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State v. Price

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 5, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
WILLIE LEE PRICE, JR.-AKA- WILLIE PRICE

         APPEAL FROM THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF AVOYELLES, NO. 2013-CR-176957 HONORABLE WILLIAM BENNETT, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Charles A. Riddle, III District Attorney, Twelfth Judicial District Court COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE.

          State of Louisiana Edward Kelly Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT Willie Lee Price, Jr. Willie Price Willie Lee Price, Jr.

          Court composed of Marc T. Amy, Billy Howard Ezell, and Shannon J. Gremillion, Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE.

         On November 14, 2013, Defendant, Willie Lee Price, Jr., a.k.a. Willie Price, along with codefendants Asa Bentley, Donnie Edwards, Chadwick McGhee, and Tamika Williams, were charged by bill of indictment with the second degree kidnapping of Jessica Guillot, in violation of La.R.S. 14:44.1.[1] On March 11, 2015, following a two-day trial, a unanimous jury found Defendant guilty as charged.

         On April 12, 2016, Defendant was granted an out-of-time appeal and appointed appellate counsel. On August 4, 2016, Defendant was once again granted an out-of-time appeal. He now seeks review of his conviction and sentence, alleging three assignments of error.[2]

         FACTS

         The victim, Jessica Guillot, went missing from Simmesport, Louisiana in September 2013 and has not been seen since. Laura Stelly, the victim's mother, testified that she last saw her daughter on September 6, 2013, around 8:00 p.m. She testified that, when she saw her daughter, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Stelly noted that her daughter had run off for an extended period once before.

         Cecil Cooper, the victim's fiancé, testified that the last time he saw her was September 6, 2013.[3] The remainder of Cooper's testimony on direct examination related to a ride home he received from Bentley and McGhee on September 7, 2013. Cooper testified on cross-examination that he had never seen the victim and Defendant together.

         James Crystal, Jr., testified that he knew the victim, Bentley, and Defendant, and that Defendant and Bentley are brothers. The remainder of Crystal's testimony concerned an incident wherein he alerted Bentley to the presence of the victim near his home. However, Crystal specifically noted that Defendant had "no part" in any of the events about which Crystal testified.

         Tomika Mason, Bentley's girlfriend in September 2013, testified that Defendant and Bentley were brothers and that Defendant would occasionally stay at her and Bentley's residence. She testified that Bentley sold drugs for a living. She also testified that, on September 10, 2013, she found out that her Dodge Durango had been damaged, and that Bentley had driven it the night before. She testified that Bentley had come home around midnight, and that the next morning her son informed her that the truck had been damaged. Mason testified that they thought the truck had been vandalized, since there was paint on the outside of the truck, the seats had been dyed blue inside, the back window was shattered, and three of the tires were flat.

         Mason testified that Bentley told her that on September 9, 2013, he had been with his cousin, Chase, and Crystal. Mason said that Bentley did not mention being with Defendant, nor did Mason see Defendant that day.

         Tamika Williams, a codefendant in this case, testified to the details of her plea agreement; namely, that in exchange for truthful testimony against her codefendants, she would be allowed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice, receive a ten-year hard-labor sentence, and that upon the completion of the last codefendant's trial or plea, the district attorney's office would move to have her sentence reduced to time-served and she would be released. She then testified that she has previously been a drug addict who had problems with pills and cocaine, and that she knew Bentley because she had sex with him and purchased drugs from him.

         Williams testified about seeing Bentley chase the victim "[i]n Simmesport on the back roads by the church, " but stated Bentley failed to catch the victim. She also stated Bentley was looking for the victim because he claimed the victim stole cocaine and money from him. Williams described later going for a ride with Bentley from Simmesport towards Mansura on Louisiana Highway 1. She stated that while she and Bentley were riding around, Defendant called Bentley and told him to meet Defendant in Mansura. Williams also stated that she heard Defendant ask Bentley why Williams was with him and tell him that she was not supposed to be there. She testified that they travelled to the "Y Not Stop" on Highway 1 in Mansura, where they met a small silver car on the side of the road.

         Williams testified that she heard the victim yelling at Bentley to "stop pulling on [her], let [her] go." She testified that she saw Defendant get out of the driver's seat of the car and push the victim, but then Defendant stopped. Williams testified that Donnie Edwards then got out of the silver car and got in the driver's seat of the Durango she and Bentley had originally been driving, and that Bentley shoved the victim into the back of the Durango and got on top of her. Williams said that the silver car then made a U-turn and headed back towards Simmesport with the Durango following.

         Williams testified that she saw what appeared to be Bentley choking the victim in the back of the Durango and heard what sounded like someone "slapping or hitting her, " but claimed that she never turned around completely, so she did not know for sure what was happening. She stated that after a few minutes, she heard what sounded like glass breaking, then smelled a funny smell "[l]ike when somebody go [sic] to the bathroom on they [sic] self." Williams testified that she was scared and texted her sister during the ride back to Simmesport, at the end of which Edwards and Bentley dropped her off at her apartment. She further stated that as soon as she was dropped off, she grabbed her baby and went to her mother's house, which was around eight minutes away. Shortly thereafter, the Durango showed up at her mother's house, and Bentley, Edwards, Chadwick McGhee, and Defendant got out of the vehicle. She stated that Defendant complained she was not supposed to be there, and that she subsequently began to see Defendant every day.

         Williams' first call to police, in which she pretended to be her children's babysitter, Bonita Robinson, was played to the jurors, and Williams testified that she pretended to be Robinson because she was scared. She acknowledged that she spoke to the police multiple times before she ever admitted that she was in the Dodge Durango, or gave the testimony she presented at trial.

         On cross-examination, Williams acknowledged that, during a prior trial, she never mentioned Defendant being "involved with placing [the victim] in the back of th[e Durango.]" She also acknowledged that, while in prison, she sent a letter to Bentley in which she claimed she had not told the police anything because "how can [she] say anything about ...


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