from the Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Madison, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 170161 Honorable
Michael E. Lancaster, Judge
LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Carey J. Ellis, III Counsel
L. CLAXTON RASHARD NEAL Pro Se
EDWARD PAXTON District Attorney, Counsel for Appellee
TENNANT MACK EDWIN MOBERLEY Assistant District Attorneys
Brown, Garrett, and Cox, JJ.
a trial by jury, Rashard Neal was unanimously convicted as
charged of second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S.
14:30.1. Neal was sentenced to the mandatory term of life
imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole,
probation, or suspension. Neal appeals only his conviction.
For the following reasons, we affirm his conviction and
p.m. on the evening of September 4, 2014, the Madison Parish
Sheriff's Office in Tallulah, Louisiana, received a
report of a shooting at a local carwash. When deputies
arrived at the scene, they discovered that Lapatrick
Mitchell had been shot and killed. Shortly before
the shooting, several witnesses saw Mitchell and Neal engaged
in a heated argument at the carwash over money. Neal conceded
that the argument had occurred, but denied killing Mitchell.
At trial, two eyewitnesses claimed that they saw Neal return
to the carwash and shoot Mitchell.
handgun was found on the rear passenger floorboard of
Mitchell's vehicle, but it had not been fired. Three
spent .40 caliber shell casings were also found at the scene.
No physical evidence connected Neal to the crime, and no
weapon was recovered. Neal's cellphone had little text
message activity from 6:53 p.m. until 8:28 p.m. No witness
could pinpoint the timing of the events. Based upon the
eyewitness accounts, however, Neal was arrested the day after
December 8, 2014, Neal was charged by a grand jury indictment
with the second degree murder of Mitchell. Neal's
five-day trial ended on June 11, 2016, when a unanimous jury
found him guilty as charged of second degree murder.
16, 2016, Neal was sentenced to the mandatory term of life
imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole,
probation, or suspension of sentence. This appeal followed.
appeal, Neal argues that the evidence was insufficient to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the person who
shot Mitchell. Although he admits that he had an argument
with Mitchell, Neal contends that the two eyewitnesses who
claimed they saw him shoot Mitchell gave inconsistent
versions of the event to police and were not credible
witnesses. Additionally, Neal argues that no evidence linked
him to the crime. Specifically, no murder weapon was ever
found and no gun recovered matched the spent casings found at
the crime scene. Finally, Neal argues that detectives failed
to investigate another possible suspect.
state argues that the testimony of the two eyewitnesses
identifying Neal as the shooter was sufficient to prove the
elements of second degree murder. The state contends that
investigations conducted by law enforcement corroborated the
testimony of the two eyewitnesses and also provided a
supporting timeline of the events. Ultimately, the state
argues that witness credibility issues are reserved for the
trier of fact. The state submits that, when viewed in the
light most favorable to the state, the evidence would lead
any rational factfinder to find that the elements of second
degree murder were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61
L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), appellate courts review the record in the
light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether
the evidence was sufficient to convince any rational trier of
fact that all the essential elements of a crime had been
proven beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Tate,
01-1658 (La. 5/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied,
541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004). This
standard, now legislatively embodied in La.C.Cr.P. art. 821,
does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle to
substitute its own appreciation of the evidence for that of
the factfinder. State v. Pigford, 05-0477 (La.
2/22/06), 922 So.2d 517; State v. Dotie, 43, 819
(La.App. 2 Cir. 1/14/09), 1 So.3d 833, writ denied,
09-0310 (La. 11/6/09), 21 So.3d 297.
the function of the trier of fact to assess the credibility
of witnesses and resolve conflicting testimony. State v.
Washington, 50, 424 (La.App. 2 Cir. 3/16/16), 188 So.3d
350. The trier of fact hears the testimony firsthand and,
unless the factfinder's assessment of believability is
without any rational basis, it should not be disturbed by a
reviewing court. State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305
(La. 1988); State v. Price, 48, 986 (La.App. 2 Cir.
5/15/14), 140 So.3d 1212, writ denied, 14-1274 (La.
