Hearing Thursday for two charged in kidnapping, killing

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, October 18, 2011

JACKSON — A scheduling hearing is set for Thursday for two Louisiana inmates facing federal charges in Mississippi related to the Vicksburg kidnapping and death of an Ohio businessman.

Ricky Wedgeworth and Darian “Drake” Pierce pleaded not guilty last week in the abduction and death of 53-year-old David Cupps of Sunbury, Ohio. Authorities say Cupps was in Vicksburg to inspect the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant.

Wedgeworth and Pierce allegedly attacked him in the parking lot of a motel on Pemberton Square Boulevard for his rental car after escaping in March from a prison work program in Baton Rouge, La.

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This week’s hearing will take up scheduling. Prosecutors want the court to waive speedy trial rules because of the complex nature of the case.

The men could face the death penalty. Prosecutors said in court records that the U.S. Justice Department has a review process for all death eligible cases. Under the review process, the defendants have the right to present so-called mitigating evidence.

That will take time, prosecutors said, so will analyzing the volumes of documents like police reports, laboratory reports, the defendants’ criminal histories and physical evidence.

“Thus, preparing, reviewing and analyzing this large volume of discovery is, by itself, a lengthy task,” prosecutors said. “As such, preparation for trial cannot be accomplished within the speedy trial time limits, taking into account the exercise of due diligence.”

Authorities say the men dashed across the South after escaping in March. They allegedly dumped Cupps’ body in Alabama before being captured in Tennessee.

The men had been part of a work program for inmates when they escaped. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety uses about 160 inmate workers, known as trusties, for various jobs at the State Police compound. Wedgeworth and Pierce had been working as groundskeepers there and were able to get keys to a van and drive off, authorities said.

Wedgeworth was serving time for armed robbery, and Pierce for attempted second-degree murder. Before they escaped, Wedgeworth was set to be released in 2023 and Pierce in 2024.

Authorities said the men were caught after crashing a pickup in Memphis. Police said that before their capture, the men tied up a county park worker in Jackson, Tenn., and stole a government truck with markings for the Madison County, Tenn., parks department.