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State v. Stipe

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 11, 2015


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg Wicker, and Hans J. Liljeberg.


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[14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 2] On appeal, defendant challenges his conviction for second degree murder. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.

Procedural history

On August 16, 2006, the Grand Jury for the Twenty-Third Judicial District indicted defendant on one count of first degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.[1] On June 2, 2009, the State amended the indictment to charge defendant with one count of second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. Defendant was arraigned on the amended bill on June 16, 2009, and pled not guilty.

On June 22, 2009, the matter proceeded to trial before a twelve-person jury, which, after a four-day trial, found defendant guilty as charged. On September 9, 2009, the trial judge sentenced defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence to run consecutively to sentences defendant was already serving. That day, defendant made an oral [14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 3] motion for reconsideration of sentence that was denied and filed a timely motion for appeal, which was granted.


At trial, Sierra Williams testified that, on December 3, 2005, her boyfriend, Keelan Irvin, worked from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Between 7:30 p.m. and 7:40 p.m., Williams called Irvin, who indicated that was on his way to wash his truck - a blue 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche with unique 26" rims on the tires - at a carwash in Gonzales, Louisiana. Although Irvin said that he would call her right after he washed his truck, Sierra Williams never heard from her boyfriend again. When Williams tried to call him, he did not answer; when she texted him twice, he did not respond.[2]

At about 8:00 or 8:05 p.m., Chris Williams, a neighbor of Irvin's, saw Irvin's distinctive truck headed southbound on Louisiana Highway 44 in Gonzales. Williams traveled southbound on Highway 44 next to Irvin's Avalanche and observed Irvin riding in the passenger seat. Williams could not see who was driving Irvin's Avalanche. Williams eventually turned off of Highway 44 but noticed that Irvin's truck kept heading south on Highway 44 toward I-10.

When Irvin did not come home that night, which was unusual, Sierra Williams

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contacted Irvin's family, who reported him missing the next morning, December 4, 2005.

Detective Juliet Zeringue of the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office (" SJPSO" ), testified that, on December 4, 2005, at approximately 7:15 a.m., she was dispatched to a cane field on Bessie K Road in Vacherie to investigate an abandoned vehicle. Upon arrival, Detective Zeringue observed a blue Chevrolet [14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 4] Avalanche missing both tires from the driver's side. Detective Zeringue also observed a cinder block, a large piece of wood, and a large jack lying underneath the vehicle. Additionally, there was another piece of wood near the vehicle. She noted that both passenger side tires were still attached to the vehicle.

Detective Zeringue almost immediately noticed that there was blood on the " running board" of the passenger side of the vehicle so she began to process and photograph the vehicle as a crime scene. She swabbed the door handles for DNA then opened the vehicle's doors. Upon looking inside the vehicle, she observed blood on the back of the front passenger seat, blood and dirt on the back seat, and " high velocity blood spatter" on the back passenger door. She testified that part of the dashboard was missing, wires were hanging out of the center console area, and the DVD/radio player system was missing.

Detective Keith Guerin of the SJPSO obtained the VIN number of the Chevrolet Avalanche to identify the registered owner. The dispatcher advised the detectives that the owner of the vehicle was Keelan Irvin, whose family had just reported him missing.

Detective Zeringue immediately processed the outside of the vehicle[3] for fingerprints and obtained four latent fingerprints, which, via emergency request, were processed by Captain Brenda Miceli of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Captain Miceli, a stipulated expert in the field of latent print examination, testified that she examined four latent prints in this matter and identified two as matching fingerprints on Terrell Stipe.

On December 5, 2005, at approximately 11:30 a.m., Detective Zeringue was notified that two of the prints belonged to Terrell Stipe, defendant herein. After [14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 5] locating defendant, a St. Charles Parish detective brought him to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office (" SCPSO" ). At approximately 3:40 p.m., Detective Zeringue interviewed defendant at the SCPSO; her supervisor, Captain Sid Berthelot, and Chief of the Gonzales Police Department Bill Landry were present during the interview.

Prior to beginning the interview, Detective Zeringue advised defendant of his Miranda rights, which he waived in writing. Defendant told her that, on the day in question, he washed his car, cut hair, then went to two parties. When Detective Zeringue told defendant that his prints had been found on a blue Chevrolet Avalanche with 26" rims that had been abandoned in a cane field in St. James Parish, he denied that he had ever seen the truck. During that interview, defendant never implicated himself.

