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State v. Golden

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

June 2, 2017


         On Appeal from the 23rd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Ascension State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 32, 383 Honorable Thomas J. Kliebert, Jr., Judge Presiding

          Allen J. Myles, Plaquemine, LA Attorney for Defendant-Appellant Bryan Anthony Golden

          Ricky L. Babin District Attorney Donald D. Candell Assistant District Attorney Gonzales, LA Attorneys for Appellee, State of Louisiana


          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         Defendant, Bryan Anthony Golden, was charged on two counts by bill of information with armed robbery involving the use of a firearm, violations of La. R.S. 14:64 (count one) and 14:64.3 (count two).[1] He pled not guilty. Defendant waived his right to a jury trial, and this matter was tried as a bench trial. Defendant was found guilty as charged. Defendant filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. Thereafter, the trial court sentenced defendant on the armed robbery conviction (count one) to fifteen years at hard labor, without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. For the use of a firearm during the armed robbery (count two), the trial court imposed an additional five years at hard labor, without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The sentences imposed were ordered to be served consecutively.[2] Defendant now appeals, alleging two assignments of error.


         Around 12:30 p.m. on February 19, 2014, a subject wearing a motorcycle helmet and brandishing a handgun entered the Red River Bank on La. Hwy. 73 in Geismar. The individual, who tellers could identify only as a black male, jumped the teller line counter and began to pull cash from the bank's drawers. Because the bank had recently received a cash delivery, the subject eventually fled with almost fifty thousand dollars. Witnesses outside the bank described seeing a gold, four- door vehicle fleeing the area at a high rate of speed. One of the witnesses described seeing a helmeted person sitting inside the passenger's side of the vehicle.

         Following the robbery, another witness observed an abandoned vehicle on Coco Road and informed the police about the car. Lieutenant Aaron Hooper, from Hunt Correctional Center, assisted the Ascension Parish Sheriffs Office by utilizing one of his tracking dogs in the area of the abandoned vehicle, a stolen gold Chevrolet Malibu. Lieutenant Hooper's dog established a track which led to a trailer located at 35695 River Oaks Road, where an individual named Travis West lived. Lieutenant Hooper and his dog then backtracked to the vehicle. In traversing through the woods, Lieutenant Hooper located sweatpants, a t-shirt, and a pair of shoes neatly stacked along the trail. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a cardboard money divider used by one of the bank's tellers.

         In their investigation, the police spoke with West several times. As a result of these interviews, the police developed as suspects Emerson and defendant. Emerson is West's cousin, and subsequent DNA testing could not exclude him as a contributor to a profile discovered on some of the clothing recovered from the woods. West later pled guilty to accessory after the fact to armed robbery, and Emerson and defendant were tried together in the instant matter.


         In his first assignment of error, defendant contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his convictions. In particular, he argues that the state's evidence regarding his identity as the perpetrator who entered the bank was purely circumstantial and failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence[3]

         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 the sufficiency of the evidence, this court must consider 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 beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See also La. Code Crim. P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 2006-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660; State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1308-09 (La. 1988). The Jackson standard of review, incorporated in Article 821(B), is an objective standard for testing the overall evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for reasonable doubt. When analyzing circumstantial evidence, La. R.S. 15:438 provides that the fact finder must be satisfied the overall evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. State v. Patorno, 2001-2585 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 141, 144.

         When a conviction is based on both direct and circumstantial evidence, the reviewing court 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 the facts reasonably inferred from the circumstantial evidence must be sufficient for a rational juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime. State v. Wright, 98-0601 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2/19/99), 730 So.2d 485, 487, writs denied, 99-0802 (La. 10/29/99), 748 So.2d 1157, and 2000-0895 (La. 11/17/00), 773 So.2d 732.

         Defendant does not dispute that an armed robbery took place at the Red River Bank on February 19, 2014. Rather, he argues that the state failed to prove his identity as the perpetrator. When the key issue is the defendant's identity as the perpetrator, rather than whether the crime was committed, the state is required to negate any reasonable probability of misidentification. Positive identification by only one witness is sufficient to support a conviction. It is the factfinder who weighs the respective credibilities of the witnesses, and this Court will generally not second-guess those determinations. State v. Hughes, 2005-0992 (La. 11/29/06), 943 So.2d 1047, 1051; State v. Davis, 2001-3033 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 161, 163-64.

         None of the tellers who witnessed the robbery or external witnesses who witnessed the flight could identify any of the perpetrators. Further, the only significant DNA evidence introduced at trial linked co-defendant Emerson to some of the clothing recovered along the scent trail from the gold Chevrolet Malibu to West's trailer. Neither the weapon nor the motorcycle helmet used by the perpetrator were ever recovered.

