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State v. Wilson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 26, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
JEREMY WILSON

         On Appeal from the 22nd Judicial District Court Parish of Washington, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 09 CR1105531 The Honorable William J. Knight, Judge Presiding

          Warren L. Montgomery, District Attorney Matthew Caplan, Assistant District Attorney Covington, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellee State of Louisiana.

          Katherine M. Franks Abita Springs, Louisiana Attorney for Appellant Jeremy Wilson.

          Jeremy Wilson Angola, Louisiana Appellant In Proper Person.

          BEFORE: WELCH, CRAIN, AND HOLDRIDGE, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         The defendant, Jeremy Wilson, was convicted of two counts of second degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 8, 2008, the Washington Parish Sheriffs Office responded to a residential fire in Franklinton and discovered two bodies, burned beyond recognition. The victims were later identified as Donald Wayne Demille Williams and Kimberly Sims (or Simms), who both lived at the residence. During an autopsy, bullet fragments were recovered from the victims' bodies and it was determined they both died of gunshot wounds to the head before their bodies were burned. The police recovered bullet and casing fragments at the crime scene, but found no evidence of traceable fire accelerant.

         Initially, police identified as suspects, interviewed, and arrested Ricky Magee, Monica Simmons, and Andrew James; however, the murder investigation remained open. Then, in October 2008, Britney Farrell contacted police and said the defendant confessed to her that he and Erick Townsend shot the victims during a robbery, then burned the house to destroy any evidence. She later recanted her statement. At trial she denied any memory of any statements, but identified her voice after reviewing the recordings.

         After Farrell gave statements to police, Townsend was arrested on unrelated charges and provided information that led police to recover three guns from Jamieson Creek and to conduct further investigation. Townsend was then indicted with the defendant for two counts of first degree murder. The cases were severed and Townsend pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter in exchange for his agreement to testify at the defendant's trial. However, when the state called Townsend to testify, he refused to answer questions despite the trial court finding he had no Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to invoke and threatening him with its contempt power.

         Information from Townsend led police to interview the defendant's wife, Felicia Brewer. Brewer implicated the defendant in the crimes, stating on the night of the murders she drove the defendant and Townsend to what she thought was a drug deal. She said she waited in the car and when the two men returned they were wearing masks, bloody gloves, and had changed clothes. She also described driving to Jamieson Creek where Townsend disposed of three guns. Like Farrell, Brewer later recanted her statement; however, at trial, Brewer testified her original statement to police implicating the defendant in the crimes was truthful.

         The defendant maintained his innocence and accused Ricky Magee and Monica Simmons of the murders. However, Monica Simmons invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify at trial, as did Paul Robinson, who gave a statement saying Ricky Magee confessed to him. Over the defendant's objection that he was being denied his right to present a defense, the trial court refused to allow the defendant to admit the out-of-court statements to police into evidence and ruled other witnesses would not be allowed to testify about hearsay statements.

         The jury convicted the defendant of two counts of second degree murder, responsive verdicts to his indictment on two counts of first degree murder.

         SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

         On appeal, the defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, arguing there was no physical evidence against him and the testimony of witnesses who implicated him was not credible.

         A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand, as it violates due process. See U.S. Const, amend. XIV; La. Const, art. I, § 2. In reviewing claims challenging sufficiency of evidence, an appellate court must determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on the entirety of the evidence, both admissible and inadmissible, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); State v. Oliphant, 13-2973 (La. 2/21/14), 133 So.3d 1255, 1258-59; see also La. Code Crim. Pro. art. 821B; State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1308-09 (La. 1988). When circumstantial evidence forms the basis for conviction, the evidence, "assuming every fact to be proved that the evidence tends to prove . . . must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence." La. R.S. 15:438; Oliphant, 133 So.3d at 1258. The due process standard does not require the reviewing court to determine whether it believes the witnesses or whether it believes the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Mire, 14-2295 (La. 1/27/16), ___So. 3d___, ___(2016WL314814). Rather, appellate review is limited to determining whether facts established by direct evidence and inferred from the circumstances established by that evidence are sufficient for any rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v. Alexander, 14-1619 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/18/15), 182 So.3d 126, 129-30, writ denied, 15-1912 (La. 1/25/16), 185 So.3d 748. The weight given evidence is not subject to appellate review; therefore, evidence will not be reweighed by an appellate court to overturn a fact finder's determination of guilt. State v. Cobb, 13-1593 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/27/14), 144 So.3d 17, 24.

         When the defendant's identity as the perpetrator of a crime is the key issue, the state is required to negate any reasonable probability of misidentification. State v. Neal, 00-0674 (La. 6/29/01), 796 So.2d 649, 658, cert, denied, 535 U.S. 940, 122 S.Ct. 1323, 152 L.Ed.2d 231; State v. Carter, 14-0742 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/25/15), 167 So.3d 970, 976. Positive identification by only one witness is sufficient to support a conviction. Neal, 796 So.2d at 658; Carter, 167 So.3d at 976.

