Houston dice-game murder gets new scrutiny after DEA agent indicted in Louisiana
It all started with a late-night dice game.
Earl Perry was hoping to win some money in the parking lot outside T’s Restaurant. But sometime around 2 a.m. on a June night in 1997, an argument started outside the Cavalcade hotspot.
Maybe it was loaded dice, or maybe it was an unfriendly competitor with his own game to protect — 19 years later, that’s still not clear. Either way, Perry ended up dead in the parking lot, shot in the back and left in a clutter of beer cups and chicken bones.
Three years afterward, a Fifth Ward man named Lamar Burks was convicted of killing him and sent to prison for 70 years. Now, Burks’ attorney is asking the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to review the case after one of the Drug Enforcement Administration agents involved — Chad Scott — was indicted in New Orleans on a slew of federal charges, including perjury and falsifying evidence in an unrelated case.
They haven’t proven it in court yet, but defense attorney Michael Wynne is convinced that sort of thing happened in Burks’ case, too, according to claims laid out in a recently filed appeal and a letter to the district attorney’s office.
“The scope of the allegations against former Agent Scott only strengthens our belief that Lamar Burks has been wrongly imprisoned for 18 years,” Wynne said. “The case raises some troubling questions about what can happen with rogue agents, but we’re hopeful the DA will take another look.”
But prosecutors say they’ve done that, and that Burks — who’s already lost two appeals — is welcome to continue pursuing a third appeal if he doesn’t agree.
“Our Conviction Integrity Division thoroughly reviewed these claims months ago at the request of the defendant’s family,” DA spokesman Dane Schiller said. “Additionally, the chief of that division has cooperated with the defendant’s post-conviction lawyer, including meeting with him in person, answering his questions, and facilitating his review of the state’s file.”
Scott’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
After the shooting, Burks was initially set to go to trial in 1998. But on the day it was slated to begin, prosecutors dismissed the case because they couldn’t find some of the witnesses.
At first it appeared that Burks had gotten off. But at the same time, the DEA was investigating Houston hip-hop mogul James Prince, founder of Rap-A-Lot records, according to a Dallas Morning News report in 2000.
The case netted roughly two dozen drug arrests and, even though the DEA apparently set its sights on Prince, he was never charged.
The years-long federal investigation was called off abruptly, sparking a congressional probe and murky allegations of political pressure. But leads developed during the abandoned case helped prosecutors secure a second indictment against Burks, the Dallas paper wrote.
This time, though, the charges focused on Burks and another man, an admitted drug dealer named Derevin “Lil D” Whitaker.
When police first questioned him in prison, Whitaker said he wasn’t there that night, according to court records. But then he changed his story — blaming Burks and another man for the slaying and winning dismissal of his indictment.
That was no coincidence, according to Wynne. Instead, the defense lawyer blames Scott, the now-indicted DEA agent. Whitaker was telling “the story Scott wanted him to tell” in exchange for a plum deal, Wynne wrote in his letter to the district attorney.
The man Whitaker pointed to as Burks’ partner in the crime — Clayton Brown — took a five-year plea deal and has since been released. Neither he nor Whitaker could be reached for comment.
Another of the witnesses, Randy Lewis, has since recanted, according to a sworn statement filed with the most recent appeal. In it, Lewis claims Scott and his partner bullied him into offering up false testimony.
“I went in front of the Grand Jury and I told them that Lamar Burks shot and killed Earl Perry,” he wrote. “That statement was not at all true.”
He didn’t come forward sooner, according to the appeal, because he was scared the DEA agents would kill him.
The point was not just to put Burks behind bars but to pressure him into giving up his friend Prince, according to Wynne’s theory of the case laid out in court filings and in the November letter.
“Burks refused to lie, and he has paid a terrible price for that decision,” Wynne wrote.
Murky trail of questions
The allegations echoed charges against Scott spelled out in a multi-count federal indictment stemming from a sprawling probe into the DEA task force he ran during his years in Louisiana.
In the 2017 indictment, prosecutors alleged Scott pressured a man to lie and say he’d witnessed specific drug deals when he had not. Then, Scott allegedly lied on the stand when later questioned about it, all as part of an effort to win a conviction against a suspected heroin dealer.
On top of that, according to court filings, Scott allegedly took $10,000 to push prosecutors to reduce a man’s prison sentence, stole money from drug seizures and falsified records.
Two former members of the task force have already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, and a third was indicted on similar charges.
Meanwhile, in Burks’ case, prosecutors have not filed a response to any of the claims raised in the latest appeal filed in state district court. But district attorney spokesman Schiller pointed out that Scott never testified in the trial, which focused more on Whitaker’s eyewitness testimony.
“Lawyers make claims on behalf of convicted clients every day, and we have an entire division dedicated to such matters,” Schiller said. “An eyewitness who testified at trial has said he saw Burks shoot Earl Perry, that he witnessed the killing of a man who died over dice.”
But, in a murky case with a trail of unanswered questions, even that is in dispute. After the slaying, police only recovered one die, surrounded by shell casings on the concrete.