2/6/15), 158 So.3d 814. A factual determination concerning
conflicting testimony will not be disturbed on review unless
it is clearly contrary to the evidence. Mussall,
supra; State v. Williams, 32, 631 (La.App. 2
Cir. 12/8/99), 747 So.2d 1256, writ denied, 00- 0734
(La. 11/27/00), 775 So.2d 441, and writs denied,
00-0358, 00-0360 (La. 1/5/01).
reviewing court accords great deference to a jury's
decision to accept or reject the testimony of a witness in
whole or in part. State v. Hill, 42, 025 (La.App. 2
Cir. 5/9/07), 956 So.2d 758, writ denied, 07-1209
(La. 12/14/07), 970 So.2d 529; State v. Gilliam, 36,
118 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/30/02), 827 So.2d 508, writ
denied, 02-3090 (La. 11/14/03), 858 So.2d 422. The
appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses
or reweigh the evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116
(La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442; State v. Eason, 43,
788 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/25/09), 3 So.3d 685, writ
denied, 09-0725 (La. 12/11/09), 23 So.3d 913, cert.
denied, 561 U.S. 1013, 130 S.Ct. 3472, 177 L.Ed.2d 1068
cases involving a defendant's claim that he was not the
person who committed the crime, the Jackson
rationale requires the state to negate any reasonable
probability of misidentification in order to carry its burden
of proof. State v. Brady, 414 So.2d 364 (La. 1982);
State v. Brock, 37, 487 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/26/03),
855 So.2d 939, writ denied, 04-1036 (La. 4/1/05),
897 So.2d 590; Williams, supra. Face-to-face
transactions taking place during daylight hours and the
length of time that transpires during the altercation are
facts that reduce the likelihood of misidentification.
State v. Ruano, 12-1517 (La.App. 4 Cir. 7/31/13),
120 So.3d 908, writ denied, 13-2068 (La. 3/14/14),
134 So.3d 1193; State v. Payne, 04-828 (La.App. 5
Cir. 12/14/04), 892 So.2d 51.
degree murder is the killing of a human being when the
offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great
bodily harm. La. R.S. 14:30.1. Specific intent is that state
of mind that exists when the circumstances indicate the
offender actively desired the prescribed criminal
consequences to follow his act. La. R.S. 14:10(1); State
v. Lindsey, 543 So.2d 886 (La. 1989), cert.
denied, 494 U.S. 1074, 110 S.Ct. 1796, 108 L.Ed.2d 798
(1990); State v. Wilhite, 40, 539 (La.App. 2 Cir.
12/30/05), 917 So.2d 1252, writ denied, 06-1078 (La.
11/9/06), 941 So.2d 35. The determination of whether the
requisite intent is present in a criminal case is for the
trier of fact. State v. Huizar, 414 So.2d 741 (La.
1982); Wilhite, supra. The discharge of a firearm at
close range and aimed at a person is indicative of a specific
intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm upon that person.
State v. Seals, 95-0305 (La. 11/25/96), 684 So.2d
368, cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1199, 117 S.Ct. 1558,
137 L.Ed.2d 705 (1997).
identification by only one witness may be sufficient to
support a defendant's conviction. State v.
Davis, 27, 961 (La.App. 2 Cir. 4/8/96), 672 So.2d 428,
writ denied, 97-0383 (La. 10/31/97), 703 So.2d 12;
State v. Miller, 561 So.2d 892 (La.App. 2 Cir.
1990), writ denied, 566 So.2d 983 (La. 1990).
Additionally, a jury may consider flight and attempts to
avoid apprehension as evidence of a guilty conscience.
State v. Fuller, 418 So.2d 591 (La. 1982); State
v. Wiggins, 44, 616 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/23/09), 22 So.3d
1039, writ denied, 09-2329 (La. 4/23/10), 34 So.3d
Testimony and Evidence
Ezell of the Madison Parish Sheriff's Office was the
first to testify at trial. Officer Ezell testified that he
assisted in the investigation on September 4, 2014, and was
one of the first responders to the crime scene. He stated
that he took two statements from Neal, who turned himself in
one hour after the shooting. In Neal's first statement to
Officer Ezell, Neal denied killing Mitchell, but admitted to
having a heated argument with him. In a second statement,
made on September 5, 2014, Neal again denied shooting
Mitchell. Officer Ezell testified that Neal was arrested
after giving the second statement because the investigation
had disclosed two eyewitnesses who claimed they saw Neal
shoot Mitchell. The two eyewitnesses were Lester Solomon and
Ezell interviewed Lester Solomon and took his statement.