         Defendant turned himself in to the police on February 21, 2014. After being Mirandized, he gave an unrecorded statement. In the statement, defendant described that he was napping during the time of the robbery. Defendant said that when he woke up around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., he had a friend bring him to Gonzales Motors, where he bought a blue Mercury Sable for $3, 300 in cash. He then went to Best Buy in Baton Rouge, where he spent another $1, 000 in cash. Defendant told the detectives that he then partied because his birthday was the week before. Defendant explained that he had gotten some money from an insurance settlement in the fall of 2013 and another $1, 000 for driving trucks. Defendant advised that he had a bank account with United Community Bank (UCB).

         The state called a UCB employee to testify at trial. The employee assisted in reviewing defendant's bank records. According to the employee, defendant made a $10, 000 deposit on November 18, 2013, but his balance was just under $600 on December 31, 2013. In addition, defendant made a $1, 000 cash deposit after 4:00 p.m. on the date of the armed robbery. The UCB employee recalled defendant's deposit on this day and testified that the bills deposited were new $100 bills that stuck together. A manager at Gonzales Motors also testified at trial regarding defendant's purchase of the Mercury Sable. The manager described that defendant paid in cash with new $ 100 bills that stuck together.

         At the time of the robbery, defendant lived at Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park. The park's office manager testified at trial that defendant routinely had trouble paying his rent on time from the time he began living there in March or April of 2013.

         Detective Brad Gomez of the Ascension Parish Sheriffs Office was the lead investigator in the armed robbery. He participated in executing a search warrant of defendant's trailer. During a search of the trailer, the police recovered numerous items with defendant's name on them. Also recovered from defendant's trailer were three Best Buy receipts from the evening of February 19, 2014, totaling approximately $1, 000 in cash expenditures. The search also revealed an empty motorcycle helmet bag, as well as a large, zippered black bag.

         West testified at trial. He described that on the day of the incident, he was riding around the area of his home with friends when he saw his cousin, co-defendant Emerson, walking on La. Hwy. 73. West described that he picked up Emerson and began to drive him in the direction of Emerson Road when he noticed defendant walking out of the woods carrying a large bag or shirt. According to West, defendant got into the car and said to Emerson that he thought he had left DNA behind. West stated that he drove defendant and Emerson to Emerson Road, where he let them out of the vehicle. West admitted to pleading guilty to accessory after the fact, though he stated he did so on the advice of counsel.

         On March 11, 2014, Marcus Sterling wrote a letter addressed to Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley. Sterling was being jailed with defendant and indicated in the letter that defendant had told him some of the details of the bank robbery. Detective Gomez received the letter as part of his investigation and found it to contain details of the offense that were not released in a Crime Stoppers bulletin. Among these details were: the "black teller" had fallen during the robbery, the fleeing subject dropped some money outside the bank, the subject wore a mask under his helmet, a different teller helped the suspect retrieve the money, guns found in defendant's home did not include the gun used in the robbery, the suspect received a ride from West in a gold car (West owned a gold Nissan Altima), the tellers were two white women and a black woman, and defendant purchased a new cell phone after the robbery. Sterling later met with Detective Gomez and made a statement concerning his knowledge reflected in the letter.

         Sterling also testified at trial and reiterated some of the details included in the letter; he claimed not to remember other details. Sterling indicated that defendant told him he stole over $40, 000, splitting half with co-defendant Emerson. Defendant told Sterling that he gave his money to "his baby mamma, " and Emerson buried his share. A search of defendant's girlfriend's residence, conducted three months after the robbery, did not reveal any evidence. Defendant did not testify at trial. To impugn Sterling's credibility, defendant called Sterling's ex-girlfriend, who stated that Sterling was not truthful and would make up stories to get out of jail. Co-defendant Emerson called two witnesses who presented alibi evidence on his behalf.

         Following the presentation of evidence, the trial court orally set forth the reasons for its verdict. The trial court first noted that defendant shared some of the physical characteristics of the suspect who went inside the bank, presumably his skin color and height. The trial court noted that a helmet bag was found in defendant's home, and defendant spent over $4, 000 on the day of the robbery and also deposited $1, 000 in new $100 bills. The court highlighted defendant's statement that he left his DNA and credited West's testimony regarding witnessing defendant carry a black sack.

         The trial court then turned to the Sterling evidence. While the trial court found Sterling's credibility to leave "a lot to be desired, " it noted the ability to believe some testimony while disbelieving other statements. The trial court found that Sterling's letter to the sheriff contained statements of fact that he ...

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