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State v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 17, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
GARY LEWIS WALKER Appellant

         Appealed from the Forty-Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of DeSoto, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 15-CR-26231, Honorable Robert E. Burgess, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT, By: Carey J. Ellis III Counsel for Appellant.

          GARY V. EVANS District Attorney, LEA R. HALL, JR. KENNETH P. HAINES HUGO A. HOLLAND, JR. GEORGE WINSTON III Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and GARRETT, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         The defendant, Gary Lewis Walker, was convicted by a unanimous jury of the second degree murder of Francois Davis. Walker was ordered to serve the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Walker appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction and sentence.

         FACTS

         Walker and Davis met through a chat line in 2004, and began a relationship in March 2013. Davis frequently stayed with Walker in his mobile home in the KCS subdivision in Mansfield, Louisiana. Walker's mother, Lula Benefield, lived next door. On March 10, 2015, Walker's truck did not leave the residence. That evening, Walker was found trying to break into houses in the subdivision and behaving erratically. He was wearing boxer shorts, a T-shirt, and a hoodie. Walker was scratched and bleeding from cuts sustained on fences in the area. Benefield was contacted and went to a field where Walker had been subdued and was lying face down, handcuffed. Benefield said Walker appeared to be impaired and did not recognize her.

         Walker was taken to a hospital and Benefield went to Walker's residence to get him some clothes. She was accompanied by her husband, her son, Tremayne, and her daughter. The front door of the residence was jammed, but a window was open. Benefield called out, but received no response from anyone in the residence. Tremayne entered the dwelling through the open window and was eventually able to open the front door, which was jammed. Benefield entered with her husband and daughter, and went to a bedroom to get Walker's clothes. She saw Davis lying in bed and called out to him several times, but got no response. Benefield walked around the bed to look at Davis. Davis had been shot in the head and was dead. Benefield said when she saw him, she fled and alerted law enforcement officers.

         Walker was questioned and gave several statements. Although he never admitted that he shot Davis, law enforcement officers determined that Walker committed the homicide. On April 9, 2015, Walker was indicted by a grand jury for the second degree murder of Davis. In May 2016, he was tried by a jury and was unanimously convicted as charged. Walker was ordered to serve the mandatory sentence for second degree murder, life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.

         Walker appealed. Appellate counsel argues there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. Walker also filed a pro se brief, arguing that he was denied a "fundamentally fair trial" because a prosecution witness was compelled to give prejudicial testimony after the witness invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Walker also urges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free counsel because his counsel had to cross-examine a prosecution witness that counsel had represented in a previous case.

         SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

         Walker argues that the state failed to present sufficient evidence to support the verdict of second degree murder. This argument is without merit.

         Legal Principles

         The standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is whether, 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 v. Tate, 2001-1658 (La. 5/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v. Sullivan, 51, 180 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/15/17), __So. 3d__, 2017 WL 604990. 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, 2005-0477 (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, 2009-0310 (La. 11/6/09), 21 So.3d 297. The appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 1994-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442. A reviewing court accords great deference to the factfinder's decision to accept or reject the testimony of a witness in whole or in part. State v. Sullivan, supra.

         The Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving both direct and circumstantial evidence. An appellate court reviewing the sufficiency of evidence in such cases must resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by the direct evidence and inferred from the circumstances established by that evidence must be sufficient for a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v. Sullivan, supra; State v. Cortez, 48, 319 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/7/13), 122 So.3d 588.

         La. R.S. 15:438 states:

The rule as to circumstantial evidence is: assuming every fact to be proved that the evidence tends to prove, in order to convict, it must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence.

         When a case involves circumstantial evidence, and the jury reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defendant's own testimony, that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable doubt. State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676 (La. 1984); State v. Matthews, 50, 838 (La.App. 2 Cir. 8/10/16), 200 So.3d 895.

         When a jury reasonably and rationally rejects the exculpatory hypothesis of innocence offered by a defendant's own testimony, an appellate court's task in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence under the Due Process Clause is at an end unless an alternative hypothesis is sufficiently reasonable that a rational juror could not have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Calloway, 2007-2306 (La.1/21/09), 1 So.3d 417; State v. Matthews, supra.

         Circumstantial evidence is defined as evidence of facts or circumstances from which one might infer or conclude the existence of other connected facts. Circumstantial evidence consists of proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which the existence of the main fact may be inferred according to reason and common experience. State v. Matthews, supra.

         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. La. R.S. 14:30.1. Specific intent is the 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); State v. Davis, 40, 382 (La.App. 2 Cir.10/26/05), 914 So.2d 1129, writ denied, 2005-2419 (La. 4/17/06), 926 So.2d 512. As a state of mind, specific intent need not be proved as a fact; it may be inferred from the circumstances and the actions of the defendant. State v. Mickelson, 2012-2539 (La. 9/3/14), 149 So.3d 178; State v. Davis, 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. Lloyd, 48, 914 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1/14/15), 161 So.3d 879, writ denied, 2015-0307 (La. 11/30/15), 184 So.3d 33, cert. denied, __U.S.__, 137 S.Ct. 227, 196 L.Ed.2d 175 (2016). The determination of whether the requisite intent is present is a question for the trier of fact. State v. Huizar, 414 So.2d 741 (La. 1982; State v. Lloyd, supra.

         Discussion

         Both the state and the defense presented testimony from numerous witnesses. Further, more than 80 exhibits were introduced into evidence. The jury was presented with the following evidence and testimony.

         Brittany Toussaint, a cousin of Davis's, testified that, shortly before his death, Davis had started a new job in Shreveport. Toussaint said that Davis was the "life of our family" and was greatly missed.

         Johnny Davis, the victim's father, testified that his son had been living with him in Shreveport immediately prior to his death and that he had been transporting him to his new job. Mr. Davis had never met Walker.

         Patricia Montgomery, an agent for an insurance company, testified that she goes into the field to collect premiums from clients. On March 10, 2015, she went to Walker's home between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. to collect a payment. She called his telephone number and did not get an answer. No one answered when she knocked on the door. Walker's truck was at the residence. Montgomery went next door and talked to Walker's mother. When she left 30 minutes later, Walker's truck was still at the residence.

         Corporal Jason Ambrose of the Mansfield Police Department testified that, on March 10, 2015, he responded to a call about a suspicious person trying to break into houses in the KCS subdivision. He and several other officers made contact with Walker at the scene. He described Walker as "kind of incoherent." Walker was wearing a shirt and torn boxer shorts. Ambrose did not detect the odor of alcohol. Walker was injured from jumping fences. The officers determined that the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office ("DPSO") had jurisdiction over the matter. They were able to get Walker to lie still and they called emergency medical services. Ambrose could not remember the time of day the incident occurred, but stated that it was after dark.

         Corporal Luther Butler of the DPSO responded to the call by Ambrose. He went to the area where Walker was subdued and spoke with a homeowner who identified Walker as the person who was prowling through the neighborhood. Walker had been taken to the hospital. Butler went to the hospital, advised Walker of his Miranda rights, and questioned him about running through the neighborhood. Walker said something about a friend named "T.J." and looked off at the wall. Butler asked Walker about what happened at his residence and Walker said ...


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