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State v. Magee

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 27, 2018


         On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana No. 07-13-0369, Sec. VIII The Honorable Trudy White, Judge Presiding

          Hillar C. Moore, III District Attorney Dale R. Lee Assistant District Attorney Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Appellee State of Louisiana

          Cynthia K. Meyer Louisiana Appellate Project New Orleans, LA Attorney for Defendant/ Appellant Covonta Magee


          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         The defendant, Covonta Magee, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1, and pled not guilty.[1] After a trial by jury, the defendant was found guilty as charged. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.[2] The trial court denied the defendant's motion for new trial. The defendant now appeals, assigning error to the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, his constitutional right to present a defense, and the sufficiency of the evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction and sentence.


         On December 22, 2012, officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) were dispatched to the scene of a shooting at 1511 Cristy Drive in Baton Rouge. The body of the victim, Clara Seal, was located at the scene and transported to the hospital by EMS. The victim's cell phone was also recovered and collected. Chelsea Daigle, who referred to the victim (whom she called C.J.) as her friend, indicated that on the day in question, she told the victim that they were going to Cristy Drive to obtain "roxies" (Roxicodone pills) from someone who she referred to as "T." However, Daigle was instead bringing the victim to that location to meet "Vonta, " the defendant. Once they arrived at Cristy Drive, they parked their vehicle and entered the defendant's vehicle, which was parked in reverse in a driveway.[3] The victim sat in the front passenger seat, while Daigle got in the back of the defendant's vehicle. The defendant instructed Daigle to look in the back of the vehicle for some pills. He then demanded the victim to give him her possessions, and as she refused, he pulled her jacket and repeated his demands. As the victim attempted to exit the vehicle, the defendant shot her.

         According to Dr. William Clark, the Coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish, the victim suffered gunshot wounds to the left arm just above the elbow and the left flank area. The victim's cause of death was determined to be the gunshot wound to the abdomen, and the manner of death was homicide. At the autopsy, Corporal Matthew Kelly of the BRPD crime scene division collected the victim's clothing, DNA samples, and a bullet removed from her abdomen, and sent the items to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab.

         Detective Logan Collins and Detective Steven Woodring of the BRPD homicide division processed the scene of the shooting and interviewed witnesses, including Brittany Kimble, [4] who described the defendant's vehicle as a gray or brown 2000 Chevrolet Impala. The detectives further received information leading to 3441 O'Neal Lane, the defendant's address. After arriving at the address on O'Neal Lane, the police located the vehicle and obtained a search warrant for apartment C, identified as the defendant's apartment. Upon executing the search warrant, the police recovered a Taurus model 85 loaded silver revolver, and .38 special ammunition, and a cell phone. The Chevrolet Impala was processed and swabs of suspected blood from the passenger and driver doors and baseboard were sent to the crime lab.


         In assignment of error number three, the defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. The defendant contends that the State was highly reliant on the testimony of Daigle, who initially identified "T" as the shooter. The defendant claims that Daigle's testimony had many "glitches" and further describes Daigle's testimony as biased, unreliable, and self-serving. The defendant contends that Daigle identified him as the shooter after the fourth police interrogation and a third photographic lineup. Further, the defendant notes that Daigle admitted to ingesting drugs on the night of the shooting. The defendant also argues that Daigle's testimony that the victim was shot as she exited the passenger door of the vehicle is inconsistent with the Coroner's testimony that there was a downward projection of the bullet. The defendant notes that Daigle testified that her charge would be reduced to armed robbery in exchange for her testimony, further arguing that there was no evidence that the victim was robbed. Finally, the defendant argues that absent Daigle's testimony, the jury may have believed that the gun did not belong to the defendant, noting that other adults were in the apartment. Thus, the defendant concludes that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed second degree murder.

         When issues are raised on appeal contesting the sufficiency of the evidence and alleging one or more trial errors, the reviewing court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence. State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731, 734 (La. 1992). The reason for reviewing sufficiency first is that the accused may be entitled to an acquittal under Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 43, 101 S.Ct. 970, 972, 67 L.Ed.2d 30 (1981), if a rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in accordance with Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), in the light most favorable to the prosecution, could not reasonably conclude that all of the essential elements of the offense have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When the entirety of the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction, the accused must be discharged as to that crime, and any discussion of trial error issues as to that crime would be pure dicta since those issues are moot. However, when the entirety of the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction, the accused is not entitled to an acquittal, and the reviewing court must then consider the other assignments of error to determine whether the accused is entitled to a new trial. If the reviewing court determines that there has been trial error (which was not harmless) in cases in which the entirety of the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction, then the accused will be granted a new trial, but is not entitled to an acquittal. See Hearold, 603 So.2d at 734.

         A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand as it violates Due Process. See U.S. Const, amend. XIV; La. Const, art. I, § 2. The constitutional standard for testing the sufficiency of the evidence, as enunciated in Jackson v. Virginia, requires that a conviction be based on proof sufficient for any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, to find the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See La. Code Crim. P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 2006-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660. In conducting this review, we also must be expressly mindful of Louisiana's circumstantial evidence test, which states in part, "assuming every fact to be proved that the evidence tends to prove, " every reasonable hypothesis of innocence is excluded. La. R.S. 15:438. State v. Wright, 98-0601 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2/19/99), 730 So.2d 485, 486, writs denied, 99-0802 (La. 10/29/99), 748 So.2d 1157 & 2000-0895 (La. 11/17/00), 773 So.2d 732.

         Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:30.1(A)(1) defines second degree murder, in pertinent part, as the killing of a human being when the offender has the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. Specific criminal intent is that "state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act." La. R.S. 14:10(1). Though intent is a question of fact, it need not be proven as a fact. It may be inferred from the circumstances of the transaction. Thus, specific intent may be proven by direct evidence, such as statements by a defendant, or by inference from circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant's actions or facts depicting the circumstances. Specific intent is an ultimate legal conclusion to be resolved by the fact finder. State v. Buchanon, 95-0625 (La.App. 1st Cir. 5/10/96), 673 So.2d 663, 665, writ denied, 96-1411 (La. 12/6/96), 684 So.2d 923.

         The State bears the burden of proving those elements, along with the burden to prove the identity of the defendant as the perpetrator. State v. Draughn, 2005-1825 (La. 1/17/07), 950 So.2d 583, 593, cert, denied, 552 U.S. 1012, 128 S.Ct. 537, 169 L.Ed.2d 377 (2007). 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. A positive identification by only one witness is sufficient to support a conviction. State v. Weary, 2003-3067 (La. 4/24/06), 931 So.2d 297, 311, cert, denied, 549 U.S. 1062, 127 S.Ct. ...

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