That same day, defendant's wife, Elsie Marie Stipe, approached Detective Zeringue at the SCPSO. Mrs. Stipe told Detective Zeringue that defendant was not

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home on the night of December 3, 2005 but he came home about 3:00 or 3:30 a.m. on December 4, 2005. Additionally, Mrs. Stipe noticed that there was blood on a gray sweater that he was wearing when he arrived home. Mrs. Stipe stated that defendant was also wearing a white t-shirt, black jeans, and black shoes. Mrs. Stipe further stated that, when defendant left their house the next morning to go to his father's house, he took the gray sweater with him. Detective Zeringue obtained a taped statement from Mrs. Stipe and consent from Mrs. Stipe to a police search of her home. During the search, Detective Zeringue seized the white t-shirt, black jeans, and black shoes that defendant had been wearing on the night of December 3, 2005.

On December 6, 2005, Detective Claude Louis, Jr. of the SJPSO interviewed defendant and advised defendant of his rights, which defendant waived. The next [14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 6] day, which was December 7, 2005, defendant gave a taped statement to Detective Louis. In his statement, defendant said he had never seen a blue Avalanche and did not know who Irvin was. Defendant stated that, on the evening of December 3, he was at a family party in Killona and that he brought his father home about 9:00 p.m. Defendant then went to Red's Bar in Killona, where he stayed until 12:45 a.m. Detective Louis again told defendant that his prints were on the missing man's Chevrolet Avalanche but defendant denied seeing or touching the vehicle.

On December 8, 2005, Detective Mike Toney of the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office (" APSO" ) interviewed defendant after advising defendant of his rights, which defendant waived in writing. When Detective Toney asked defendant to tell them where Irvin's body was, defendant stated that he " just couldn't find it." Defendant also stated that if he said anything " it would open it all up."

On December 9, 2005, based on a tip from a concerned citizen, Keelan Irvin's body was found in a wooded area in St. James Parish off of La. Highway 641. When Irvin's partially-clothed body was found, Detective Zeringue observed, among other things, trauma on the deceased's back over the right shoulder blade, which appeared to be a bite mark.

Dr. Dana Ann Troxclair, who was accepted as an expert in forensic pathology, testified that she performed an autopsy on Irvin. Dr. Troxclair testified that Irvin had sustained a single, perforating gunshot wound to the right side of his head that went through the skull and brain then exited through the neck. She explained that the cause of death was extensive damage to the brain and skull, and the manner of death was homicide.

Theodore Smith testified that, on December 3, 2005, he was living in Killona and that night after dark he arrived at his house to find defendant in his [14-476 La.App. 5 Cir. 7] driveway standing next to the driver's side door of Irvin's Avalanche. Smith did not notice anyone else in the truck. Smith knew that the truck belonged to Keelan Irvin because Irvin had bought the distinctive 26" rims on the Avalanche from Champs Automotive, where Smith works. Defendant asked to borrow a large jack from Smith, who refused. The next morning, Smith noticed that several of his jacks were gone. At trial, Smith identified the jack found in the cane field under the deceased's Avalanche as one of the jacks taken from his home on the night of December 3, 2005.

Patrick Lane of the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory (" LSPCL" ), who was accepted as an expert in the field of crime scene investigation, ballistics, and fingerprint collection, testified that he collected and processed evidence from the

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Chevrolet Avalanche transported to the LSP lab by Detective Zeringue of SJPSO. In his opinion, there was evidence that at least three different shots were fired inside of the vehicle. First, there was a bullet impact on the roof of the vehicle between the rearview mirror and the passenger-side sun visor. Second, there was a bullet impact that struck the " post" between the front and back door of the vehicle; bullet fragments were recovered from that post. Third, a bullet impacted the right side of the backseat; a bullet was recovered from the " ground."

Mr. Lane also testified that, on December 9, 2005, he went to the crime scene location where Irvin's body was discovered and recovered a white t-shirt from the upper body and a white do-rag from the head of the deceased. The do-rag had a hole in the top front right area, which Mr. Lane testified is consistent with a contact shot. Further, the white t-shirt had residue that indicated that the shirt was pulled up or someone reached under the shirt to fire a shot. The ...

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