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State v. Dyson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 2, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
ESSENCE DYSON

         Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court in and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Trial Court No. 01-13-0316 Honorable Richard D. Anderson, Judge

          HILLAR C. MOORE, III DISTRICT ATTORNEY AND CHRISTOPHER J.M. CASLER ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY BATON ROUGE, LA, ATTORNEYS FOR STATE OF LOUISIANA

          FREDDIE PITCHER, JR. BATON ROUGE, LA AND KATHRYN FLYNN SIMINO BATON ROUGE, LA, ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLANT ESSENCE DYSON

          BEFORE: PETTIGREW, McDONALD, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          PETTIGREW, J.

         The defendant, Essence Dyson, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder (count one), a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1, and attempted second degree murder (count two), a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1 and La. R.S. 14:27. The defendant pled not guilty on both counts. After a trial by jury, she was found guilty as charged on count one, and guilty of the responsive offense of aggravated battery, a violation of La. R.S. 14:34, on count two.[1] The trial court denied the defendant's motion for postverdict judgment of acquittal and motion for new trial. She was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence on count one, and to ten years imprisonment at hard labor on count two, to be served concurrently.[2] The defendant now appeals, assigning error to the trial court's denial of her motion for postverdict judgment of acquittal based on insufficiency of the evidence, and to the trial court's denial of her motion for new trial based on the verdict being contrary to the law and evidence and the ends of justice. For the following reasons, we find the record sufficiently supports the jury's verdict and affirm the defendant's convictions and sentences.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         A review of the record and evidence presented at trial reveals the following. During the early morning hours of June 30, 2012, officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) received a computer-aided dispatch (cad) reporting the detection of multiple gunshots fired at approximately 2:27 a.m., at 3006 College Drive. The cad report was consistent with the report of another officer in the same area at the same time that he had heard four to five shots fired. The dispatch also reported that there was a white Grand Prix in which a passenger had been shot, at one of the locations of dispatch.[3]

         Upon arriving at the location of the victims' vehicle behind Iberia Bank, at the Perkins Road and Acadian Thruway intersection, BRPD Corporal Aleesha Kuhn photographed a white Grand Prix into which shots had been fired. It was later determined that the front seat passenger, victim Jordan Key, had been fatally shot in the head, and the driver, Darius Vicks, was shot in the foot.[4] Corporal Kuhn's photographs depicted the decedent on the front passenger seat as he was found, and then again, after he had been removed from the vehicle by the coroner's office. Her photographs also revealed blood on the seats and throughout the interior of the vehicle, and on the exterior of the front passenger's and driver's doors. In addition to taking photographs, Corporal Kuhn also seized items found inside the vehicle, including a bandana, a backpack containing ski masks, a t-shirt, and a hat, a cell phone retrieved by the coroner from the pockets of the decedent, and a loaded revolver that was located in the trunk.

         After securing and photographing the first crime scene, which Corporal Kuhn testified took "a couple of hours, " she then proceeded to the second crime scene reported at Rabey St. and Bennington, crossed by College Drive, which already had been secured by other responding officers. She photographed the overall scene, depicting an International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Walmart, and Albertson's, and also specific close-up areas of the scene that had been marked by the officers where shell casings had been located. She then proceeded to the third crime scene reported -- the dead end of Rabey St. -- where it runs into Balis and where the suspects' vehicle had been abandoned. When Corporal Kuhn arrived at the third crime scene, it had been secured and roped off by other officers still present at the scene. She photographed the interior and exterior of the suspects' vehicle, a gray Toyota Camry, including a photo of a weapon found on the floorboard of the driver's side, a baseball cap on the ground outside the Camry, a cell phone that was on top of the Camry, as well as the surrounding area, to depict the general location.

