FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO.
323, 137 HONORABLE MARY LAUVE DOGGETT, DISTRICT JUDGE
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
Constance Hanes Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Billy Dean Cotten
composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Billy Howard Ezell, and D. Kent
R. COOKS JUDGE
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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
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
of Error One
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
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[.]
degree cruelty to juveniles is defined in pertinent part as
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.
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
[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
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
Id. at 767-69.
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
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.
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