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State v. Cotten

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 14, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
BILLY DEAN COTTEN

         APPEAL FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO. 323, 137 HONORABLE MARY LAUVE DOGGETT, DISTRICT JUDGE

          J. Phillip Terrell, Jr., District Attorney Catherine L. Davidson, Assistant District Attorney Ninth Judicial District Court, Parish of Rapides P.O. Drawer 1472 COUNSEL FOR STATE/APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Mary Constance Hanes Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Billy Dean Cotten

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Billy Howard Ezell, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          SYLVIA R. COOKS JUDGE

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 6, 2014, nine-month-old Aiden Dyson was left by his mother in the care of his step-father, Defendant, Billy Dean Cotten, while she went to work. Several hours later, the victim was taken to the hospital suffering from life threatening injuries requiring him to be placed on life support. The following day, after it was determined that Aiden had no brain activity, he was removed from life support.

         After an investigation by the authorities, Defendant was jointly charged with his wife, Darlene Michelle Cotten, by bill of indictment with the March 6, 2014, second degree murder of Defendant's step-son, Aiden Dyson. A jury unanimously convicted Defendant of the charged offense, and the court subsequently imposed a mandatory life sentence at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. From this conviction and sentence, Defendant appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         Assignment of Error One

         In his first assignment of error, Defendant contends the State presented insufficient evidence to support his conviction of second degree murder in that it failed to exclude the reasonable hypothesis that the death was caused accidentally and unintentionally.

Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:30.1 states in pertinent part:
A. Second degree murder is the killing of a human being:
. . . .
(2) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of . . . cruelty to juveniles, second degree cruelty to juveniles, . . . even though he has no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.
Cruelty to juveniles is defined in pertinent part as:
(1) The intentional or criminally negligent mistreatment or neglect by anyone seventeen years of age or older of any child under the age of seventeen whereby unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused to said child. Lack of knowledge of the child's age shall not be a defense[.]

La.R.S. 14:93.

         Second degree cruelty to juveniles is defined in pertinent part as follows:

A. (1) Second degree cruelty to juveniles is the intentional or criminally negligent mistreatment or neglect by anyone over the age of seventeen to any child under the age of seventeen which causes serious bodily injury or neurological impairment to that child.
(2) For purposes of this Section, "serious bodily injury" means bodily injury involving protracted and obvious disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty, or substantial risk of death.

La.R.S. 14:93.2.3.

         In State v. Jackson, 15-393 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/4/15), 179 So.3d 753, 767-69, writ denied, 15-2191 (La. 5/2/16), 206 So.3d 877, this court reviewed the sufficiency of the circumstantial evidence presented in a second degree murder case which was based on cruelty to a juvenile. In doing so, this court stated:

In State v. Taylor, 14-432, pp. 7-8 (La.3/17/15), 166 So.3d 988, 993-94 (emphasis added), the court explained in pertinent part:
The rational trier of fact standard established by Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), preserves "'the factfinder's role as weigher of the evidence, '" by requiring an appellate court to review "'all of the evidence . . . in the light most favorable to the prosecution.'" McDaniel v. Brown, 558 U.S. 120, 134, 130 S.Ct. 665, 674, 175 L.Ed.2d 582 (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781). Preserving the role of the factfinder means that in cases involving circumstantial evidence, when "the jury reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defendant [ ], that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable doubt." State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676, 680 (La.1984). The alternative hypothesis is not one that merely "could explain the events in an exculpatory fashion, " but one that, after viewing all of the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, admissible as well as inadmissible, "is sufficiently reasonable that a rational juror could not 'have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Captville, 448 So.2d at 680 (quoting Jackson ); see State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731, 734 (La.1992) ("[W]hen the entirety of the evidence, both admissible and inadmissible, is sufficient to support the conviction, the accused is not entitled to an acquittal, and the reviewing court must then consider the assignments of trial error to determine whether the accused is entitled to a new trial."). . . .
. . . .
. . . This court has stated the following regarding circumstantial evidence:
[W]hen the conviction is based upon circumstantial evidence, La.R.S. 15:438 provides that such evidence must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. State v. Camp, 446 So.2d 1207 (La.1984); State v. Wright, 445 So.2d 1198 (La.1984). However, La.R.S. 15:438 does not establish a stricter standard of review on appeal than the rational juror's reasonable doubt standard. . . . On appeal, the issue is whether a rational trier of fact, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, could find that all reasonable hypotheses of innocence were excluded.
State v. Dotson, 04-1414, p. 2 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/2/05), 896 So.2d 310, 312. Additionally, when a jury "'reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defendant[ ], that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Strother, 09-2357, p. 11 (La.10/22/10), 49 So.3d 372, 378 (quoting State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676, 680 (La.1984)).

Id. at 767-69.

         At trial, Doug Alford, a detective with the Alexandria Police Department, testified that on March 6, 2014, he investigated a call concerning the incident at issue in this case. He proceeded to the emergency room where he observed the victim intubated and non-responsive. From there, he went to the police station to interview Defendant. After advising Defendant of his rights and securing a waiver thereof, Detective Alford took a statement from Defendant wherein he detailed the events that transpired on the day of the incident:

A. He said that his wife had left somewhere around ten, ten thirty in that time frame that morning. He had laid the baby down, Aiden, down for a nap. He said the baby slept till about twelve forty-five, somewhere in that time frame. He wasn't real sure on the time. He woke the baby up, fed the baby, gave him his medicine, put him back to sleep. About forty-five minutes later, he heard the baby crying. He goes in there, picks the baby up and the baby started seizing. He said that the baby went limp. He called 911. Originally, he said he went into the living room and started CPR. Later in his statement he said that he actually went downstairs to an apartment a maintenance guy had opened up that was empty for them to go in. He started CPR there and also called 911 from there. During that time frame, he also made a call to Darlene, the mother, and I believe to his mother, but I'm not certain on that.
. . . .
A. He did say that the baby was breathing but he was doing CPR. That was in his statement. He said that the mother made - got back. She works at the Alexandria Mall. She worked at the cookie - Great American Cookie. She got back prior to the ambulance leaving and she rode in the ambulance with the baby and he followed in a vehicle.
. . . .
A. He said that after we got back - he said that's when he got there and you know, the police escorted him back to the station. I then informed him of what the doctor had told me. And he said - and I told him that, you know, a test would show what the doctor told me. And he said, well, that's what it's going to show but that's not what happened. He then said that the baby had fell earlier in the day and bumped his head on the entertainment center by some DVDs and stuff where he was playing.
Q. Now when he said, that's what they say but that's not how it happened - did you ask him further about that?
A. No, he said, that's what it's going to show but that's not what happened. That was the quote on video. It's on video.
Q. Did he expound on that?
A. He just said that the baby had been playing earlier in the day by the entertainment center, had some DVDs and stuff - said that the baby was on its knees. He said that he just said, hey, and it startled the baby. The baby let go of the entertainment center, fell forward and bumped its head.

         Detective Alford testified Defendant inconsistently reported when he called 911. First, he said he called while he was in the apartment, but he then said he was downstairs. He also reported in one statement that the victim was breathing but not ...


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