BATON ROUGE, La. — The wife and daughters of an Ohio businessman kidnapped in Mississippi have sued Louisiana State Police and the state corrections department because the men charged with his murder were trusties who escaped last year from the state police compound.
The lawsuit alleges that Ricky Wedgeworth and Darian "Drake" Pierce should not have been allowed into the trusty program because they were sentenced for violent crimes — Pierce for attempted second-degree murder and Wedgeworth for armed robbery, The Advocate (http://bit.ly/NYteXD) reported.
The program "that allows inmates convicted of violent offenses to access and move about in an unsupervised manner was the direct cause and moving force behind the escape which led to the subsequent murder of David Cupps," the suit contends.
Wedgeworth, of Memphis, Tenn., and Pierce, of Bogalusa, are charged with kidnapping David Cupps, 53, from a hotel in Vicksburg, Miss., after escaping from the Louisiana State Police compound in Baton Rouge on March 4, 2011.
Investigators said Cupps, 53, of Sunbury, Ohio, was in Mississippi to inspect a nuclear power plant when he was attacked for his rental car and beaten and strangled. His body was dumped in Bessemer, Ala.
The inmates were caught March 14, 2011, after crashing a pickup truck in Memphis, Tenn. Police said that before their capture, the men tied up a county park worker and stole a government parks department truck from Madison County, Tenn.
Lt. Doug Cain, a state police spokesman, said he cannot comment on the lawsuit because State Police had not been served with a copy. The kidnapping and killing were tragic, he said.
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of State Police and a named defendant in the suit, has said a series of missteps by Department of Public Safety and Corrections employees allowed Wedgeworth and Pierce to escape in a DPS van, with three hours passing before officials were notified the men were missing.
State Police instituted a number of changes immediately after the trusties escaped, including doubling the number of times trusties are checked during their workday and random, emergency checks.
On May 31, State Police recommended disciplining four DPS employees and strengthening security protocols.
The suit, which seeks wrongful death and survival damages, was filed Aug. 20 and has been assigned to state District Judge Todd Hernandez.
Wedgeworth and Pierce have pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Miss., to charges of kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death, conspiracy and transporting a stolen vehicle. Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty in the case.
They are scheduled to stand trial in November in Natchez, Miss.