ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 12-1286, DIVISION " K" . HONORABLE ELLEN SHIRER KOVACH, JUDGE PRESIDING.
PAUL D. CONNICK, JR., DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Twenty-Fourth Judicial District, Parish of Jefferson, TERRY M. BOUDREAUX, MATTHEW CAPLAN, KELLIE M. RISH, MEGAN L. GORMAN, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEYS, Gretna, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.
For BRUCE G. WHITTAKER, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Louisiana Appellate Project, New Orleans, Louisiana, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.
Panel composed of Judges Marc E. Johnson, Robert M. Murphy, and Hans J. Liljeberg.
ROBERT M. MURPHY, J.
[14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 2] Defendant, Honore Estes, appeals her conviction and sentence for second degree murder. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Defendant was indicted by a Jefferson Parish Grand Jury on June 21, 2012, for one count of second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. After entering a plea of not guilty, defendant proceeded to trial on March 19, 2013, and was found
guilty as charged on March 22, 2013. On May 7, 2013, defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the benefits of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Defendant's Motion For A New Trial was also denied on that date. This appeal follows.
Julie Jensen testified that on March 4, 2012, she lived on Daffodil Lane. On that date, her children informed her about an argument that was taking place down the street. A short time later, Jensen's children returned and told her the people who were arguing had a gun, at which time Jensen went out to her front porch. She witnessed an African American couple approximately three houses over. The [14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 3] woman in the driveway had her hands on the top of a car, and Jensen could see that the woman had a gun in her hand. The man, who was sitting, had the passenger side door of a car open. Jensen saw the woman walk from behind one car and in between two cars, while waving a gun up and down. Jensen heard a gunshot, and then saw the woman go to the ground while yelling at the man to get up; however, the man did not respond. The woman ran inside then came back out again and yelled at the man to " get up." At that point, Jensen called 9-1-1 and reported the shooting. Jensen also told her neighbor, Joyce Moore, about what she had seen. Jensen testified that she did not see an altercation between the woman and the man, or a struggle for a purse or gun prior to the shooting. The man was standing still while the woman waived the gun. Jensen had never met defendant or the victim.
On cross-examination, Jensen stated that one of the cars blocked her view of the argument from the waist down, and she did not know whether someone else's hand may have been on the gun. Jensen further testified that defendant did not stand in a " firing position" at the time of the shooting.
Joyce Moore testified that on March 4, 2012, she lived at 121 Daffodil Lane and was acquainted with defendant as a neighbor. On that date, Moore was leaving her home when she was informed by Julie Jensen about what had happened to the victim, Nicholas Houston. Moore immediately crossed the street to defendant's home, where she found defendant on the phone with 9-1-1. Defendant told Moore that " it was an accident" and that the gun had gone off while defendant and Houston were arguing. Moore observed Houston's body between two cars in the driveway. After defendant had been put into the police car, Moore went into defendant's home to be with defendant's two children.
[14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 4] On cross-examination, Moore said that she did not hear any yelling outside prior to the time that she left her home on the date of the shooting. Moore testified that defendant told her that Houston had grabbed or pulled her, and Moore noted that it looked like a part of defendant's shirt had been ripped. Defendant also appeared to be upset.
Ten witnesses, all of whom were minors at the time of trial, provided consistent
testimony regarding the shooting, with little varying detail. In summary, these witnesses observed defendant and Houston engaged in a verbal argument in the driveway. At no time did Houston become physically violent with defendant. Defendant went to her trunk and retrieved a gun, which she then pointed up and down at Houston while they stood approximately seven feet apart in the driveway between the two parked cars. Houston unsuccessfully attempted to get the gun from defendant. Defendant then shot Houston, and immediately thereafter got down on the ground with him, apparently in an attempt to revive him.
Deputy Scott Bradley testified that he was a patrol deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office 3rd District. He received a call for service at 116 Daffodil Lane on March 4, 2012, in response to a shooting. Upon arriving, Deputy Bradley observed a black male lying between two parked cars in the driveway, and defendant was exiting the house. Deputy Bradley approached defendant, and he asked her what had happened. Defendant's response was that " she did it." Deputy Bradley then searched defendant and placed her in the back of his police unit; defendant was not handcuffed at that time. When asked where the gun was, defendant told Deputy Bradley that it was inside of her purse. The gun was, in fact, located in defendant's purse, which was on the roof of one of the vehicles parked [14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 5] in the driveway. When asked what had happened with respect to the shooting, defendant told Deputy Bradley that she and the victim were arguing over items of clothing " when she swung her purse, and the gun went off." Deputy Bradley secured the scene until Sergeant Fernandez and Deputies Berthelot and Porche arrived. On cross-examination, Deputy Bradley said that defendant did not try to flee the scene of the shooting.