According to Officer Ezell, Solomon stated that at the time
of the shooting, he was seated on the driver's side of
the vehicle, and Mitchell was standing on the passenger side
at the rear door. Solomon stated that both the front and back
passenger doors of the vehicle were open, as well as the back
hatch. In his statement, Solomon stated that Mitchell was
washing his vehicle when Solomon "heard a pop, like a
gunshot." Solomon stated that he looked up and "saw
Rashard Neal shoot Lapatrick Mitchell." On September 5,
2014, Solomon took Officer Ezell to the carwash and showed
him how the crime took place. The vehicle was placed exactly
where it had been at the time of the shooting. Officer Ezell
testified that he stood where Solomon had been standing and
looked through the window. Officer Ezell stated that he could
clearly see through the window to where Lapatrick Mitchell
would have been standing at the time of the shooting. Officer
Ezell testified that he believed Solomon's statement was
cross-examination, Officer Ezell testified that Solomon
stated that he ran "out of his shoes at the time of the
shooting, " and that there were "two shoes there
where he said he was standing when the shooting took
place." Officer Ezell also conceded that Solomon gave
another conflicting statement to investigators.
Brandon Wilcher, an investigator with the Madison Parish
Sheriff's Office, was the next to testify. Detective
Wilcher testified that he arrived at the crime scene at 8:40
p.m. where he observed Mitchell's body, Mitchell's
vehicle with the headlights on and the motor running, and
both the front and rear passenger doors open, as well as the
rear lift gate. Detective Wilcher could tell that Mitchell
had been cleaning his car due to the cleaning supplies
present at the scene. After Mitchell's body had been
removed from the scene, Detective Wilcher began to process
and preserve the crime scene. As a firearms instructor for
over 16 years, he testified that Mitchell's wounds were
considered "kill zone wounds."
Wilcher confirmed that a pair of flip flops were found at the
scene. He identified photographs from the scene, which
included a shell casing found near the body, a bloody
footprint, a 9mm handgun found on the rear passenger side of
Mitchell's vehicle, and a shell casing found near the
cleaning supplies. Detective Wilcher testified that loud
music was coming from Mitchell's vehicle when he arrived
at the scene. Detective Wilcher stated that he collected
Neal's clothing and cell phone as evidence to be
tested. However, Detective Wilcher testified that
there was no indication that the collected clothes were the
clothing worn by the assailant at the time of the shooting,
as the assailant was not immediately detained at the crime
Wilcher stated that witnesses described the vehicle Neal
drove at the time the argument occurred between Neal and
Mitchell prior to the shooting. Detective Wilcher testified
that Neal's car, which had been towed, was processed, but
no items were found in the vehicle besides a large amount of
clothing in the trunk.
after the shooting, Detective Wilcher testified that he and
another deputy traveled to a hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi,
where they received information that Neal was staying with a
woman. By the time they arrived and searched the hotel room,
Neal had turned himself in to the police.
James Rash of the Madison Parish Sheriff's Office
testified that he was the designated case agent for
Mitchell's murder on September 4, 2014. Detective Rash
performed a walkthrough of the scene and corroborated
Detective Wilcher's testimony regarding what was
recovered. Although he retrieved a 9mm gun from
Mitchell's vehicle located on the right rear floorboard,
Detective Rash testified that the gun had not been fired.
Rash testified that Solomon did not initially identify the
black male from the shooting. After learning that Solomon had
gone to a local dollar store immediately after the shooting,
Detective Rash had the manager pull up the video. Detective
Rash testified that he saw Solomon "running into the
store" and turning around "holding the door looking
back towards the carwash." Detective Rash saw that
Solomon was in his "sock feet."
Rash learned from other witnesses that there was a heated
argument between Mitchell and Neal before the shooting. After
Neal turned himself in, Detective Rash learned from him that
a couple of years before the shooting, Neal was fronted
approximately $1, 500.00 worth of drugs by Mitchell. Neal
indicated that because someone stole the drugs from him, he
was unable to pay Mitchell, which led to the argument. Neal
told Detective Rash that he had been at an apartment earlier
talking to Madarrel Miller who informed him that Mitchell had
been saying things about Neal. Neal stated that he called
Mitchell and the two argued over the phone. After Neal hung
up, Mitchell called back and told Neal he was at the carwash.
Neal admitted going to the carwash with Isaac Green. Neal
stated that Mitchell kept telling him to get back. From this