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State v. Van Nortrick

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018


         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 319656 Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge


          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Douglas Lee Harville Counsel for Appellant

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          MONIQUE YVETTE METOYER ERICA JEFFERSON Assistant District Attorneys

          Before COX, BLEICH (Ad Hoc), and GASKINS (Pro Tempore) JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (Ad Hoc)

         This criminal appeal arises from the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo. On January 28, 2016, following a jury trial, the defendant, Roy Arlen Van Nortrick, was convicted as charged of two counts of molestation of a juvenile, violations of La. R.S. 14:81.2. On June 1, 2016, Van Nortrick was sentenced to two consecutive 45-year sentences, with the first 25 years of each sentence to be served without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. For the following reasons, Van Nortrick's convictions and sentences are affirmed.


         In September, 2010, J.M. and her younger sister, R.M., went to live with their aunt, Shelly Clark, after being involved in a serious automobile accident which resulted in their mother's arrest and subsequent incarceration. J.M. suffered substantial injuries from the crash, including a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury. As part of her rehabilitation, according to J.M. and Clark, J.M. was encouraged to keep a journal, which her aunt would read daily for accuracy. The journal was a means for J.M. to stimulate her memory, as well as practice her handwriting. On or about July 2, 2013, Clark discovered a troubling entry in J.M.'s journal detailing the sleeping arrangements in the home she had occupied with her parents, sister, brother, Van Nortrick, and his young son prior to the automobile accident. As a result of the journal entry, Clark took J.M. aside and asked her if she had ever been touched inappropriately by anyone. J.M. confided to her aunt that Van Nortrick had sexually molested both her and her sister, R.M., when he lived with their family in Mooringsport and Shreveport, Louisiana. When Clark spoke separately with R.M., she corroborated her sister's allegations that Van Nortrick touched her inappropriately.

         On July 10, 2013, the sisters were individually interviewed at the Gingerbread House, a child advocacy center in Shreveport. Both gave detailed accounts of various sexual incidents with Van Nortrick occurring in 2009 and 2010.

         Van Nortrick was arrested on November 18, 2013, in Michigan, where he was living at the time, and extradited to Shreveport. Upon arriving in Shreveport, Van Nortrick was immediately transported to a Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office and gave a statement to police. Initially, Van Nortrick denied any wrongdoing, but, after being confronted with details provided by J.M. and R.M. of specific incidents of sexual abuse by him, Van Nortrick admitted to several sexual encounters with both girls. A month later, Van Nortrick was charged by bill of information with two counts of molestation of a juvenile, violations of La. R.S 14:81.2. The bill specifically alleged that the victims, J.M. and R.M., were under the age of 13 at the time of the offenses.

         The case proceeded to trial and on January 28, 2016, a unanimous jury returned a verdict finding Van Nortrick guilty as charged on both counts. His motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and a motion for new trial were both denied by the trial court prior to sentencing. On June 1, 2016, Van Nortrick was sentenced to 45 years at hard labor for each conviction, with the first 25 years of each sentence to be served without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The trial court ordered the sentences to be served consecutively.

         Van Nortrick subsequently filed a motion to reconsider sentence, arguing that his consecutive sentences were unconstitutionally excessive, especially in light of his poor health. The trial court denied his motion. Van Nortrick's motion for an out-of-time appeal was granted, and this appeal ensued.


         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In both a counseled and pro se assignment of error, Van Nortrick argues that the evidence presented was insufficient to convict him. Specifically, Van Nortrick challenges the accuracy of J.M.'s testimony given her traumatic brain injury. Further, he alleges that J.M. and R.M. held some animosity toward him because he had a sexual relationship with their mother when he lived with the family and took his son, J.M. and R.M.'s cousin, away from them when he moved out of state. In further support of his claim that the evidence was insufficient, Van Nortrick points to his trial testimony wherein he denied ever touching J.M. or R.M. inappropriately. We disagree and note the following evidence that was adduced at trial.

         Clark, who identified Van Nortrick in open court and explained that she knew him because he had been married to her stepsister, testified that J.M. was prescribed to keep a journal in order to assist with the recuperation for her brain injury. Clark was instructed to read the journal for accuracy, and as a result she read J.M.'s entries regarding Van Nortrick's actions with both girls. Distressed, Clark spoke with the girls, who individually confirmed the allegations to Clark. As a result of the journal entries and the resultant conversations, on July 3, 2013-a day after learning of Van Nortrick's inappropriate contact with her nieces-Clark went to the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office to report the incidents. Because the alleged crimes occurred in Caddo Parish, her report was forwarded to the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office. Clark brought the girls to the Gingerbread House the following week to be interviewed.

         According to Clark, at the time of trial J.M. was in high school and a good student-visual impairment was the only substantial impairment she continued to suffer as a result of the automobile accident. J.M. is completely blind in her left eye and has limited vision in her right eye.

         Alex Person, a forensic interviewer at the Gingerbread House, also testified at trial. According to Person, she interviewed both J.M. and R.M. separately on July 10, 2013. Person explained that, as is the policy at the Gingerbread House, she asked both girls non-leading questions to gather information regarding any sexual abuse the children may have suffered. Person identified video recordings of the interviews. Person also identified notes she took during the interviews and anatomical drawings which were used by J.M. and R.M. during their respective interviews to indicate where they had been touched, or had touched another person, on the genitals.

         The sisters' father, P.M., testified at trial as well. He stated that during 2009 and 2010, Van Nortrick and his young son were living in P.M.'s home, along with P.M.'s wife, his daughters, and his son. P.M. worked two jobs to support his family and explained that his wife, who was hospitalized for some time while Van Nortrick was living with the couple, was unable to keep a job. According to P.M., Van Nortrick exercised control or supervision over both R.M. and J.M. during various times. P.M. was unaware that Van Nortrick was sexually abusing his daughters, but suspected that Van Nortrick was engaged in a sexual relationship with his wife.

         J.M. testified at trial that in 2009 and 2010, she was living with her parents, her sister, her brother, Van Nortrick, and his son in her parents' home. J.M. corroborated Clark's testimony that as part of her rehabilitation she wrote in a journal daily. J.M. identified entries from her journal in open court and recounted speaking with Clark about the fact that Van Nortrick had touched her and her sister inappropriately.

         J.M. recalled going to the Gingerbread House and being interviewed, and her interview was then played in open court. In the video, J.M. stated that two men who had lived with her family, Mark Vincent and Van Nortrick, had "touched her in a way she wasn't supposed to be touched." J.M. stated that sometime in 2009 or 2010, when her family was living in Shreveport and Mooringsport, Nortrick "put his finger in me" and "tried to put his you know what in me." J.M. also stated that Notrick "tried to put his you know what in my butt" and wanted J.M. to "touch his you know what" but she refused. J.M. used anatomical drawings of a woman and a man to circle the body parts she identified as a "T.T." and a "you know what." Van Nortrick told J.M. not to tell anyone what he had done to her. J.M. explained that she witnessed Van Nortrick putting his finger in R.M.'s "T.T." and tried ...

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