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State v. Edwards

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 26, 2015

STATE OF LOUISIANA, Appellee
v.
DERRICK EDWARDS, Appellant

Page 513

Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 297,401. Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge.

WASHINGTON & WELLS, By: Alex J. Washington, Counsel for Appellant.

CHARLES REX SCOTT II, District Attorney, DALE G. COX, TOMMY JAN JOHNSON, GEORGE WINSTON III, Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Apelle.

Before STEWART, DREW and GARRETT, JJ.

OPINION

Page 514

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] DREW, J.

Derrick Edwards was convicted of second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. He appeals, urging two assignments of error. We affirm.

FACTS

Derrick Edwards and Patricia Cathron are the parents of Shanderricka Edwards. When Shanderricka was three years old, her father abandoned her and had little to do with her for the next 14 years.

On June 4, 2011, Shanderricka was 17 years of age. She lived in Shreveport in a duplex with her mother.

Tomika Adams, age 30, resided in the upstairs apartment of the duplex. In the preceding few months, both Tomika and Shanderricka had been involved with 27-year-old Tyrone Miles, a point of contention between the two women.

Katrina Brown lived two houses from the duplex. Diane Priest lived in a house next to Katrina, three houses from the duplex. Tomika's mother, Everlerna Adams, lived across the street diagonally. The defendant was a very personal friend with Lavonne Bell, who resided nearby.

I. The Initial Argument

In the early afternoon of June 4, 2011, Shanderricka and Tomika argued about:

o a DVD player that Everlerna had loaned to Shanderricka; and

o Shanderricka's belief that Miles had gone back with Tomika.

Diane observed the argument from her front porch, testifying that its [49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] duration was about a half hour. Lavonne testified that Tomika refused to fight Shanderricka. The police were called and both women were handcuffed, but not arrested. Lavonne called the defendant to tell him that his daughter had been involved in an argument and was in handcuffs.

The defendant arrived and spoke with the officers. He and Shanderricka discussed the argument, but were not angry with each other at that time.

II. The Argument Between Shanderricka's Parents

The defendant and Patricia argued about his disapproval of the relationship between Shanderricka and Miles. Patricia and Shanderricka returned to the duplex. Miles later joined them. The defendant remained in the street, still angry. He asked Lavonne and Tomika to take his truck and go purchase beer. They did so.

After they left, the defendant was in the street in front of the Browns' house, talking to a crowd of people, including Diane. Lavonne testified that when she left, the defendant was not angry or upset.

III. The Father-Daughter Fight

Shanderricka and her young sister walked by the group of people, when she heard her father saying that he was going to have Lavonne fight Patricia.[1] Shanderricka told him that he couldn't " do that" but that he could " whoop" her. Shanderricka asked her father why he was talking about their family business in public. Shanderricka later said that he must have thought she was disrespectful.

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] Shanderricka was holding her two-or three-year-old sister when the argument began. She put the child down and Katrina picked up the child. Shanderricka and

Page 515

her father began physically fighting. The defendant, age 37, grabbed his daughter, age 17, by her throat and began hitting her in the face with his fists. Shanderricka fought back, but the defendant pulled her to the ground by her hairpiece.

Patricia swung her crutch at the defendant, but missed. After the fight, Miles helped Shanderricka and Patricia up, and walked them back to the duplex.

Shanderricka identified photographs showing scratches on her neck and bruises on her face.

Everlerna testified that she saw the defendant hit his daughter, but said the marks on Shanderricka's face and neck were caused by Patricia's crutch.

IV. Invitation to a Killing

After the fight, the defendant followed Miles, Shanderricka, and Patricia down the street, challenging anyone to " come out to the street and get it."

Shanderricka testified that:

o her father told Miles that he would " bust his butt" ;

o she told Miles not to worry about her father;

o her father continued to taunt and provoke Miles;

o she tried to restrain Miles, but he broke away and went into the street;

o it was dark, with minimal to no street lights working;

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] o Miles, age 27, and the defendant began fist-fighting; [2]

o the fight lasted two to three minutes;

o she never saw Miles with a weapon;

o her father normally carried a pocket knife in his pants pocket; and

o she never saw the defendant stab Miles, though she saw Miles step backward and say, " Man, you stabbed me."

No one testified as to seeing the knife during the fight. Patricia saw Miles stagger into her front yard, but did not know that he had been stabbed until he collapsed on the floor of the duplex.

Diane heard someone say, " he didn't have to stab him."

Shanderricka further testified that:

o Miles ran toward the duplex as the defendant remained in the street, yelling;

o Miles left a bloody handprint on the door of a vehicle parked in the yard;

o he entered the duplex and fell to the floor with blood pouring from his side;

o the photograph of the blood inside the doorway was accurate; and

o she called 911, but Miles lost consciousness before EMS arrived.

