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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

May 3, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
MELVIN JONES

         APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 519-684, SECTION "D" Honorable Frank A. Marullo, Judge

          Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. District Attorney J. Taylor Gray Assistant District Attorney PARISH OF ORLEANS COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/STATE OF LOUISIANA.

          Holli Herrle-Castillo LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Madeleine M. Landrieu, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano

          Terri F. Love Judge.

         Defendant Melvin Jones ("Mr. Jones") appeals his conviction of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile in violation of La. R.S. 14:80. Mr. Jones seeks reversal of his conviction arguing that material portions of the record bearing on the merits of his appeal are missing, he was unable to cross-examine the individuals who performed the DNA testing, and the trial court erred by admitting evidence of a 1998 allegation of aggravated rape. Although the record does not contain a complete voir dire transcript, we find the omission is not so material as to prevent a full review. We also find the Confrontation Clause issue was not preserved for appellate review, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of the 1998 alleged aggravated rape. Therefore, we affirm Mr. Jones' conviction and sentence.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In March 2014, Mr. Jones (a.k.a. Melvin Knight) was charged with one count of felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile. The factual background resulting in Mr. Jones' conviction follows.

         The victim S.H. [1] was born in 1984. When S.H. was young, she suffered from depression after the death of her father and was later diagnosed with mild mental retardation. In 2000, S.H. was sixteen years old and lived in New Orleans with her mother ("J.H.") and siblings. Testimony revealed that S.H. would occasionally run away from home. S.H. testified that on June 10, 2000, she ran away from home, but she left a note for her mother indicating that she was going to visit Sister Mitchell, a member of their church, at her house. While S.H. did visit Sister Mitchell that day, she proceeded to a friend's house. Along the way, S.H. stopped to ask an unknown man for the time. S.H. testified that the man she spoke with was Mr. Jones, who asked S.H. to walk with him. Thirty minutes later, S.H. and Mr. Jones arrived at Mr. Jones' house. Mr. Jones locked the front door and forced S.H. onto the couch and proceeded to have sex with her.

         S.H.'s mother J.H. did not know her daughter ran away until she called Sister Mitchell and learned that S.H. had not been seen since she left Sister Mithcell's house. Concerned, J.H. contacted the police. J.H. subsequently received a phone call regarding S.H.'s whereabouts. The police then escorted J.H. to the house where S.H. was located. J.H. testified that she found her daughter S.H. disheveled, distraught, crying, and disoriented.

         Initially, S.H. told her mother and the police that nothing happened to her because she was afraid of what Mr. Jones might do to her. However, when she was transported to the hospital for observation and examination, S.H. admitted to the nurse that she recently had sexual intercourse. S.H. underwent a pelvic examination, and her mouth and vaginal area were swabbed.

         At trial, S.H. testified that she could not remember whether she had consensual sex with a man named Melvin Jones or Melvin Knight. She also stated that at the time of the incident she was not sexually active. On cross-examination, S.H. explained that the reason she told the police she did not have sex was because she feared Mr. Jones. However, she did ultimately admit to her mother and the police she was raped but did not know by whom.

         The original investigation in 2000 did not lead to any arrests. However, the NOPD contracted with Reliagene Technologies to process a backlog of rape kits, including the rape kit performed on S.H. in June 2000, identified as NOPD Item Number F19801-2000. Ms. Gina Pineda ("Ms. Pineda") testified as an expert in the field of molecular biology and DNA analysis. Under Ms. Pineda's supervision, Reliagene processed and tested NOPD Item Number F19801-2000. The kit contained two items for testing including the victim's blood sample and a vaginal swab. Ms. Pineda testified that she did not conduct the actual testing in this case, but rather reviewed the testing protocol and interpreted the results. From the results, Ms. Pineda concluded that NOPD Item Number F19801-2000 presented DNA of the victim S.H. and the DNA of a male donor.

         Over defense's objection, the State sought to call as a witness S.T., the victim of an alleged sexual assault that occurred in 1998. The trial court allowed S.T. to testify. S.T. testified that in 1998 she was fourteen or fifteen years old and living in New Orleans. She related to the jury an incident that occurred in July 1998 while walking home from a friend's house. She stated that she was approached by a man, who was wearing a Sears uniform and driving a white Sears van. The man spoke to S.T. about helping her get a job. He told her that he had a job application at home and would give it to her if she would accompany him to his apartment. S.T. agreed.

         At the apartment, S.T. remained in the front room while the man entered the kitchen to retrieve the application. However, the man returned with a butcher knife and ordered S.T. to disrobe. She complied with his demand but begged him not to hurt her. According to S.T., the man led her to a bedroom where he raped her. S.T. testified that during the attack her assailant had put the knife down and she attempted to grab it. S.T. testified that she grabbed the knife by the blade and her hand was sliced when her assailant pulled the knife away from her. She stated that the attack lasted approximately forty-five minutes, after which he gathered the bloody sheets and they left his apartment. S.T.'s attacker threw the sheets in a dumpster near his apartment and drove S.T. around, asking if she was going to tell anyone what happened. When she convinced him she would not tell anyone, he released her. S.T. fled from the van and found her friends, who transported her to the hospital where she underwent a rape examination.

         S.T. testified that she did not know the man who attacked her. In 2012, S.T. was contacted by a detective, who informed her that an arrest was made in relation to her assault.

         In addition to processing the rape kit in S.H.'s case, Reliagene also processed the rape kit in S.T.'s case, identified as NOPD Item Number G10251-1998. Ms. Pineda testified that the results from the sample matched the DNA of S.T. and tested positive for the presence of seminal fluid of a male donor, from which a profile was generated. Ms. Pineda testified that a comparison of the test results from NOPD Item Number F19801-2000 and NOPD Item Number G10251-1998 indicated that the sperm profiles in the two cases matched. The evidence was then ...


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