         As it relates to this case, second degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. See La. R.S. 14:30.1A(1). Specific criminal intent is "that state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act." La. R.S. 14:10(1). Specific intent may be formed in an instant. State v. Mickelson, 12-2539 (La. 9/3/14), 149 So.3d 178, 182. Because it is a state of mind, specific intent need not be proven as a fact, but may be inferred from circumstances surrounding the defendant's actions. Mickelson, 149 So.3d at 182.

         Felicia Brewer was granted immunity from prosecution and, at trial, testified she was with the defendant and Erick Townsend on the night of the murders. She explained that the two men wanted pills, so late that night she drove them to a wooded location in a car that belonged to the defendant's sister, which she could only describe as green. The defendant and Townsend exited the car and told her to wait down the street. Brewer recalled Townsend carrying an opaque drawstring bag. She claimed she became worried when they did not quickly return and tried reaching them by cell phone, and Townsend called her back and said they were returning to the vehicle. She testified the defendant and Townsend came running out of the woods dressed in different clothes, wearing Jason and Scream costume masks and bloody latex gloves. They got back into the car and the defendant screamed at her to drive away.

         Brewer testified she was scared and drove away with the defendant in the front passenger seat and Townsend in the back passenger seat. She recalled the two men arguing because Townsend wanted to tell her what went on in the house. She stated she turned and saw Townsend had guns on his iap, which he was wiping with what she guessed was a black shirt. She also noticed a scratch on the left side of the defendant's neck. She said Townsend's bloody gloves were falling apart and "[t]here was blood everywhere" and all over Townsend, Brewer explained the defendant said to stop at "the creek, " where Townsend threw three guns out of the car. She stated while they were in the car the two men removed the outer clothes they were wearing over their original attire. When asked what happened to the outer clothes, Brewer said she had no personal knowledge, but knew what happened to the clothes because Townsend told her.[1]Brewer could not recall details about the clothes the men were originally wearing.

         Brewer testified she did not know the victims, did not know where they lived, and did not go to their house on the night of the murders, explaining that she let the defendant and Townsend out of the car at a wooded area near the main road. She also denied seeing the victims' house burning or smelling smoke. However, she testified she knew about the fire. She also indicated she never experienced a more terrorizing, scary situation.

         At trial, Brewer acknowledged she previously gave inconsistent and conflicting accounts of that night's events. She testified she was arrested twice and gave two statements to police consistent with her trial testimony. She testified after giving the statements to police, the defendant's parents drove her to defense counsel's office, where, in an attempt to get the defendant (her husband and the father of her child) out of jail, she said she lied to police, telling them that she and the defendant were in Baton Rouge at the time of the murders, and neither she nor the defendant participated in the crimes. Though she acknowledged that in statements to defense counsel she recanted her police statements and executed an affidavit to that effect, Brewer testified her trial testimony, which was consistent with her statements to police, was truthful and she made a mistake speaking with defense counsel. Brewer also acknowledged she was subpoenaed to testify at trial and was given immunity from prosecution. Brewer indicated that the immunity offer essentially prohibited the state from using information directly or indirectly derived from her trial testimony, but did not ensure she could not be charged with a crime related to the underlying events, which gave her reason to believe she may face criminal charges. Brewer further acknowledged that her statement to police that Townsend threw the guns into the creek was made after police showed her pictures of the creek where the guns were found.

         The state granted Britney Farrell immunity from prosecution and called her as a witness at trial. Farrell testified the defendant is the father of her two children, and though she has no contact with him, she does have contact with his family who visit the children monthly. She denied having firsthand knowledge of the crimes, but admitted that she contacted police and gave taped statements concerning the defendant's involvement in the crimes. However, Farrell stated she could not remember the contents of the statements.

         Farrell testified she had recently reviewed tapes of her statements and confirmed hearing herself tell police in December 2008, the defendant told her he and Townsend went to the victims' house to rob them. She confirmed hearing herself tell police she was told Sims answered the door to the defendant and Townsend, who were wearing masks, then ran down the hall. Townsend panicked and shot Sims, then the defendant shot Williams, who lay in bed. She confirmed hearing herself tell police the defendant told her he and Townsend burned down the house to avoid leaving evidence and, as an alibi, would claim to have been in Baton Rouge. Additionally, she confirmed she informed police the defendant had a silver automatic gun, and Townsend had not told her anything.

         Farrell admitted she heard herself on tape, and the defendant could have told her all of that, but maintained she did not remember him doing so. She confirmed that at the time of her interview, the defendant and his family were seeking custody of her children, and stated she could not remember if she fabricated the statements to win custody - she did not believe she lied, but testified she did not remember what she said. She denied memory of telling police her decision to report what the defendant told her was based on the defendant's attempt to gain custody of the children, but admitted she heard her voice on tape make that statement.

         Farrell confirmed she gave a video recorded statement on March 29, 2009, where she stated the defendant never confessed anything to her. Again, she admitted hearing her voice give the statement, but denied memory of it. Farrell also acknowledged she visited defense counsel's office, where she signed an affidavit denying knowledge of the murders, denying discussing the crimes with the defendant, and denying the defendant confessed any criminal activity to her, but, again, claimed she could not remember it.

