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Woman accused in abuse of autistic girl was also forced to live in shed, take drugs, attorneys say

The Advocate - 10/23/2018

Oct. 23--AMITE -- A 20-year-old woman held in jail for two years on an accusation that she took part in the abuse of an autistic relative was herself abused, forced to cook methamphetamine, clean floors with a toothbrush and live in a backyard shack after being taken out of school at age 13, a federal agent has testified.

In a transcript filed with the 21st Judicial District Court on Friday, the agent says Taylor Knope's father and stepmother made her a servant of the house and forced her to live in a shack where she shared a bed with a stepbrother. Knope is accused of abusing an autistic relative in a similar way.

The agent was called to testify against Knope's release by federal prosecutors in August and a transcript from his appearance was entered as evidence before a state court hearing on whether Knope should continue to be held pending trial. Rather than take up the case as scheduled Monday, Judge Douglas Hughes scheduled a hearing for Nov. 5.

Knope faces charges in both state and federal court. A federal judge, after hearing testimony from the agent and a mental health specialist who said Knope suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Knope should be released pending trial to an inpatient drug treatment facility, where she could begin to deal with the trauma and drug addiction she suffered in Amite.

"I don't think that we serve any legitimate purpose by just putting her in jail pending her trial because she has been systematically abused," U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby said at an Aug. 10 hearing in New Orleans.

But Knope is still in jail because of the state charges and a $150,000 bond obligation. Knope is billed in Tangipahoa Parish with felony counts of second-degree kidnapping, human trafficking, cruelty to the infirmed and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

Knope is represented in the federal case by the Federal Public Defender's Office in New Orleans. An attorney affiliated with that office filed the motion last week in the 21st Judicial District Court seeking her release.

The motion challenges the prevailing federal and state law enforcement narrative that a family of five -- two parents and three adult children -- conspired to subject an autistic relative to horrific abuse -- locking her in a cage, forcing her to eat her mother's ashes, beating her and attempting to traffic her for sex.

The 21st Judicial District Attorney, Scott Perrilloux, has until now insisted Knope stay in jail before trial.

Perrilloux said his office has denied previous requests due to the seriousness of the charges. He noted that Knope is an important witness in the main case against her parents, and the state needs her available for the trial.

"This new motion raises some new issues we will take a look at and consider," Perrilloux said in an interview. "It's a tragic case with some horrible allegations and we'd like to wrap up the entire matter."

Knope's attorneys claim the district attorney's opposition actually stems from a desire to make her plead guilty.

"Prosecutors wish to use detention to exert pressure on her to plead guilty and cooperate," the motion for pretrial release says. "Those actions are unethical and unconstitutional."

The defense attorneys claim Knope has a solid basis for an acquittal because many of her alleged crimes were performed at the direction of her abusive parents.

The federal judge gave credence to this view in August, saying in open court that "most of the conduct she engaged in was at the direction of an adult ... whose control she was in," according to a transcript of the hearing.

FBI Special Agent Clinton Epperson was called by the U.S. Attorney's Office to testify at that hearing. He answered questions about the allegations against Knope and her difficult upbringing, according to a transcript.

Epperson said Knope participated in two voluntary interviews with the law enforcement officials in which she divulged significant evidence about the abuse at the house in Amite and her role in that abuse.

The agent said Knope admitted to padlocking the autistic girl into a tent each night and assaulting the autistic girl, often at the direction of her stepmother, Raylaine Knope. Those attacks included hitting the victim with a shower rod, forcing her head underwater and slapping her with the padlock.

Epperson said Taylor Knope moved in with her father and stepmother, Terry and Raylaine Knope, when she was 13 years old. There she was treated like a servant, assigned to care for her siblings and cook meth, he said under cross-examination. Taylor Knope was made to use meth on a daily basis and subjected to verbal and physical abuse by her stepmother, he said.

Knope was kicked out of the family trailer and made to live in a portable shed behind the house, where she had a sexual relationship with her stepbrother, Jody Lambert, the agent said.

"She definitely did not have the easiest life," Epperson said.

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