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State v. Francois

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

March 14, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D. Connick, Jr. Terry M. Boudreaux Gail D. Schlosser Lynn Schiffman Rachel L. Africk


          Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg


         Defendant, Gary M. Francois, appeals his conviction and sentence for second degree murder. For the following reasons, we affirm and remand for correction of the Uniform Commitment Order.


         On April 9, 2015, a Jefferson Parish Grand Jury returned an indictment charging defendant, Gary M. Francois, with the second degree murder of James Vaughn, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. Defendant pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on April 10, 2015.

         Pursuant to a motion for psychiatric examination filed by defendant on November 10, 2015, a competency hearing was held on December 16, 2015, after which the trial court found defendant incompetent to stand trial and remanded him to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System. After treatment and subsequent re-evaluation, the trial court held another hearing on May 11, 2016, and determined defendant was competent to stand trial. On July 13, 2016 and July 21, 2016, defendant filed motions to reopen competency and for psychiatric examination, asserting his mental health regressed due to the failure to receive his medication thereby affecting his mental capacity to proceed to trial. Defendant's competency was reassessed and on October 26, 2016, the trial court again found defendant competent to proceed to trial.

         On December 1, 2016, defendant withdrew his former plea of not guilty and tendered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Trial commenced before a twelve-person jury on March 20, 2017, resulting in a verdict of guilty as charged on March 23, 2017. On May 16, 2017, defendant filed a motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal, or in the alternative, motion for new trial. Prior to sentencing on May 18, 2017, defendant's post-verdict motion was denied. After a waiver of delays, the trial court sentenced defendant to a term of life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. On June 9, 2017, defendant filed a motion for appeal, which the trial court granted on June 14, 2017.


         On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014, defendant shot James Vaughn four times inside the Foot Locker store at the Oakwood Mall on the Westbank of Jefferson Parish. Krisha Vaughn, mother of the victim, testified that her son went to the mall with his girlfriend, Bradrika Brown, to go Christmas shopping. She testified she knew defendant from the neighborhood and recalled her son and defendant did not "get along."

         Off-duty New Orleans Police Detective, Bronson Gettridge, was shopping at the Foot Locker at the time of the shooting. The first gunshot startled Detective Gettridge, who immediately took cover. After the second gunshot was fired, Detective Gettridge observed a man, later identified as defendant, dressed in white jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt firing at the victim. He explained that the third and fourth shots were fired at the victim's upper torso or head after the victim fell to the ground. Detective Gettridge was unable to get a good look at the shooter because his face was hidden under a hooded sweatshirt, but recalled his fully grown beard and use of a semiautomatic weapon.

         Defendant then quickly walked out of the Foot Locker and into Forever XXI, an adjacent clothing store, where he exited through a back door and into the mall parking lot.[1] Detective Gettridge followed defendant on foot as he crossed through the parking lot, into an open field, and finally through a nearby subdivision before losing sight of defendant as he ran between buildings. Detective Gettridge testified that defendant only looked back once in his direction while he was following defendant.

         During this time, Detective Gettridge placed a 9-1-1 call seeking assistance. Deputy Thomas Bryson, former employee of the Gretna Police Department, was on patrol when the request for assistance came over the radio regarding the shooting suspect described as a black male wearing white pants, a black hooded sweatshirt, and running southbound along Fredericks Street. Deputy Bryson relocated to the area where he observed defendant fitting the suspect's description running southbound on Fredericks Street and talking on his cellular phone. Deputy Bryson engaged his emergency lights and attempted to pull in front of defendant's path, but defendant was able to evade him by changing his direction and then fleeing through a nearby apartment complex. Deputy Bryson exited his vehicle and chased defendant until he entered a drainage canal and was apprehended when he reached the other side.

