The Investigators: Judge uses his courtroom to indirectly answer questions

The Investigators: Judge uses his courtroom to indirectly answer questions
Judge James Best
Judge James Best
Kimberley Nicole Perkins
Kimberley Nicole Perkins
Sam Clark Jr. (Source: St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office)
Sam Clark Jr. (Source: St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office)

NEW ROADS, LA (WAFB) - Judge James Best would not answer questions in person or return calls. Instead, he used his courtroom on Thursday to answer all the questions.

A misdemeanor trial was slated to begin Thursday, April 21 in the 18th Judicial District Court in Pointe Coupee Parish. It was for a case against Sam Clark Jr. On October 2015, Clark was arrested by Livonia Police for allegedly choking his wife, Kimberley Nicole Perkins, and pointing a shotgun at her because of some missing money.

"The case got continued," said District Attorney Ricky Ward.

Ward said his prosecutor was prepared and ready to move forward with a trial before Judge Best, but it was pushed to May 12.

A law passed in 2014, known as "Gwen's Law", requests all judges in the state to hold a hearing within five days of a domestic violence incident. The judges are to listen to the evidence then decide whether to set bond.

"The reason why the court set the bond at $5,000 had to do with certain statements that the victim made on the record under oath," said prosecutor Chad Augillard.

Clark bonded out and the couple moved to St. Landry Parish.

In March 2016, Kimberley Nicole Perkins' body was found in a bayou. St. Landry Sheriff's deputies said Clark confessed to killing his wife because she was trying to leave him.

The trial on April 21 should have been for the charges Clark was arrested for last October. A week later, sources said the judge indicated he did not think the case would go to trial on April 21.

"The victim is dead. She's not here and we have to figure out how to move forward and produce evidence to get him, the defendant, convicted without her live testimony," said Ward.

However, Ward said prosecutors have a crucial piece of evidence from when the victim was alive. Now, it's all about starting the trial.

"A prosecutor's greatest fear is that a defendant who has been charged with domestic abuse gets out and does something worse to the victim, either kills her or injures her really bad," said Ward.

While in Pointe Coupee Parish, the Investigators sat through a different Gwen's Law hearing in Judge Best's courtroom. He made it a point to to let them know he takes these hearings very seriously, asking for the defendant's criminal history and asking the victim if she feels safe and suggesting to the victim that if something does happen to her in the future, it is not his fault.

Judge Best asked the victim if she wanted her husband out of jail or not and informed her about a restraining order. He then said "If something happens to you, I want you to know, in my opinion, we've done all we can do for you."

In both of the cases, the husbands of the victims were in court as the women testified, something that concerns Livonia Police Chief Brad Joffrion.

"I don't think the victim of a crime, especially domestic violence, should have to sit there and face the accuser because naturally they're not going to tell the truth and full story when they've been living in an abusive relationship for so many years," said Chief Joffrion.

"There needs to be some things that would make it easier to prosecute people despite the fact that victims change their story," said Ward.

One option that some prosecutors and lawmakers are exploring is a risk assessment questionnaire already being used in New Orleans and something Rep. Helena Moreno is considering introducing next year.

Officers responding to a domestic violence case immediately ask the victim questions such as if he or she fears for their life. The answers are submitted to the judge.

"I would definitely like to see that done because what that does at trial is if the victim gets up there and changes her story, it gives a judge something to look at and say wait a minute, you said one thing on the day it happened, now you're saying something different. I choose to believe you on the day it happened," said Ward.

Clark's trial has been continued to May 12. He remained behind bars in St. Landry parish accused of killing his wife.

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