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Dennis v. Cain

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

January 29, 2018






         A Caddo Parish jury convicted Shannon Dennis (“Petitioner”) of second degree murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Dennis, 72 So.3d 968 (La.App. 2d Cir. 2011), writ denied, 89 So.3d 1189 (La. 2012). Petitioner also pursued a post-conviction application in state court. He now presents this court with a petition for habeas corpus relief based on (1) sufficiency of the evidence, (2) adequacy of the indictment, (3) the right to present a defense, and (4) ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the petition be denied.

         Relevant Facts

         Lakesha Pouncey (Tr. 455-74) testified that some friends gathered outside her home in the Allendale area of Shreveport on a Friday night in September 2008. One of those at the gathering was Tyrone Alexander, who brought the victim, Terry Wilson, with him. Ms. Pouncey said the two men were standing next to Alexander's car when they saw a man across the street wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. Ms. Pouncey heard both men say the name, “Shannon, ” and Wilson said, “He's not going to do anything.” Alexander went inside Ms. Pouncey's house and locked the door behind him. Ms. Pouncey saw the hooded man approach Wilson with a rifle, shoot him several times, and walk away. She did not see the shooter's face that was inside his hood.

         Tiera Thomas (Tr. 475-501), the victim's 16 year old daughter, was in a front yard about four houses away when she saw the man shoot her father. She did not know the name of the shooter, but she had seen him and another man walk by a few minutes earlier. She noted, as the two passed by her under a streetlight, that one man was wearing a black hoodie and had a cross tattoo in the center of his forehead. Police later showed her a photo lineup of six persons, at least three of whom had a cross tattoo on his forehead, and she identified Petitioner as the man who walked by her house and then shot her father.

         Petitioner was developed as a suspect after his niece, Deanne Dennis, came to them and reported what she knew. Ms. Dennis (Tr. 505-555) said she had been at her mother's house on the morning after the shooting. Petitioner (her mother's brother) had come to visit, and he seemed scared. He gathered everyone together and asked them that, if anyone asked, to say that he had been at the house the prior evening before 10:00 p.m. when the news came on.

         Ms. Dennis testified that Petitioner admitted to her a couple of days later that he killed Wilson. He said the men had fought in a club earlier that night, and he later shot him when he saw him outside the club. Petitioner told Ms. Dennis that they will never know who did it because it was dark and he had on a black hoodie. He also said he drove a while and threw away the gun. He also claimed that a motive for the shooting was that Wilson had beaten Petitioner's aunt.

         Ms. Dennis testified that Petitioner originally said he had thrown away his clothing. But, a few days after the shooting, Petitioner asked her to wash a pair of his blue jeans in cold water so “the blood and the gun residue will come out.” Dennis said she saw what looked to be blood stains on the pants, and she did wash them. She eventually reported all of this to the police.

         Dana Fuller (Tr. 556-573), a woman who Petitioner had lived with for several years, said the two had broken up about a month before the crime. She picked him up, however, when he asked for a ride a couple of days after the shooting. Petitioner first had her drive him to Pierre Avenue, about two blocks from the scene of the murder, where he went into an alley and returned about 10 minutes later. He then had her drive him to a wooded area near the KCS train yard and the Cross Lake area, where she let him out. Fuller drove away for about five minutes, then returned to pick up Petitioner and return him to his sister's house.

         Police had Ms. Fuller take them to the wooded area. A search team located an SKS rifle, partially loaded, in the woods. No. fingerprints were recovered from the rifle, but Carla White, a firearms expert with the crime lab, testified that the casings recovered at the scene of the murder were fired by the rifle. (Tr. 676-704). Police obtained a warrant for Petitioner and arrested him at the home of a friend, but only after a police K-9 had to bite him several times to convince him to come out of a closet.

         Petitioner did not testify at trial. His sister, Shatyna Dennis (Deanne Dennis's mother) testified (Tr. 724-762) that Petitioner came to her house on the evening of the murder between 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. when she was watching the nightly news, spent the night, and she heard Petitioner leave around 7:00 a.m. the next morning. She said Deanne had not been there that evening, and she denied that Petitioner asked her to lie to provide an alibi.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Petitioner argues that the evidence is not sufficient to support the jury's verdict. In evaluating the sufficiency of evidence to support a conviction “the relevant question 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 beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789 (1979). The Jackson inquiry “does not focus on whether the trier of fact made the correct guilt or ...

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