The defendant also called 911, reporting that he stabbed Miles. Lavonne said the defendant could have come to her home instead of fighting.

V. The Investigation

Corporal Jennie Taylor, of the Shreveport Police Department, who was the first officer to arrive at the scene, testified that:

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 5] o as she exited her unit, the defendant blurted out that he had stabbed Miles;

o she detained the defendant in her vehicle;

o she made contact with Miles and assisted with crowd control;

o she asked the defendant for the knife and he gave it to her;

o the knife was later turned over to a crime scene investigator; and

o the knife shown her in court was the one received from the defendant.

Page 516

Sergeant Danny Duddy, supervisor of the Shreveport Police Department crime scene unit, was the on-call crime scene investigator on June 4, 2011. Duddy identified photographs that he took of the crime scene and the participants. He received an open pocketknife from Corporal Taylor.

Dr. Long Jin, a forensic pathologist at LSU Health Sciences Center, conducted an autopsy the next day, with these findings:

o cause of death was determined to be two sharp force wounds to the chest;

o manner of death was determined to be homicide;

o one wound was a stab wound, located slightly to the left of the middle chest;

o that wound penetrated the right ventricle of the heart;

o the right ventricle is easily penetrated by a two-inch deep jab with a knife;

o the second wound was also a stab wound to the heart;

o both wounds were administered with a knife or sharp object;

o either wound would have been fatal;

o Miles bled to death as a result of his wounds;

o it would have taken a few minutes for Miles to die from his wounds;

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 6] o there was a possible defensive wound on the right elbow; and

o there was a slash wound to the right chest.

Trial started on January 28, 2014. The jury's verdict came two days later.

No post-trial motions were filed.

VI. This Appeal

Improper Use of Grand Jury Testimony

Page 517

This listed assignment was not argued on appeal. Nonetheless, we have examined the trial court's precise restrictions on the use of the previous contrary sworn testimony of several witnesses. Without exception, the trial court's legal rulings on this issue were exemplary. Moreover, the overwhelming evidence renders any perceived errors harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sufficiency

The defendant attacks his conviction, arguing that:

o the state did not prove that he had the specific intent to kill the victim;

o the state failed to produce a witness who saw him stab the victim;

o he acted in self-defense, having no means of retreat from the aggressor; and

o at most, these facts would sustain a manslaughter conviction.[3]

The state argues that the defensive wounds present on the victim's body, along with penetrating wounds to the heart, indicate the defendant's specific intent to kill. The state further argues that the defendant was the [49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 7] aggressor and is not entitled to claim self-defense. The state asserts that the evidence reflects that the defendant stabbed an unarmed victim twice in the heart during a fight, and that the defendant was the aggressor and made no attempt to withdraw.

Our law on appellate review of claims of evidentiary insufficiency is[4] well settled, particularly in cases with factual similarities to this prosecution.

Page 518

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 8] Our law on justifiable homicide is also well settled.[5]

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 9] This record provides overwhelming evidence of the stabbing, including a confession from the defendant and a dying declaration from the victim.

Dr. Long Jin testified that Miles died as a result of two penetrating stab wounds to

Page 519

the chest, each of which pierced the right ventricle of his heart.

The defendant confessed to Corporal Taylor at the scene and gave her the knife he used to stab Miles. The state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant inflicted the fatal stab wounds.

The defendant's actions prove that he had the specific intent " to kill or to inflict great bodily harm," as required by La. R.S. 14:30.1(A)(1). It was not unreasonable for a trier of fact to conclude that he actively desired the consequences of his actions, i.e., the death or great bodily harm of the victim.

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 10] The defendant claims that he acted in self-defense, as he reasonably believed that killing was necessary to defend himself.

The evidence reflects that this altercation began as a fist-fight and that it was the defendant who elevated the fight with the use of a weapon. There was no evidence presented to establish that the defendant reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of losing his life or that killing Miles was necessary to save his own life. Even Lavonne, a defense witness, confirmed that he could have retreated to her house, rather than provoke the deadly struggle.

The defendant was clearly the aggressor here.[6] No evidence was presented that he attempted to withdraw from the situation prior to his use of deadly force.

There was nothing in the testimony of the witnesses which rendered their testimony implausible, especially on the important points of the defendant being the aggressor and never withdrawing from the conflict with Miles.

This court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh evidence. Great deference is given to the jury's determinations of credibility.

When viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the trier of fact could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this senseless murder was not committed in self-defense.

[49,635 La.App. 2 Cir. 11] Further, a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime of second degree murder were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

DECREE

The defendant's conviction and sentence are AFFIRMED.


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