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State v. Looney

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
LEO FRANKLIN LOONEY Appellant

         Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 48, 543 Honorable Bernard Scott Leehy, Judge

          HOLLI HERRLE-CASTILLO Counsel for Appellant

          LEO FRANKLIN LOONEY Pro Se

          ROBERT S. TEW District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          GEARY S. AYCOCK Assistant District Attorney

          Before BROWN, MOORE, and PITMAN, JJ.

          BROWN, C.J.

         In 1992, defendant, Leo Franklin Looney, was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Because defendant was a 15-year-old juvenile when he committed this offiense in 1989, in accordance with Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), the trial court has now vacated Looney's sentence and resentenced him to life imprisonment at hard labor with the benefit of parole eligibility. We affirm.

         FACTS

         According to the facts as set forth in this Court's prior unpublished appellate opinion, on July 26, 1989, 15-year-old Leo Looney and his cousin, Kenneth Price, purchased a pistol to use in the robbery of a Cracker Barrel convenience store in Ouachita Parish. Price, followed by Looney, entered the store to make a small purchase. When the clerk opened the register, defendant pulled out the gun and demanded the money. Two eyewitnesses pulled into the parking lot and testified to the robbery in progress. Defendant heard the sound of the car engine, looked in that direction, and fired the pistol. The store clerk was killed. Following a trial, the jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder. On November 19, 1992, Looney was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole. This Court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence in an unpublished opinion. Defendant filed several applications for post-conviction relief that were denied.

         On October 29, 2012, defendant filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that his mandatory life without parole sentence was unconstitutional under Miller v. Alabama, supra, because he was 15 years old when the crime was committed. In Miller, the United States Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. The trial court denied the motion to correct illegal sentence because Louisiana courts initially viewed Miller as a procedural change that did not apply retroactively.

         After the United States Supreme Court held that Miller applied retroactively to cases on collateral review, such as the instant case, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, supra, defendant filed a pro se "Motion to Amend to Manslaughter." Defendant argued that, because his life sentence without parole had been ruled unconstitutional, he should be sentenced under the next responsive offense of manslaughter. Following a hearing on August 1, 2016, the trial court denied the motion, finding that the court did not have the authority to resentence defendant under the manslaughter statute. On June 22, 2016, defendant filed another pro se motion to correct illegal sentence. Defendant again argued that his conviction and sentence should be vacated as illegal, and that he should be convicted of the next responsive verdict, manslaughter.

         On September 2, 2016, defendant's attorney filed a motion to reconsider sentence. Counsel noted that, since the denial of defendant's pro se "Motion to Amend to Manslaughter, " another defendant had been resentenced to the sentence for manslaughter by a judge in a different section of the court. Counsel requested that the trial court reconsider resentencing defendant under the manslaughter statute. The motion to reconsider sentence was denied.

         On February 16, 2017, the trial court vacated defendant's original sentence and imposed a new sentence of life imprisonment with the benefit of parole eligibility. In lengthy written reasons for the sentence, the trial court noted that it had ordered a pre-sentence investigation and conducted a sentencing hearing prior to resentencing defendant. The trial court found that defendant was not the "rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption" deserving of a life sentence without the benefit of parole. The trial court reviewed the facts of the offense, defendant's criminal record, his ...


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