LIVINGSTON – Against the advice of his own attorney, John Cowart took the stand in his second-degree murder trial Thursday.
“If I were on the jury, I would want to hear from me,” Cowart told his attorney, LaToya Williams, when she asked in front of the jury why he was testifying.
But it apparently did not sway the jury, as the five men and seven women convicted Cowart of second-degree murder in the death of Emily Rodgers.
Judge William Burris scheduled sentencing for 9 a.m. Nov. 18 in 21st Judicial District Court at the Livingston Parish Courthouse.
Cowart, 37, faces a life sentence without possibility of parole.
The jury deliberated for an hour and 15 minutes before reaching its verdict. The vote was 11-1 for second-degree murder, with the lone vote for a conviction for manslaughter.
Williams, in her closing statement, asked the jury to consider manslaughter, saying Cowart’s use of methamphetamine and alcohol that day prevented him from having the “specific intent” to kill Rodgers, 18.
In his testimony, Cowart repeated the contention he made in two interviews on Feb. 13, 2018, with Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives.
He said he thought Rodgers was dead or dying when he put her in the trunk of his car, took her to Catfish Landing Road in Maurepas and hid her body – but not before hitting her in the head with a hammer.
But before Cowart took the stand, Dr. Jimmy Smith, the East Baton Rouge Parish forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Rodgers, provided a critical piece of information.
Rogers was alive when she was struck multiple times, suffering a fractured skull, Smith said.
Cowart said in the two video interviews played for the jury that Rodgers put a zip tie around her neck herself and while they were “messing around” in a bedroom at Justin Scivicque’s house, they fell on the floor.
She pulled on the zip tie, tightening it, then panicked and collapsed, he said.
But Smith said he concluded Rodgers died of “a blunt impact to the head with open skull fracture.”
A contributing factor to her death, he said, was “compression of the neck,” but the doctor added a broken hyoid bone in the neck and other injuries were the kind “seen in manual strangulation.”
“It is unlikely a small rope or jewelry caused it,” Smith said.
Cowart also testified he put a pair of jumper cables over Rodgers’ neck when he heard “gurgling sounds” from her in the trunk of his car.
But Smith has earlier testified his internal examination of the neck found bleeding and injuries to the right side of Rodgers neck “consistent with pressure to the neck. These are more manual strangulation using the hands.”
In other forensic testimony, DNA supervisor Phillip Simmers, of the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, said he matched blood found in Cowart’s car to Rodgers, matched blood from the mattress to Rodgers and said Rodgers “can’t be excluded” from a possible match to blood and skin from a hammer found near her body.