with Simmons’ case is that the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff Deputies have never been forced to testify under oath in court so far.
Saint’s public defender had just graduated from law school with either little or no experience in court. He had a conversation with Judge Lear behind closed doors. Before Saint entered the room, he heard Lear say, “Now Warren, this conference never happened.”
Without his knowledge, Saint was to be the State’s star witness in the true perpetrator’s trial. When District Attorney Brown realized that his witness-to-be had no idea of the deal, the bargain burst before it was sealed. Yet, the sensation-seeking press reported anyway. Thanks to misinformation by professionals, Saint became the declared snitch throughout Louisiana’s jails and prisons. One of the unwritten laws behind bars is that “only a dead rat is a good rat.”
On October 15, 1973 Saint was arraigned for the murder charge in Judge Lear’s courtroom. His new lawyer advised that the accused had to plead guilty, if he did not want to receive a 99-year prison sentence for armed robbery, or capital punishment without the possibility of parole, probation, commutation or suspension of sentence for murder, in case Saint insisted to go to trial.
Once again Saint and his father were lied to. The defense attorney alleged that if Saint pled guilty, he would not serve his time at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola but at a trade school with sports program for first-offender youth at DeQuincy. That institution was just for short-timers though. There, Saint could earn his weekend-passes to come home. The lawyer also said that the judge would pardon Saint after two years. However, the attorney instructed the defendant that if the judge asked whether or not any promises had been made, Saint had to say ‘no.’
The sentence was “automatic,” as Judge Lear expressed it: Natural life at Angola. Yet, the tricky thing with the bargain was that because of the protecting “double jeopardy” rule, which allowed the State to prosecute Saint for one crime (either murder or armed robbery) only, there was no deal either way. Plus, Saint did not personally enter a plea of guilty. This means that he had never been convicted and, therefore, was entitled to be back in court. But no one in power whom his father was connected with actually wanted to stand up for Saint since the “case [was] too hot.”
Saint entered the prison as “fresh fish” (common name for imprisoned newbies) and immediately started a positive career. For his brighter mind, extraordinary typing skills and sporting talent, Saint made it within 5 years and 10 months from an ordinary field slave, to an inmate lawyer, light-heavy boxing champion (also fighting in Governor Edwards’ and Vincent Simmons’ home parish for charity fundraisers at the high-schools in Simmesport and Bunkie), and eventually he became one of the First Family’s butlers at the governor’s mansion.
Saint continued to fight his illegal confinement in the courts. In April of 1975, Judge Lear denied the prisoner’s first habeas corpus petition in the 19thJudicial District Court. On August 14, 1978 and on September 6, 1978 there were two evidentiary hearings before Magistrate Judge Frank J. Polozola in the United States District Court, Middle District of Louisiana. Polozola was forced by the evidence to admit, “We don’t have a conviction here.”
At that time, Saint’s former defense attorney was Assistant District Attorney for the East Baton Rouge Parish. The same change of sides happened in Vincent Simmons’ case. Michael Kelly, one of his two public defense attorneys also became an Assistant of District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll. Nowadays, Kelly is the First Assistant District Attorney in Avoyelles Parish.
Magistrate Judge Polozola ate dinner at the governor’s mansion to discuss this criminal case with Edwin Edwards and to ask him not to pardon Saint. Governor Edwards promptly stated that no one should be imprisoned without a conviction. District Attorney Ossie Brown threatened Edwards with massive public protest, if Saint stayed in the mansion instead of in Angola. Magistrate Judge Polozola eventually denied Saint’s motion after 15 months and Governor Edwards pardoned Saint on January 16, 1980 despite all odds. In 2000, Polozola would be the judge in Governor Edwards’ federal racketeering trial and sentence him to 10 years in prison.
When Forest Hammond Martin was a free man again, he fought a couple of months for Sugar Ray Leonard’s Boxing gym in Maryland. Then he worked successfully for the Baton Rouge Public Defender Office and had his own janitorial businesses and employees in Baton Rouge and Alexandria. Now, Saint is a boxing instructor, educates at-risk-youth, and is the dean of the Alexandria branch of the Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research. At his relatively young age, he is the father of six, grandfather and even great-grandfather.