         Cory Champagne, a security guard who had just left work on Bennington Drive "about 2:30" a.m., and travelled on Rabey Street to pick up his girlfriend from Walmart on College Drive, witnessed the crime as the events unfolded. He reported the following events that occurred around the time of the shooting. After picking up his girlfriend, he turned back onto Rabey Street and entered the left turning lane to head back toward the interstate. While waiting at the traffic light, Champagne observed a black male, over six feet tall, exit the passenger side of the vehicle immediately behind his vehicle. Champagne continued to watch the individual, revealing that he was alarmed because they were in the middle of the street when the individual abruptly exited the vehicle. Champagne noted that the individual was wearing a white t-shirt, dark shorts, blue boxers, white tennis shoes, and a white bandana or headband. The individual began walking away from the cars as though he was going to an IHOP restaurant, located in front of Walmart on College Drive. He then abruptly turned back towards the vehicles, walked straight to the vehicle in front of Champagne's vehicle, pulled out a pistol and fired three shots into the vehicle. Champagne placed his car in park, drew his weapon, and ordered the individual to stop and drop his firearm. The shooter ran toward the vehicle that he previously exited, a Toyota Camry, which was travelling rapidly in reverse away from the scene of the shooting and was occupied by the driver and a third occupant, both also black males.[5]

         At approximately the same time, Lieutenant Cedric Muse of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, the Walmart security officer on duty at the time of the incident, had been outside in his vehicle when the gunshots were fired. After hearing the gunshots, Lieutenant Muse observed a black male running down Rabey Street toward a Camry that was travelling in reverse. Lieutenant Muse positioned his unit in front of the Camry as the black male on foot reentered the vehicle, which continued travelling in reverse in an attempt to flee from the scene. After approaching a dead end at the Rabey Street and Balis Street intersection, the occupants exited the vehicle and fled on foot. Lieutenant Muse pursued them in a foot chase until they approached a wooded area. Lieutenant Muse advised BRPD of the direction in which the individuals fled and returned to the suspects' abandoned vehicle, where he was met by Champagne, who relayed to him what he had observed.

         Champagne pointed out to Lieutenant Muse a firearm he had seen in plain view on the floorboard in the back of the suspects' vehicle behind the driver's seat.[6] Lieutenant Muse indicated that the firearm appeared to be jammed at the time, and he also observed and took possession of two cell phones also in plain view. Lieutenant Muse ran the license plate number of the Camry and determined that it was registered to Cierra Henry.[7]Noting that the vehicle was only occupied by males that night, Lieutenant Muse entered Henry's name into a police database, which provided him with the name of her boyfriend, Michael Francois. Lieutenant Muse remained with the vehicle until BRPD officers arrived at the scene.

         Detective Sherri Harris, of the BRPD homicide division, was one of the investigating officers who responded to the dispatch and went to all three reported crime scenes. She assisted Corporal Kuhn process the vehicles and collect evidence. She testified that in response to the crime scene where the getaway vehicle (the Camry) was located, abandoned at Rabey Street, Corporal Kuhn took photographs of the Camry and of the evidence from which Harris took DNA samples and collected, including an orange and red baseball cap located on the ground just outside of the vehicle, a cell phone on the passenger seat of the vehicle, another cell phone that was on top of the Camry, and a firearm that was behind the driver's seat on the floorboard.[8]The vehicle was then towed away for further processing. When Detective Harris arrived at the second crime scene, where the shooting took place, she found the area already had been secured and evidence (shell casings) marked, so she proceeded to the Victim's Crime Unit (VCU) office where she took statements from Champagne and Francois.

         Francois ultimately admitted to being the driver of the getaway vehicle at the time of the shooting. He identified a co-perpetrator by his nickname, "Chad Youngin, " whom he stated was the shooter. He stated that he did not know the true name of the co-perpetrator, but referred the police to a video entitled "Mista I'm Grown Music Video, " featuring the co-perpetrator; and he also made an identification of "Chad Youngin" through a photographic lineup using still shots from the video.[9] Francois indicated that he did not know the other individual who was in the vehicle. After Francois's interview, he was placed under arrest and charged with first degree murder.

         Detective Harris then contacted police informants and determined that the true identity of "Chad Youngin" was Chattley Chesterfield. She obtained a warrant for Chesterfield's arrest. However, the police were unable to locate Chesterfield until approximately three months later, as detailed later herein.

