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State v. Purvis

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

April 13, 2017



          Chad M. Ikerd Counsel for Defendant/Appellant: Jacob Dewayne Purvis

          James P. Lemoine Rhea Renee Nugent Jimmy White Counsel for Appellee:

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Phyllis M. Keaty, and John E. Conery, Judges.


         Defendant, Jacob Dewayne Purvis, appeals his conviction and sentence for aggravated arson. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court.


         Defendant lived in a double-wide trailer with his mother, uncle, sister, and his sister's two daughters. During the morning of September 16, 2015, Defendant and his sister were arguing inside the trailer when he allegedly threatened to burn it down. He exited the trailer, threw a bug zapper against the wall on the front porch, and walked to the side of the house. A few minutes later, the trailer caught on fire and ended in a total loss. The occupants inside the trailer at the time, Defendant's sister, one of her daughters, and his uncle, exited before it burned down. Defendant's sister and her daughter received injuries from being burned as they exited the trailer. Defendant contends that he did not intentionally set the fire and points to the bug zapper as a possible cause. Defendant insists he was joking regarding his comments about burning the trailer down.

         On October 16, 2015, Defendant was charged with aggravated arson, in violation of La.R.S. 14:51, and subsequently pled not guilty. Following a three-day jury trial which began on June 20, 2016, Defendant was found guilty and thereafter sentenced to twelve years at hard labor, with the first two years to be served without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, to run consecutively with any other sentence. Defendant was also ordered to pay a $5, 000.00 fine, court costs, and a $1, 000.00 fee to the Public Defender's Office.

         Defendant appealed, which was granted by the trial court on July 25, 2016. On July 29, 2016, he filed with the trial court a pro se "Method of Appeal/Out of time Appeal Pursuant to L.S.A.-924-930." Therein, he asked to appeal his conviction and requested the trial court reconsider his sentence "to be tried again[.]" It was denied by the trial court for the reasons that it had already granted an appeal and that Defendant had not yet been sentenced. He was sentenced on August 11, 2016, and a third motion for appeal was filed that same day.

         Defendant is now before this court asserting two assignments of error: (1) "The State failed to sufficiently prove Jacob Purvis acted intentionally to set the fire that destroyed his home, rather than the fire being a result of an accident" and (2) "The twelve-year sentence by the judge in this case is constitutionally excessive."


         I. Errors Patent

         In accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are reviewed for errors patent on the face of the record. After reviewing the record, we find no errors patent.

         II. First Assignment of Error

         In his first assignment of error, Defendant contends the State failed to sufficiently prove that he acted intentionally when setting the fire that destroyed his home rather than it resulting from an accident. When the sufficiency of evidence claim is raised on appeal, this court in State v. Shaikh, 15-687, pp. 3-4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/23/16), 188 So.3d 409, 413-14, discussed the following inquiry to be used by the reviewing court:

[W]hether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559 (La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982); State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La. 1981). It is the role of the fact finder to weigh the respective credibilities of the witnesses, and therefore, the appellate court should not second guess the credibility determinations of the trier of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under the Jackson standard of review. See Graffagnino, 436 So.2d at 563, citing State v. Richardson, 425 So.2d 1228 (La.1983). To obtain a conviction, the elements of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
State v. Thacker, 13-516, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1/28/15), 157 So.3d 798, 804 (quoting State v. Freeman, 01-997, pp. 2-3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/12/01), 801 So.2d 578, 580).

         In. State v. Baumberger, 15-1056, pp. 10-11 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/1/16), 200 So.3d 817, 826-27, we held:

When the conviction is based upon circumstantial evidence, La.R.S. 15:438 provides that the state "must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence" in order to convict. State v. Camp, 446 So.2d 1207, 1209 (La.1984). "Circumstantial evidence consists of proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which elemental factors may be inferred according to reason, experience and common sense." State v. Burns, 441 So.2d 843, 845 (La.App. 3 Cir.1983). However, La.R.S. 15:438 does not establish a stricter standard of review on appeal than the rational juror's reasonable doubt standard. The statute serves as a guide for the jury when considering circumstantial evidence. On appeal, the issue is whether a rational trier of fact, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, could find that all reasonable hypotheses of innocence were excluded. State v. Williams, 13-497 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/6/13), 124 So.3d 1236, writ denied, 13-2774 (La. 5/16/14), 139 So.3d 1024.

         "Aggravated arson is the intentional damaging by any explosive substance or the setting fire to any structure . . . whereby it is foreseeable that human life might be endangered." La.R.S. 14:51(A). The intent required for a conviction of aggravated arson is general criminal intent. State v. Simmons, 443 So.2d 512 (La.1983). "General criminal intent is present whenever there is specific intent, and also when the circumstances indicate that the offender, in the ordinary course of human experience, must have adverted to the prescribed criminal consequences as reasonably certain to result from his act or failure to act." La.R.S. 14:10(2). The State, therefore, was required to prove that Defendant set fire to the trailer and that it was foreseeable that human life may be endangered, i.e., "when from the circumstances the danger to human life may reasonably be expected to follow from the defendant's setting fire to the structure, irrespective of any subjective desire on his part to have accomplished such a result." Simmons, 443 So.2d at 522.