Sergeant Randall Fernandez testified that he was a sergeant assigned to the 4th district patrol division of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, but was a homicide detective on March 4, 2012. After receiving a call for assistance on that date, Sergeant Fernandez proceeded to 116 Daffodil. Upon arrival, he noted the crime scene tape had been placed, and Houston's body was in the driveway between two cars. Sergeant Fernandez was informed by the other deputies that there were witnesses in the area. He looked at the purse, but did not touch or manually manipulate it. Sergeant Fernandez observed a Glock pistol inside. Following this, he took measurements and photographs of the crime scene. Among the photographs taken was an image of the fired cartridge case of the round that fatally struck Houston. Other photographs included blood spatter on the door of the BMW, defendant's purse, which was on the hood of the BMW, and the Glock pistol which was in the purse with the grip pointing upward.
On cross-examination, Sergeant Fernandez testified that no tests for gunshot residue were conducted of defendant's hands or Houston's hands, because the practice had previously been discontinued by the department. The blood spatter at the scene was on the lower part of the BMW's driver door.
Deputy Brett Beavers testified that he worked for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and was assigned to the First District Patrol Division. On March 4, 2012, he was a detective assigned to the homicide division when he investigated [14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 6] defendant in relation to an incident at 116 Daffodil. After receiving a call that someone had been shot, Deputy Beavers responded
to the scene, where other police personnel were already present. He began notifying his supervisors of the crime, and spent approximately thirty to forty-five minutes on the scene. While back at the detective bureau, Deputy Beavers received phone calls that witnesses to the crime had been located and that several statements were going to be taken. These witnesses included the Green/Fleming children, the Jensen family, Joyce Moore and the Payne family. After obtaining information regarding the witnesses, Deputy Beavers met with defendant.
Defendant agreed to speak with Deputy Beavers, at which time a Jefferson Parish Rights of Arrestee or Suspects Form was reviewed with defendant. Defendant placed her initials next to every right she was provided with, indicating that she understood and waived it. Among those rights explained to her was the right to have an attorney present during questioning. During the " pre-interview," defendant disclosed that she was married to the victim but had recently separated from him and acquired another residence in New Orleans. On the date of the incident, she was dropping off her young child so that the victim could watch him during her night shift. While at the home, she and the victim began to argue about " possible infidelity." Defendant claimed that the victim followed her outside when she tried to leave and took the keys to her vehicle. The two then went back inside where more arguing, as well as some pushing and shoving, took place. When defendant left the home and ran to a nearby corner stop sign, the victim told her that she did not have to leave. It was decided that defendant and the victim would switch cars and, at that time, the victim and defendant began removing items from the respective vehicles they had been driving. The victim told defendant that she could not have a purse that she pulled from the car. Defendant had also retrieved a [14-781 La.App. 5 Cir. 7] handgun from the trunk that had been placed there earlier that day by a friend. Defendant stated that a " tug-of-war" ensued when the victim grabbed the purse. The whole time, defendant was holding a weapon in her right hand while her left hand was on the purse. During the struggle for the purse the gun discharged and she realized that her husband had been shot. She then ran inside to retrieve a cordless phone and dial 9-1-1, following which she waited for an ambulance and other people to get there.
Defendant's second interview with Deputy Beavers was recorded on micro- cassette. Defendant also signed a consent form to allow Deputy Beavers to search her cell phone and review her text messages, but nothing of evidentiary value was found. When interviewing defendant, Deputy Beavers noted that defendant had a tear in her blouse. Defendant advised Deputy Beavers that while she and the victim argued during their marriage, she did not indicate that there was ever physical violence that warranted medical attention or police intervention. After his interview with defendant, Deputy Beavers drafted an arrest warrant, which was signed by a commissioner. Deputy Beavers did not observe any injuries to defendant while speaking with her at the detective bureau.
On cross-examination, Deputy Beavers testified that, based upon his interview with defendant and other sources of information, he did not believe that the shooting of the victim was accidental. Deputy Beavers testified that his police training was such that he could discharge his weapon if someone tried to gain possession of it.
During re-direct examination, Deputy Beavers clarified that his training was also to point a ...