Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana. Trial Court No. 301212. Honorable Katherine Clark Dorroh, Judge.
PAULA CORLEY MARX, Louisiana Appellate Project, Counsel for Appellant.
CHARLES R. SCOTT, II, District Attorney, DALE G. COX, JESSICA DIANE CASSIDY, Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.
Before BROWN, STEWART and LOLLEY, JJ.
[49-662 La.App. 2 Cir. 1] LOLLEY, J.
This appeal arises out of the First Judicial District Court, Caddo Parish, State of Louisiana. The defendant, Alasundria Avery, initially was charged with the first degree murder of her infant daughter, Denise Avery. She ultimately pled guilty to manslaughter. Following a sentencing hearing, Avery was sentenced to 30 years at hard labor, with the first 10 years to be served without benefit of parole or suspension of sentence. A timely motion to reconsider sentence was denied. This appeal ensued. For the reasons set forth herein Avery's conviction is affirmed. Her sentence is amended to conform to La. R.S. 14:30(B) and, as amended, affirmed.
On October 21, 2011, 19-year-old Alasundria Avery called 911 to report that her one-year-old daughter, Denise, was unconscious and possibly having a seizure. When EMTs arrived, Denise was found lying on the coffee table with Avery and a man, later identified as LaMorris Edwards, standing by the child. The infant was taken to LSU-HSC where she was pronounced dead. Denise presented with horrible signs of abuse. She had sustained lashings on her buttocks, abdomen and head that resembled third- degree burns. Her vagina was swollen and red and her urine was dark colored. Upon questioning that same night, Avery admitted that she and Edwards had beaten Denise with a belt and shoe. Avery claimed that Edwards beat her as well and forced her to beat Denise and, when she did not hit the child forcefully enough, he would hit the child or make Avery hit her harder. [49-662 La.App. 2 Cir. 2] Denise's autopsy report showed that she died of " blunt force injuries involving the face, head, sides of abdomen, back, buttocks and vaginal area."
Avery was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Ultimately, Avery was formally indicted for the first degree murder of Denise, but later the state amended the indictment to second degree murder. She eventually pled guilty to manslaughter. A sentencing hearing was held on February 20, 2014, at which the trial court heard testimony from several witnesses.
The state's first witness to testify was Shreveport Police Homicide Detective Rod Demery, who stated that he first came into
contact with Denise at LSU-HSC. He immediately noticed bruising and broken skin on her buttocks, as well as severe redness to her vaginal area. Detective Demery interviewed Avery, during which Avery admitted that she beat Denise and, specifically, that she beat her on her buttocks and vagina with a belt and shoe. Avery also told Det. Demery that she beat Denise at the behest of her boyfriend, Edwards.
The state's second witness was Dr. James Traylor, who performed the autopsy on Denise and was accepted by the court as an expert in forensic pathology. Dr. Traylor testified that the cause of Denise's death was blunt force trauma to her face, head, abdomen, back, buttocks and vagina, and that the injuries were inflicted within 24 hours of her death. Additionally, Dr. Traylor found swelling in Denise's brain and hemorrhaging within the soft tissue surrounding her skull. He further testified that Denise suffered distinct external injuries to her vagina, but, that internal bleeding from the trauma to her abdomen had pooled toward her vagina, which pooling of blood also [49-662 La.App. 2 Cir. 3] contributed to its severe redness. When questioned as to whether Denise's injuries could have been pre-existing, Dr. Traylor answered in the negative. He stated that he found no indication of old injuries or previous abuse to the tissues; rather, Dr. Traylor confirmed that the injuries had been sustained within 24 hours of the autopsy, which was performed the night of the death.
The defense presented testimony from several witnesses establishing the environment in which Avery was raised. As related by the witnesses, Avery and her two sisters were raised by their mentally impaired mother, Denise Salone. The family home was unkempt, which witnesses described as being scattered with dirty dishes, dirty clothes and roaches. According to people close to her, including school personnel, Avery had very poor hygiene and wore soiled clothing that did not fit her. The testimony also established that Avery was sexually abused by her own brother. The record indicates that her brother may have been the father of Denise. In addition, Avery was approximately seven months pregnant with another child at the time she was arrested, and the record reveals some indication that her brother was the father of the child she was carrying.
The testimony also showed that Avery had few friends. She was friends, however, with twin girls whom she met at Fair Park High School. The twins' mother, Cassandra Walker, testified that a few months prior to Denise's death, Avery and Denise moved into her home. Walker testified that Avery's mother did not allow Avery to take any belongings with her when she left home, but Walker took Avery in and provided for her and the baby. During the time that Avery stayed with the Walkers, her hygiene [49-662 La.App. 2 Cir. 4] improved, and Walker testified that Avery loved and cared for Denise. However, Avery abruptly left the Walkers' home and moved into a residence with Edwards. Walker testified that she did not know the reason for Avery's move and further stated that the next time she saw or heard of Avery was when Denise's death was in the news.
In addition, testimony was adduced at the sentencing hearing indicating that Denise was a healthy, adequately cared-for and appropriately developing infant until seven months of age. Pediatrician Holly Gill testified that Avery took Denise for her well-baby visits and her immunizations were kept current.
The last witness to testify was Dr. Robert Shaffer, an expert in forensic neuropsychology who was ...