This book paints (and illustrates through photos) a lot of vivid scenes in the complex life of a prisoner that average people out here cannot know. The criminal justice and penal systems are a cosmos of their own. The two books “With Edwards in the Governor’s Mansion – From Angola to Free Man” and “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” are true stories far beyond clichés. They complement each other. Both are witnesses of more or less the same era, the same places, the same top official, the same culture, and the same system. “Customers who viewed this item also viewed the other” one might encourage interested readers in order to expand the bigger picture. These books are especially recommended to residents and voters in Louisiana – the state with the highest incarceration rate in the USA, the top-prison nation worldwide for many, many years.
Note: In spring of 2015, Forest Hammond Martin publicly joined the party that wants to keep Vincent Simmons in prison at all costs. He changed his vote on the poll of the book’s Facebook page from “Grant Vincent Simmons a hearing” to “Keep Vincent Simmons in prison!” without trying to prove Simmons’ guilt as I ask opponents to do.
He is a native of Marksville (Avoyelles Parish), Democrat, was Louisiana’s first Roman Catholic governor (1972-1976, 1976-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996), signed Louisiana’s Constitution of 1974, is labeled as “crook”, “gambler” and “womanizer,” and he served a federal prison term from 2002 until 2011 for a corruption conviction involving riverboat casino licenses.
As Vincent Simmons, Edwards has maintained his innocence from the start. Even officially political opponents as David C. Treen and J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. believe Edwards was railroaded. They asked U.S. President George W. Bush to pardon him in 2007, but Republican Bush denied the then 80-year-old early release on pardon.
As his late friend “Potch” Didier, former long-term sheriff of Avoyelles Parish, Edwards always was ahead of his time. After the Civil Rights Movement, many women and most African-Americans did not vote for conservative candidates. The “Cajun King,” as Edwards also was called, was a minority-friendly politician. The people of Louisiana elected the charismatic Avoyellean with lots of wit four times as governor and made him an undefeated record holder.
Even now, the convicted and released white collar criminal still has many supporters and connections. Edwards indicated to the media that he feels he is more popular today than before his conviction due to him taking the injustice in his case like a man.
No doubt, Edwin Edwards has returned to society with a bang as though he wanted to announce his comeback with a “Now-more-than-ever” attitude. Leo Honeycutt, an award winning journalist and author, wrote Edwin Edwards’ newest biography when the federal inmate was still confined. Trina Grimes Scott (32) of Alexandria, Louisiana, read the book, wrote and visited Edwards (83) in prison. Both will marry this Friday before Edwards’ 84th birthday on August 7, 2011.
Edwin Edwards has a Facebook page and his (third) soon-to-be-wife posts much about her life with him on the social network platform. The 16-year-governor is in the spotlight again. The couple attends public events, tours the state promoting his biography, and might participate in a reality television show in the near future.
Edwin Edwards is a retired lawyer and politician, but he never seems to quit being an entertainer. How far is he going for publicity?
GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI: Sonya Lynn Nelson (September 18, 1966 – July 13, 2009), formerly of Alexandria, Louisiana, was the younger step-sister of Vincent Simmons’ alleged rape victims. Nelson (42) suffered a fatal gunshot wound to her abdomen in her rented room while struggling over a gun with her landlord Larry Dean Slagle (then 71) two years ago. Two shots went off on that Monday night. One of them struck the tenant.
The media has not disclosed whose weapon it was. I personally think that, depending on whose pistol it was, the story looks different.
Slagle called police around 8:30 P.M. Nelson died at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi, on that same night. Justice Court Judge Gene Dedeaux ordered Slagle held without bond at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center, reported the Sun Herald on July 15, 2009.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Fisher told the Sun Herald that the altercation between Nelson and Slagle had been about the cost of electricity. The defendant’s version is that it was an accident. Fisher corroborates his theory of murder with the statement, “In the 911 tape, you could hear her dying declaration. She was screaming he was lying.”
The prosecutor charged Slagle with murder. Because the jury believed Slagle had not shot Nelson deliberately, Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced Larry Dean Slagle to 20 years for manslaughter and suspended half of the penalty on Thursday, May 19, 2011. Slagle has to serve ten years in prison.
Former long-term Avoyelles Parish District Attorney “Eddie” Knoll and his wife, current Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll, prosecuted Vincent Simmons for two counts of aggravated rape in 1977.
One week ago, the married couple lost the oldest of its five children. Triston Kane Knoll (June 4, 1971-April 8, 2011), a very eager and hard working attorney, died in Alexandria, Louisiana, at the young age of 39. The Avoyelles Today reported.
One of the Honorary Pallbearers was Freeman Ford. He had been District Attorney Eddie Knoll’s administrative assistant and one of the key players in Simmons’ case, who have remained in the background.