         Deputy Thomas Vice of the Grant Parish Sheriff's Office (GPSO) testified at trial on behalf of the State. Deputy Vice was dispatched to the trailer fire on the day in question; however, it had been cleared by first responders by the time he arrived. Deputy Vice spoke to Defendant's sister, Laicon Purvis, who advised that she and Defendant had been arguing that morning inside the trailer.[1] She told Deputy Vice that as Defendant walked outside, he said something about burning the place down. Laicon informed Deputy Vice that the fire occurred a few minutes after Defendant went outside. Deputy Vice testified that Laicon said Defendant went back inside the trailer to alert them of the fire. Laicon told Deputy Vice that she grabbed her two-year-old daughter and ran out the front door. She informed Deputy Vice that as she crossed the burning porch, she and her daughter were burned. Deputy Vice testified that Laicon's daughter sustained burns on her back, and Laicon sustained a burn on her arm.

         Deputy Vice thereafter spoke to Defendant, who was sitting in a chair, crying hysterically and throwing himself around. Deputy Vice stated that Defendant corroborated Laicon's story that they had been fighting and that he had angrily gone outside. According to Deputy Vice, Defendant advised that he was on the phone with his mother and smoking a cigarette with his back to the trailer when he turned around and saw the porch on fire. According to the testimony, Defendant informed Deputy Vice that he "did not say that I was going to burn the house down, I said that I ought to burn the house down." Deputy Vice said that as the fire was burning, there were small explosions caused by hot propane tanks located in and around the property. According to Deputy Vice's testimony, there was concern that a large propane tank located behind the house would also explode.

         Deputy Kevin Billiott, who was employed by the Louisiana State Fire Marshal, testified on behalf of the State. Deputy Billiott accompanied the lead investigator, Deputy Allen Jones, to the trailer fire. Deputy Billiott advised that upon arrival, the fire department was struggling to extinguish the fire. Deputy Billiott subsequently interviewed Laicon at the hospital and testified that her injuries were superficial, resulting in her refusing treatment. However, Deputy Billiott testified that Laicon's daughter suffered first-degree burns on her back. According to Deputy Billiott's testimony, Laicon revealed that Defendant became angry on the morning in question when he was accidentally awoken. Laicon told Deputy Billiott that she and Defendant began arguing when the topic changed from being awakened to the trailer's condition. According to Deputy Billiott's testimony, Laicon advised that Defendant was upset and blamed them for hoarding things in and around the trailer. He testified that Laicon said Defendant threatened to burn the trailer down because he "wanted the house to be like their other house[, ]" which Deputy Billiott later learned had also burned down. Deputy Billiott stated Laicon revealed that Defendant made at least two similar threats in the past when he was "high on meth and he was coming down really hard[.]" Deputy Billiott testified that Laicon indicated that, in the instant case, Defendant was more upset and violent than when he made the previous threats and that she believed the fire started on the porch by the front door. He testified that Laicon said that Defendant was a liar who would have used a lighter to start the fire as they both smoked. Deputy Billiott revealed that Laicon "was convinced that while [Defendant] was outside[, ] he started the fire." On cross-examination, Deputy Billiott was read Laicon's recorded statement wherein she said: "I don't know if he done it . . . but my heart says he did." Deputy Billiott thereafter responded "Okay" when opposing counsel asked, "in this statement she is admitting she doesn't know . . . whether or not [Defendant] started the fire[.]"

         Jody Bullock, who was employed by the Grant Parish Detention Facility and formerly employed by the GPSO as the Chief of Detectives on the date in question, testified for the State that prior to the fire, he knew Defendant and Laicon. Bullock revealed that upon arrival, Laicon advised that she and Defendant had been arguing that morning when "he screamed I hope this M F- - -er burns, and left the residence." Laicon revealed to Bullock that approximately ten minutes later, Defendant yelled that the house was on fire, and she grabbed her baby and ran out the front door. On cross-examination, Bullock noted that Laicon was "not [the] . . . best person to get information from" as she previously gave him information that was not credible. Bullock stated, however, that he believed Laicon with respect to the present matter.

         Bullock testified that Darrell Smith, Defendant and Laicon's uncle, was inside the trailer when the fire started. According to Bullock, Smith advised that Defendant and Laicon were fighting when Defendant became upset and exited the front door. Bullock testified that Smith said that "he heard [Defendant] say, I am going to catch it on fire, referring to the house." Bullock revealed Smith noted that "not long after that he heard Defendant yelling fire. . . . he saw the front of the house on fire. And he left the residence."

         Bullock located Defendant in the back of Deputy Vice's patrol car where he read Defendant his rights. Bullock said Defendant was upset and denied using methamphetamine. Bullock testified that Defendant said "he did not really know what happened, the house just caught on fire." Bullock asked Defendant whether he had previously threatened to burn the trailer, and Defendant responded that "he was always making statements like that about this burning ...

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