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Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 302,492. Honorable Edward J. Bleich, Judge Pro Tempore.
ELTON B. RICHEY & ASSOCIATES, LLC, By: Christopher D. Hatch, Counsel for Appellant.
BYRON LLOYD, Pro se.
CHARLES REX SCOTT, District Attorney; JASON BROWN, TOMMY J. JOHNSON, Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.
Before WILLIAMS, DREW and GARRETT, JJ.
[48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 1]
Following a bench trial, the defendant, Byron Spencer Lloyd, was convicted as charged of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. He appealed. We affirm the defendant's conviction and sentence.
On the evening of December 19, 2011, the 41-year-old defendant killed the victim, Ray Williams, by shooting him in the head at close range. The 54-year-old victim was seated in his car, which was in the driveway at the Shreveport home of the defendant's mother. The defendant claimed that the victim pulled in the driveway behind him after a " road rage" incident between the two men. According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendant, who was driving a full-size Nissan Titan truck, was following behind the victim, who was driving a 1996 Buick LeSabre. The defendant believed the victim was driving too slowly, so he flashed his headlights, honked his horn and revved his truck engine at the victim. After the defendant pulled into his mother's driveway, the victim turned around and came back, also pulling into the driveway. The defendant armed himself with a gun from his own vehicle before confronting the victim. According to the forensic evidence and the testimony of the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsy, the victim was killed by a bullet to the head which was fired through the open window of his car from a distance of about 12 inches.
[48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] The defendant went inside his mother's residence and told her that he had shot someone. He then retrieved the frozen pizza he had come to pick up and fled the crime scene. He went home, where he hid the murder weapon and a box of ammunition under a trash can.
Peggy Lloyd, the defendant's mother, eventually telephoned the police to report a suspicious vehicle in her driveway. She did not disclose the shooting or her son's involvement. The responding police officer found the victim slumped over in his car with his foot on the brake; the vehicle was still in drive. The victim's small dog was also found in the car covered in the victim's blood. The police learned of the defendant's involvement from Mrs. Lloyd's neighbor, Daniel Leloup, who recounted seeing the defendant standing at the driver's door of the victim's car and then hearing a " pop."
After giving a statement to the police, the defendant was arrested and charged with manslaughter. A grand jury which heard testimony from the defendant upgraded the charge to second degree murder. The defendant, who was represented by retained counsel, waived his right to a jury trial and was subsequently convicted as charged after a bench trial. In rendering its verdict, the trial court provided lengthy and well-articulated reasons for finding that the defendant was guilty as charged of second degree murder and that
this was not a justifiable homicide or an accidental shooting.
Following his conviction, the defendant filed several motions, including a motion to reopen the evidence to submit medical reports that he [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] had suffered a stroke and was disabled. He also filed motions for new trial and for post verdict judgment of acquittal. These motions were denied. A motion for the trial court to conduct an in camera review of the grand jury testimony of Mr. Leloup for inconsistencies was granted, but no inconsistencies were found. Thereafter, the defendant was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefits.
On appeal, the defendant is represented by different retained counsel who asserted five assignments of error. The defendant filed five pro se assignments of error.
SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE
Two assignments of error (one pro se ) question the sufficiency of the evidence presented against the defendant, who claimed at trial that he acted in self-defense and/or that he shot the victim accidentally.
When issues are raised on appeal, both as to the sufficiency of the evidence and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence. The reason for reviewing sufficiency first is that the accused may be entitled to an acquittal under Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 101 S.Ct. 970, 67 L.Ed.2d 30 (1981), if a rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in accord with Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), in the light most favorable to the prosecution, could not reasonably conclude that all of the elements of the offense have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731 (La. 1992); State v. Cook, 48,355 (La.App. 2d Cir. 11/20/13), 127 So.3d 992, [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] writ denied, 2013-3000 (La. 5/30/14), 140 So.3d 1174.
The Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving both direct and circumstantial evidence. An appellate court reviewing the sufficiency of evidence in such cases must resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by the direct evidence and inferred from the circumstances established by that evidence must be sufficient for a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v. Sutton, 436 So.2d 471 (La. 1983); State v. Henry, 47,323 (La.App. 2d Cir. 7/25/12), 103 So.3d 424, writ denied, 2012-1917 (La. 3/8/13), 109 So.3d 356.
The appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442. A reviewing court accords great deference to a trier of fact's decision to accept or reject the testimony of a witness in whole or in part. State v. Carey, 47,650 (La.App. 2d Cir. 2/27/13), 110 So.3d 221, writ denied, 2013-0726 (La. 11/1/13), 125 So.3d 417.
Second degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. La. R.S. 14:30.1. Specific intent is the state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed
criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act. La. R.S. 14:10(1); State v. Davis, 40,382 (La.App. 2d Cir. 10/26/05), 914 So.2d 1129, writ [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 5] denied, 2005-2419 (La. 4/17/06), 926 So.2d 512. As a state of mind, specific intent need not be proved as a fact; it may be inferred from the circumstances and the actions of the defendant. State v. Kahey, 436 So.2d 475 (La. 1983); State v. Davis, supra. The discharge of a firearm at close range and aimed at a person is indicative of a specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm upon that person. State v. Johnson, 27,522 (La.App. 2d Cir. 12/6/95), 665 So.2d 1237; State v. Brooks, 49,024 (La.App. 2d Cir. 5/14/14), 139 So.3d 1072. The determination of whether the requisite intent is present is a question for the trier of fact. State v. Huizar, 414 So.2d 741 (La. 1982); State v. Brooks, supra.
Flight and attempt to avoid apprehension are circumstances from which a trier of fact may infer a guilty conscience. State v. Garner, 45,474 (La.App. 2d Cir. 8/18/10), 47 So.3d 584, writ not cons., 2012-0062 (La. 4/20/12), 85 So.3d 1256.
A homicide is justifiable when committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger. La. R.S. 14:20(A)(1); State v. Jones, 48,458 (La.App. 2d Cir. 11/20/13), 128 So.3d 593, writ denied, 2013-2926 (La. 5/30/14), 140 So.3d 1173. Factors to consider in determining whether a defendant had a reasonable belief that the killing was necessary are the excitement and confusion of the situation, the possibility of using force or violence short of killing, and the defendant's knowledge of the assailant's bad character. State v. Free, 48,260 (La.App. 2d Cir. 11/20/13), 127 So.3d 956, writs [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 6] denied, 2013-2978 (La. 5/30/14), 140 So.3d 1174, and 2014-0039 (La. 9/19/14), 148 So.3d 944.
When self-defense is raised as an issue by the defendant, the state has the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the homicide was not perpetrated in self-defense. State v. Garner, 39,731 (La.App. 2d Cir. 9/8/05), 913 So.2d 874, writ denied, 2005-2567 (La. 5/26/06), 930 So.2d 19; State v. Palmer, 45,627 (La.App. 2d Cir. 1/26/11), 57 So.3d 1099, writ denied, 2011-0412 (La. 9/2/11), 68 So.3d 526.
Manslaughter is defined in La. R.S. 14:31, which provides in pertinent part:
A. Manslaughter is:
(1) A homicide which would be murder under either Article 30 (first degree murder) or Article 30.1 (second degree murder), but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender's blood had actually cooled, or that an average person's blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed;
Negligent homicide is defined, in pertinent part, in La. R.S. 14:32 as the killing of a human being by criminal negligence. Criminal negligence exists when, although neither specific nor general criminal intent is present, there is such disregard of the interest of others that the offender's conduct amounts to a gross deviation below the standard of care expected to be maintained by a reasonably careful man under like circumstances. La. R.S. 14:12.
[48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 7] Although the defendant did not testify at trial, the trier of fact was presented with his inconsistent versions of the killing and
the events that transpired that evening through his statement to the police and his grand jury testimony, together with statements he made to his mother and his cousin. In his initial police statement, the defendant claimed that he was going to his mother's house when he came up behind the victim, who was driving much slower than the 45 mph speed limit. After he flashed his lights at the car, the car went even slower. After the victim turned his car around, came back, and turned into the driveway of the defendant's mother, the defendant armed himself with a gun and cocked it. As he walked up to the window of the victim's car, the gun accidentally discharged. After seeing that he had shot the victim, the defendant ran inside and told his mother to call 911 because he accidentally shot someone. He then went home where he hid the gun. He later called his cousin to take him to the police station.
