LIVINGSTON – Portions of John Cowart’s four interviews with Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives were played Wednesday for the jury at his second-degree murder trial.
But it was in the third and fourth interviews on Feb. 13, 2018, in which the 37-year-old Maurepas man described how Emily Rodgers, 18, died. Cowart then admitted he strangled her with jumper cables and hit Rodgers several times in the head with a hammer before dumping her body.
Testimony continues Thursday before Judge William Burris in 21st Judicial District Court at the Livingston Parish Courthouse.
Cowart faces a life sentence without possibility of parole if convicted.
Assistant District Attorneys Zach Daniels and Serena Birch presented 10 witnesses including six Sheriff’s Office investigators.
But the two interviews nine days after Rodgers died provided Cowart’s version of what happened.
The third interview occurred after Cowart was allowed to talk to his girlfriend, Kathy Jones, at the detectives’ office, according to the testimony of Lt. Calvin Bowden.
Bowden said Cowart told him that he would “tell me what I wanted to know and take me to see what I wanted to see,” but Cowart wanted to go home with Jones for one night and be promised Jones would not be charged with any crime.
Cowart was told he could not go home but if he were totally honest, Jones would not be charged, Bowden said.
In that video interview played for the jury, Cowart gave the details of what happened on Feb. 4, 2018. He then led investigators to Catfish Landing Road where he dumped Rodgers’ body.
The fourth interview came after Cowart was returned to the detectives’ office, in which he recounted that evening – Superbowl Sunday – in chronological order.
In the interviews, Cowart said he went to the home of Justin Scivicque on Pecue Road looking for a friend’s stolen cell phone. Scivicque directed him to a mobile home across the street and Tristan Methvien, he said.
After confronting Methvien, Cowart and a friend, Chuck Lebeau, left the mobile home. Rodgers followed them, he said in the interview. Cowart invited Rodgers to join them, thinking it would provoke Methvien, he said.
After riding around, visiting people, drinking and buying drugs, Cowart dropped Lebeau off at his home and went back to Scivicque’s house.
While Cowart and Rodgers were in the car, she laced a group of zip ties together and put it around her neck, he said in the video.
The two went into a bedroom at Scivicque’s house and were “fooling around,” when they fell off the bed, Cowart said. Rodgers pulled on the end of the zip ties, causing it to tighten around her neck, he said.
“I panicked. She panicked,” Coward said in the video. “I’m trying to get it off her.”
Rodgers vomited then began bleeding from her nose, Cowart said.
“She flopped like she passed out,” Cowart said. “I thought she was dead.”
Cowart then recounted he went and got Scivicque out of his bedroom and he helped put Rodgers’ body in the truck of Cowart’s car.
That version contradicted Scivicque’s testimony in court when he said he was asleep until Cowart woke him up and said something bad had happened. Scivicque testified he went outside with Cowart and something was in the trunk of the car, but he did not see what it was.
Cowart said he heard “gurgling noises” from Rodgers in the trunk and strangled her with some jumper cables because, “I thought it was her dying sounds.”
The defendant then recounted how he drove to Catfish Landing Road and dragged Rodgers into the brush. He said he hit her “two or three times” in the head with a hammer.
Defense attorney LaToya Williams, in her opening statement, did not deny Cowart was guilty, but not guilty of second-degree murder.
She said an appropriate verdict would be finding Cowart guilty of manslaughter.
Both Cowart and Rodgers were using drugs that night – she listed a number of drugs she said a doctor would testify were in Rodgers – and that the drugs prevented Cowart from having the “specific intent” to kill Rodgers, part of the second-degree murder requirement.
The jury would learn about Cowart, who she described as a U.S. Army veteran and father of two and Rodgers, a “beautiful, troubled girl.”
The two had one only thing in common, William said, “They used drugs that night.”
The defense will present its case after the prosecution is done.