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Woodrow Karey and Ronald Harris. (Special to the American Press)

Woodrow Karey and Ronald Harris. (Special to the American Press)

Judges refuses to lower bond for man accused of killing local pastor

Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 8:03 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

A judge in state district court on Thursday declined to lower the bond of a man accused of killing a local pastor in front of his congregation.

Woodrow Karey, 53, remains jailed at Calcasieu Correctional Center on $1 million bond. He is accused of shooting Ronald C. Harris, pastor of Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center, twice with a shotgun during a revival service at the church on the night of Sept. 27. He is charged with second-degree murder.

Karey’s wife filed a rape complaint against Harris two days before the shooting.

Authorities said there was a relationship between Karey’s wife and Harris, but did not say whether it was consensual.

Karey’s wife, Janet, took the stand Thursday, testifying about the couple’s finances, whether they could meet the bond and about her husband’s character.

Defense attorneys Todd Clemons and Adam Johnson argued the bond was excessive as a means to ensure Karey shows up in court.

Clemons said he was disappointed with the decision, but he and Johnson would continue to work to get Karey out of jail. He said taking writs to appeals court is an option, as is the possibility of raising money among Karey’s family and friends to meet the $1 million bond.

“A lot of people truly, truly want to help because he’s a good man,” Clemons said. “We’ll continue to work hard to get him out because he doesn’t belong there, he belongs with his family.”

The bond was originally set by Judge David Ritchie, but Judge Clayton Davis upheld the amount Thursday.

A bond amount of $1 million is the largest among the 20 people being held on second-degree murder charges at Calcasieu Correctional Center, Assistant Warden Charles Lavergne testified. Shortly after the hearing, Ritchie set a $5 million bond for a second-degree murder indictment against a Sulphur man accused of killing an infant.

Clemons argued that Karey has not yet been formally charged with a crime by the District Attorney’s Office, that he is not a flight risk, that he turned himself into authorities — even waving them down when they couldn’t find him — and that he would have to put up his family’s home to meet the bond.

“I think he has a vested interest,” Clemons said. “Every time you say jump he’s gong to jump.”

Doesn’t the fact that second-degree murder carries a life sentence make Karey more of a flight risk, Davis asked Clemons. Clemons responded by saying that he doesn’t believe Karey will face a life sentence.

Clemons said that, in his opinion, “the proper charge is manslaughter.”

Davis said he was sensitive to Clemons’ and Johnson’s arguments, but denied the motion because the allegations were extreme, there were several witnesses and a confession from Karey.

“Sometimes we lose sight of the reason we’re keeping people in jail,” and it can appear punishment is handed out on the front end, Davis said.

He said the charge falls in the category of violence, firearms and danger.

“I don’t know whether he is a danger to the community but I’m not willing to assume for purposes of bail,” Davis said.

Davis said he was ready for the matter to go to trial as soon as both sides are prepared.

Janet Karey testified that her husband has lived in the Lake Charles area all his life, except for seven years he spent in the Navy. She said he had worked at CenterPoint Entergy for 30 years.

The couple owns a $150,000 home and a $30,000 lot they could put toward the bond, but don’t have many other funds, she said.

She said her husband is the type of person who doesn’t shirk from his responsibilities and would come to court.

Prosecutor Cynthia Killingsworth asked her if she had believed he was the type of person who would “murder someone in front of 67 people.”

Karey paused before answering, “No, ma’am.”

Clemons and Johnson also called local defense attorney Glen Vamvoras to the stand.

When Clemons began to ask him whether a jailed client hampered his ability to defend them, Davis said there was no need for the testimony.

Davis said the fact that a jailed client made a defense more difficult was “a given.”

When Vamvoras stepped down, Killingsworth joked that she had wanted to cross-examine him.

“I’ll give you five minutes,” Vamvoras joked back.

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