         Farrell stated she was subpoenaed to testify and after she was served, the defendant's family took custody of her children. She denied outside pressure to not remember her statements. She acknowledged listening to the entirety of her taped statements, and no one fussed at her or told her what to say in the statements. She agreed she initiated contact with police, but did not remember the statements themselves. She acknowledged she probably remembered more when the statements were made than at trial.

         On cross examination, Farrell acknowledged that her video statement showed her telling police the defendant told her nothing, consistent with the affidavit executed in defense counsel's office. She also acknowledged that in the video she stated she and the defendant were in a custody dispute and were on bad terms. She maintained she could not remember meeting with police or stating that the defendant never told her anything. She admitted calling defense counsel after being subpoenaed for trial and expressing concern that she may get in trouble. She then, again, acknowledged the state granted her immunity from prosecution.

         The state also presented testimony regarding the police investigation. Detective Guy Magee, retired from the Washington Parish Sheriffs Office, was lead detective and testified regarding evidence collected at the scene of the fire, including a possible copper bullet fragment and a fired .380 bullet casing. Detective Magee explained numerous individuals were interviewed, and the investigation initially focused and Monica Simmons, Andrew James and Ricky Magee (no relation to Detective Magee), who was interviewed multiple times. Those three suspects were arrested for first degree murder after Detective Magee completed affidavits of probable cause.

         Warden Jim Miller of the Washington Parish Sheriffs Office testified he participated in the murder investigation as a detective. He said Britney Farrell called him months after the murders and provided the information leading to her December 2008 statement that the defendant admitted he and Townsend committed the crimes. The case remained open and the investigation continued. He said Townsend was then arrested on an unrelated charge and asked to speak with an investigator. Detective Magee explained that in March 2009, Townsend gave a handwritten statement; then in July 2009, Townsend gave a recorded statement, which, prompted by a question asked by Townsend, included discussion of possible verdicts and the lesser offense of manslaughter.

         Detective Miller testified he spoke with Townsend on more than one occasion, and information Townsend provided led police to speak with other individuals, including Felicia Brewer. Though Brewer claimed she made cell phone calls and spoke with Townsend alter he exited the car on the night of the murders, Detective Miller confirmed records for the phone numbers Brewer provided did not include any relevant calls or data for the requested time frame. Detective Miller noted the cell phones were considered disposable, that Brewer provided two phone numbers although there were three people, and expressed uncertainty about at least one of the phone numbers. Detective Miller also said information Townsend provided led police to recover three guns from Jamieson Creek.

         The state presented testimony by Charles R. Watson, Jr., a forensic scientist who testified as an expert in the field of firearms examination. Based on evidence collected in the victims' autopsies, Watson concluded each victim was shot twice with different guns. Watson examined three firearms recovered from the creek -two .380 caliber semi-automatic pistols and a .22 caliber revolver - but could not determine how long they were in the creek. Due to damage to the bullet and cartridge casing fragments collected as evidence, he was unable to confirm whether the bullets were fired from the three guns in evidence. However, Watson did conclude each victim was shot with a .22 caliber bullet and a .380 auto caliber bullet.

         More than a year after the murders, Detective Miller obtained a search warrant for a green Ford Escort believed to have been used in the commission of the crimes. The vehicle was in the back field of the house belonging to defendant's father and, when it was seized, was missing the front passenger seat. The defendant's father, Talmus Wilson, Sr., said he owned the car, which was used by his three daughters and other family members, and that he removed the passenger seat to haul scrap to the junkyard. Mr. Wilson denied seeing cuts or stains on the seat before removing it, or seeing anything suspicious or out of the ordinary in the vehicle. Crime lab testing revealed no trace evidence of blood in the vehicle.

         When a case involves circumstantial evidence and the jury reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defense, that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable doubt. State v. Moten, 510 So.2d 55, 61 (La.App. 1 Cir.), writ denied, 514 So.2d 126 (La. 1987). As the fact finder, a jury is free to accept or reject, in whole or in part, testimony of any witness. Moreover, when there is conflicting testimony about factual matters, and resolution depends upon a determination of the credibility of witnesses, the matter is one of weight of evidence, not sufficiency. An appellate court will not reweigh evidence to overturn a fact finder's determination of guilt. State v. Taylor, 97-2261 (La.App. 1 Cir. 9/25/98), 721 So.2d 929, 932. Moreover, even if the record contains some evidence which conflicts with testimony accepted by a trier of fact, such evidence does not render the evidence accepted by the trier of fact insufficient, State v. Quinn, 479 So.2d 592, 596 (La.App. 1 Cir. 1985).

         Viewing the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the state, particularly statements by Felicia Brewer and Britney Farrell that implicated both the defendant and Townsend, and evidence the victims were killed with bullets of calibers consistent with the guns recovered from Jamieson Creek, we cannot say the jury's determination that the state proved all elements of second degree murder was ...


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