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State v. Bernhart

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

January 18, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
KERMITT BERNHART

         APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 515-118, SECTION "C" Honorable Benedict J. Willard, Judge

         CONVICTION AND SENTENCE AFFIRMED.

          Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ORLEANS PARISH Donna Andrieu ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ORLEANS PARISH J. Taylor Gray ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ORLEANS PARISH COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA

          Katherine M. Franks LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, KERMITT BERNHART

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins

          Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr.

         The defendant, Kermitt Bernhart, appeals his conviction on manslaughter charges. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         STATEMENT OF CASE

         On February 21, 2013, the State indicted the defendant, Kermitt Bernhart, for the second-degree murder of Christopher Lambert.[1] The defendant entered a plea of not guilty. The trial court denied defendant's motions to suppress the evidence, identification, and statement. On August 20, 2015, at the end of a three day jury trial, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter.

         On September 9, 2015, prior to sentencing, the defendant filed a motion for new trial, motion to reconsider sentence, and motion for appeal. On the same date, the trial court denied the motion for new trial and granted the appeal motion.

         On October 14, 2015, the trial court sentenced the defendant to twenty-seven years at hard labor, the sentence to be served currently with any other sentence. It also denied the defendant's motion to reconsider sentence.

         Thereafter, the instant appeal was lodged with this Court.

         STATEMENT OF FACT

         The following testimony was adduced at trial.

         Joanna Lambert, the victim's cousin, testified that the victim's parents predeceased him. She recounted that he got involved with drugs after Hurricane Katrina, which he used as an escape from his unhappy childhood. She maintained the drug addiction caused the victim to live on the streets until his death.

         Rogell Lewis, the 911 call operator, explained the procedure to record and identify all police/medical assistance calls. Lewis identified the State's exhibit of the 911 call that was subsequently played for the jury. Mr. Lewis verified the call was received at 4:45 p.m. on October 19, 2011 and that the record displayed the name "James" as the caller.

         Officer Melvin Hunter said he responded to a 911 call about a shooting in the 2500 block of Orleans Avenue. He identified James Williams as the person who directed him to the second floor of an abandoned building. Ofc. Hunter then discovered the body of the victim on the bathroom floor.

         Aaron Williams acknowledged he was incarcerated at Winfield Correctional Facility on drug possession and distribution charges. He described the victim as a friend. He testified he had given clothes to the victim before his incarceration and that the victim was wearing some of those clothes on the day he was killed.

         Detective Theo Kent of the NOPD homicide division stated he assisted Detective Ryan Vaught, the lead investigator on the case. Det. Kent directed crime scene technicians in photographing the victim's body and the interior and exterior of the crime scene area. Det. Kent identified thirty-six pictures taken the day of the shooting and the crime scene technician's report. He also said he had the victim's pants tested for DNA.

         Dr. Cynthia Gardner, a staff member of the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, testified as an expert in forensic pathology. She performed an autopsy on the victim's body. Dr. Gardner relayed the victim suffered three gunshots to the head and one to his right hand. Two of the bullets were recovered during the autopsy. Testing of bodily fluids proved positive for cocaine and heroin.

         Detective Ryan Vaught testified he was the lead detective in the case. He instructed Officer Darryl Doucette to contact James Williams, the man who placed the 911 call, and to canvass the area for potential witnesses. Det. Vaught conducted two interviews of James Williams at police headquarters on the day of the shooting. The second interview came after Det. Vaught ...


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