In his grand jury testimony, the defendant went into greater detail. He stated that he was going to his mother's to pick up a frozen pizza for his children. He asserted that the victim was driving 30 to 35 mph in an area posted for 45 mph, and he flashed his lights at the victim's car only once. When the victim pulled into the driveway, the defendant said he " didn't know what to think." As a result, he got his semi-automatic 9 mm Taurus handgun from his truck console and cocked it. Standing at the left-hand rear corner of his truck, he pointed the gun at the car, " [a]iming . . . at the threat or whoever."  He contended that he did not know how many people were in [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 8] the car. He said that he told the victim to " get the hell out of my driveway" several times. He asserted that he did not mean to shoot the victim and that firing the weapon might have been a reflex since he had a stroke in 2010, which affected his right side. He conceded that, to his knowledge, the victim never verbally threatened him or opened his car door. After determining that he had shot the victim, he ran inside and told his mother to call 911 because he shot someone. He admitted that he made no effort to assist the victim and that his mother did not call 911 while he was at the house. Although he had a cell phone, he did not phone 911 either. He denied picking up the shell casing ejected from his gun. The defendant said he then retrieved the DiGiorno pizza and went home, where he hid the gun and ammunition by his trash can. He later called his cousin, Marcus Jackson, to drive him to the police station. While the defendant minimized his role in the road rage incident to the police and grand jury by contending he merely flashed his lights at the victim, he admitted to Marcus that he also honked his horn and revved up the engine of his full-sized truck.
Mrs. Lloyd, the defendant's mother, testified that she did not hear the gunshot. Her son came in the house, panicking and claiming he had shot someone. When he tried to show her, she refused to go further than the end of the garage. She told the defendant she would call 911. He then left with his gun and the pizza. Instead of instantly calling 911, Mrs. Lloyd called her sister. According to Mrs. Lloyd's account, her sister's cell phone gave the time of the call as 7:20 p.m. Mrs. Lloyd later called the police and told them [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 9] only that there was a car in her driveway. She
did not tell them that someone had been shot or request an ambulance. Nor did she tell the first responding officers what had happened.
Mr. Leloup, Mrs. Lloyd's next-door neighbor, testified that he had been standing on his porch that evening. He observed the defendant and his truck in Mrs. Lloyd's driveway. He noticed the defendant standing at the driver's door of a car, talking to someone in the car, and then heard a " pop." Because it was close to New Year's Eve, he assumed the noise he heard was fireworks. Thereafter, the defendant's truck left the premises. However, Mr. Leloup later became concerned when he noticed that the car -- which was still running and had its lights on -- had not moved for a significant amount of time. At about this time, a police officer arrived. Mr. Leloup testified that he walked over to talk to the officer and was present when the officer found the victim.
Officer Steven Gipson, the first officer on the scene, recounted responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle and finding the victim in his car with a gunshot wound to the head. He spoke to Mr. Leloup, who advised him about seeing the defendant walk up to the car and then hearing a pop. When Officer Gipson spoke to Mrs. Lloyd, she said that she had not heard or seen anything and that she had only observed the car on a security monitor. Detective Kevin Strickland, the lead detective, testified that when he spoke to Mrs. Lloyd at the house, she did not tell him about her son's [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 10] involvement or that she knew someone had been shot. Because he had spoken to Mr. Leloup, he asked her what vehicle her son drove and then told her to call her son to meet him at the police station. Although the defendant requested an attorney shortly after arriving at the police station, he later initiated contact with the detective and informed him that he wished to give a statement and proceed without an attorney. After the statement, the detective arrested the defendant on a charge of manslaughter.
Corporal John Madjerick, a crime scene investigator, testified that the victim had an obvious wound just above the left eye. The driver's side window was down, and no holes were found in the windshield or any other part of the car. A noticeably deformed projectile was recovered from the passenger side front floorboard. On the window sill of the front passenger door, they found hair, blood and brain or skull fragments. Despite an extensive search, no shell casing was recovered at the crime scene. Corporal Madjerick also testified that the defendant's right thumb print was matched to a fingerprint taken from the ammunition box found at the defendant's residence.
Dr. James G. Traylor, the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsy, testified that the victim suffered an intermediate range-of-fire gunshot, which entered at the left brow ridge and exited at the right parietal scalp. The bullet track was from front to back, left to right, and bottom to top. According to Dr. Traylor, an intermediate range gunshot [48,914 La.App. 2 Cir. 11] wound indicates that, depending upon the caliber, ...