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State v. James

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 27, 2018


         On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 03-14-0951 Honorable Michael R. Erwin, Judge Presiding

          Hillar C. Moore, III District Attorney Dana J. Cummings Dylan C. Alge Assistant District Attorneys Baton Rouge, LA Attorneys for Appellee, State of Louisiana

          Bruce G. Whittaker New Orleans, LA Attorney for Defendant-Appellant, Demarcus Daniel James


          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         The defendant, Demarcus Daniel James, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1, and pled not guilty. Following a trial by jury, the defendant was unanimously found guilty as charged. The trial court denied the defendant's motion for new trial and motion for postverdict judgment of acquittal. The defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. The defendant now appeals, assigning error to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction.


         Around 5:00 a.m. on December 11, 2013, officers of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriffs Office (EBRPSO) were dispatched to an apartment complex located at 9143 Ridge Pecan Drive, after 911 calls reported gunfire. Corporal Marlon Roundtree, a crime scene investigator, and Sergeant Scott Henning, the homicide supervisor, were among the officers who responded to the scene. Corporal Roundtree took photographs and located evidence outside of the apartment, including blood trails from the apartment within the vicinity. One blood trail was coming out of the apartment door leading to the parking area, and to a vehicle that was parked at the end of the trail. Another trail of blood extended from the same apartment door/porch area, leading to a set of apartments on the other side of the same parking lot. Sergeant Henning obtained a search warrant after noting signs that a struggle took place in the victim's bedroom.[1] Subsequently, the apartment was photographed and dusted for fingerprints, and evidence was collected. The officers observed additional blood that was tracked on the floor in the apartment. A bag of suspected marijuana was located on the floor near the victim's bedroom door. The body of the deceased victim, Jared Vincent, was discovered on the floor inside of his bedroom doorway.[2] Shell casings consisting of three different calibers (.45 casings, a .380 casing, and a nine-millimeter casing), and a nine-millimeter live round were located near the victim's body. Other items located on the bedroom floor near the victim's body included cash that appeared to have been pulled from the victim's right pocket, a wad of cash with an apparent bullet hole through the bills, the victim's wallet, and a cell phone. A handgun magazine consisting of twenty-eight rounds was located inside of the nightstand drawer, an empty magazine for .45 caliber rounds was located on the living room floor, and a grinder commonly used for processing marijuana with suspected marijuana residue was located on the living room table. Additional blood (on the floor, sheets, and walls), suspected marijuana, live rounds, and shell casings were located throughout the apartment, along with bullet holes in the victim's apartment and the apartment next door.

         When investigators from the Coroner's Office arrived, it was noted that the victim had a visible injury on the left side of the back of his head. The victim's roommate, Leonard Wyatt, who was awakened by the gunfire, was struck by gunfire in his lower back as he jumped over the loft balcony in the apartment and fled to nearby apartments seeking assistance. As Leonard fled, wearing only the underwear and socks that he slept in, he did not see the shooting, the victim, or anyone in the apartment. He stated that he heard the victim screaming for help followed by multiple gunshots. A neighbor, Nicholas Chevalier, heard the gunshots and saw a black and tan pickup truck speed from the scene after at least two people jumped in just before the doors were closed. Nicholas relayed his observations to EBRPSO Corporal William Thomas, who was canvassing the area and located a pool of blood on the ground in the area from which the truck reportedly sped. EBRPSO Deputy James Freeman collected a sample of the blood. Though Leonard did not return after the shooting, his father assessed the apartment and Leonard reported several items missing, including game systems, a nine-millimeter firearm, and watches.

         At approximately 5:50 a.m., around the time of the reported shooting at Ridge Pecan Drive, Officer Lance Bourgeois and Detective Joe Ruiz of the Gonzales Police Department (GPD) were dispatched to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Gonzales as a male (the defendant) was admitted with three gunshot wounds, a laceration on his hand, and scratches on his face. The officers briefly questioned the defendant, who was disoriented at the time, took photographs, and collected the defendant's clothing, from which money, a clear plastic bag of suspected marijuana, and a bullet fragment were recovered. The officers were informed by hospital security that the defendant had been transported there by two black males in a black pickup truck who dropped him off and left. The defendant was subsequently transferred to the New Orleans University Medical Center.

         While the defendant's clothes were being processed at the GPD, at approximately 8:00 a.m., the department received a call from the EBRPSO regarding another male, identified as Patrick Anderson, who was transported to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital with a gunshot wound to his hand and no other visible injuries. Detective Ruiz and Corporal Thomas proceeded to the hospital and interviewed Patrick, who was alert and coherent. Patrick was again interviewed at the Violent Crimes Unit. After the interviews, a bullet projectile, a jacket with blood on the sleeves and pocket area, and a hat with blood and debris on it, were recovered at Patrick's residence in Prairieville.

          Later that day, Detective Lawrence Cavalier (EBRPSO) was dispatched to the hospital in New Orleans. He noted that the defendant seemed coherent and he advised the defendant of his Miranda [3] rights. The defendant indicated that he understood those rights and agreed to be questioned. The defendant indicated that while he was walking down Worthey Street in Gonzales, an unknown, approximately five-feet and eight-inches tall, male subject dressed in all black exited a black four-door vehicle and started shooting at him, and he was struck as he attempted to take cover. He further stated that after he was shot the vehicle left, travelling north. The defendant changed his story at trial and admitted shooting the victim and being shot as he wrestled with the victim for control of the gun. The police determined that there were no reported incidents at the location where the defendant indicated he had been shot. The next day a warrant was obtained for the defendant's arrest, he was released from the hospital and taken into custody in New Orleans as a fugitive, and Detective Cavalier returned to arrest the defendant and transport him back to Baton Rouge.


         In the sole assignment of error, the defendant argues that under the circumstances the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. While the defendant does not deny shooting the victim, he claims that the gun was discharged in self-defense. The defendant notes that the victim was an armed drug dealer. The defendant describes himself as a mere customer, claiming he had the right to carry a firearm while attempting to purchase narcotics and an equally fundamental right to self-defense. He notes that he admitted his transgression in seeking to purchase drugs and in being armed while doing so and further notes his testimony that the victim drew his gun out of anger in ...

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