         Detective Harris also interviewed the surviving victim, Darius Vicks, when he went to the VCU office the day after the shooting, when he was discharged from the hospital. Vicks indicated that immediately after the shooting, he tossed a firearm from the vehicle that he knew had been in the deceased victim's possession at the time of the shooting.[10] According to Detective Harris, Vicks was unable to provide any more information, stating that he had been just sitting at a red light when suddenly they were fired upon. Later, Detective Harris contacted Vicks and told him the police had two suspects pertaining to the shooting. When Detective Harris revealed that Chesterfield was one of the suspects, Vicks stated he was familiar with Chesterfield and then realized he had more information "that he didn't know if it was helpful, but thought it may have a connection." He recalled and told Detective Harris about having an odd encounter at the Walmart, just prior to the shooting, with Essence Dyson (defendant herein), whom he knew to be Chesterfield's girlfriend. He relayed to Detective Harris that he and the deceased had been in the Walmart and upon exiting the store, he saw the defendant just standing outside of the Walmart. He stated that he asked if she needed a ride, and she told him, no, that she was just waiting for her sister. Vicks suggested that the police may want to look into her, and he also provided the police with the defendant's phone number.

         Detective Harris obtained a search warrant on the cell phones obtained from the suspects' Camry. Cell phone records revealed that minutes before the shooting, one of those cell phones had received a call from the number that Vicks provided the detectives with as being the defendant's telephone number. On July 18, 2012, Detective Harris conducted an interview of the defendant.[11] After being advised of her Miranda[12]rights and executing a waiver of rights form, the defendant admitted to being at the Walmart and talking to the victims just before the shooting. She stated that she, along with someone else, went into the Walmart. Defendant said she then went outside to wait for her companion to exit the store, and she had a brief encounter with the victims as they exited Walmart before they headed to their vehicle. She stated that her companion then exited Walmart and together they got back into the vehicle they arrived in and left Walmart and headed toward the IHOP. She indicated that she was in the vehicle located behind the victims' vehicle at the time of the shooting. She stated that the area was well lit and that she saw the shooter's face clearly, but claimed she did not know him. She described him as a five-feet-eight-or-nine-inch male wearing a white t-shirt and a brown hat, with a mole or "mark of Buddha" and sideburns.[13] The defendant also confirmed the identity of Chesterfield as one of the passengers in the Camry, and stated she had known him since grade school.

         On September 14, 2012, approximately three months after the warrant was obtained for his arrest, Chesterfield was located, apprehended, and interviewed by the police. During a five-part interview, Chesterfield, at the onset, provided inconsistent scenarios. He admitted to being at the scene of the shooting, but originally indicated that he was in the vehicle with the defendant. He initially denied knowing the identity of the shooter, and later named the shooter as Darius Joseph[14], a fellow member of a group that included local rappers and referred to themselves as the "Cain Muzik Mafia." Chesterfield ultimately admitted, but then wavered as to whether he was the shooter. At one point, Chesterfield indicated that months before the instant offenses, the deceased victim had tried to kill him or shoot at him, but the victim's gun jammed. Chesterfield also indicated that the deceased victim also brandished a gun the night of the instant shooting.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE

         In assignment of error number one, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for postverdict judgment of acquittal based on the claim that the verdict is contrary to the law and evidence, specifically in light of a lack of evidence of a conspiracy to kill, that she had the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm to either of the victims, Key or Vicks, or that she was aware of Chesterfield's intent to commit the offenses. The defendant argues that the images and text messages included in the phone records introduced by the State fell short of establishing the State's theory that this crime was the result of a stalking or hunting expedition. The defendant further argues that the images and text messages had little, if any, connection to the events of the night in question, and that her connection to the evidence was tenuous at best. The defendant specifically notes that she was not present at the location where the group met before the shooting and she was not involved in any of the text conversations regarding the lookout. The defendant contends that while Francois stated that Chesterfield was on the phone with her just prior to the shooting, his testimony about that conversation did not include any mention of guns or shooting someone. The defendant further argues there is evidence that after the shooting, she made an excited utterance indicating surprise by Chesterfield's actions, evidence she contends established that she was not a principal to the offenses. Defendant argues that the State improperly accused her of destroying evidence, by obtaining a new phone after the ...


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