         Police then canvassed the area with the assistance of an explosion detection K-9 for objects defendant discarded during his flight. They recovered a cellular phone, a dark-colored sweatshirt, and a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun. Expert forensic pathologist, Dr. Susan Garcia, testified that when performing the autopsy on the victim, she concluded he sustained four gunshot wounds to his body on his right hand, back, head, and neck area. Dr. Garcia noted the cause of death as gunshot wounds to the head, back, and face. Ballistics testing performed on the handgun revealed a match to the murder weapon and to the projectiles found inside the victim's body. Further, defendant was a major contributor to DNA found on the sweatshirt and the murder weapon.

         Tevin Smith, a close friend of defendant, testified that on the day of the shooting, he called defendant and they discussed their separate plans to go shopping at Oakwood Mall. While there, Mr. Smith saw defendant and engaged in a conversation with him before parting ways. After the shooting, Mr. Smith called defendant to make sure he was safe, at which time defendant asked Mr. Smith if he could pick him up. Defendant told Mr. Smith he was by some apartments down the street from the mall.

         Harriet Reynolds, and her fifteen-year-old grandson, Jared Reardon, were inside the Foot Locker at the Oakwood Mall on Christmas Eve when the shooting occurred. Ms. Reynolds testified that she did not see the shooter. Jared saw a bearded man with a hood on his head walk into the Foot Locker, pull out a gun, and shoot three or four rounds. Ms. Reynolds and Jared were transported to the police station where they gave statements. While there, Jared was shown a photographic lineup from which he identified defendant as the shooter, stating he was "about seventy to eighty percent sure."

         Detective Wesley Doyle testified regarding three phone calls made by defendant while in jail on December 25, 2014, August 1, 2015, and August 11, 2015. During the first call, defendant discussed the shooting incident with an unidentified male. The male asked what happened and defendant replied that he did not know and was trying to figure it out. During the call, defendant's mother asked defendant if he "did it" and defendant did not respond. The male later asked defendant if the victim threatened him and defendant stated, "I don't know, it was like some old s***." The male then asked defendant if he snapped and defendant stated that it was something like that.

         During the second call, on August 1, 2015, defendant spoke with his mother about his upcoming trial and about shaving off his beard. Defendant's mother told defendant the State only had two witnesses, one who was unable to identify him and a second witness who was only seventy percent sure defendant was the shooter. Defendant agreed the State did not have much against him. In the final recording, defendant engaged in a conversation with a friend and told him the State did not have much evidence against him.

         The State rested and the defense presented the testimony of Sheryl Jones, defendant's mother, who testified that when defendant was nine or ten years old she took him for a mental health evaluation at his school's request based on comments defendant made about animals, TVs, and radios talking to him.[2] Ms. Jones recalled that a physician at West Jefferson Mental Health diagnosed defendant with psychosis and placed him on Risperdal to treat his paranoia.[3] Ms. Jones explained that she weaned him off his medication in his second year of high school because he appeared to have improved.

         After graduating from high school, defendant went away to college, and prior to his graduation, Ms. Jones recalled receiving a phone call from her son in the middle of the night during which he told her, "his friends or roommates, or whoever, were trying to put cookies in his head. And he didn't trust nobody."[4]Ms. Jones further recalled defendant stating that people were talking in "basketball codes" about him. When she called him back a few hours later, he seemed better.

         After defendant graduated from college with his degree in criminal justice, Ms. Jones noticed several changes in her son including a loss of appetite and seclusion. Ms. Jones offered to get defendant professional help, but he declined, advising her that "he was fine." After defendant's arrest, defendant complained to his mother that he believed the deputies at the jail were poisoning his food.

         Tremain Francois, defendant's brother, testified that while growing up, he heard stories from different people about defendant's mental health. Defendant moved in with him for a short time after graduating from college and he noticed a change in defendant's behavior. He testified that defendant kept to himself and was paranoid, believing he could not trust anyone. Tremain recalled one instance, a couple of months before Christmas Eve of 2014, when defendant was crying in his room after a fight with his girlfriend, Carletta Simmons. Defendant asked Tremain "What's wrong with me?" and wanted to know if he could trust certain family members and friends.[5]

         Defendant's half-brother, Quintin Sanders, also recalled a time when defendant was in college, and he received a phone call from defendant who whispered into the phone about two of his classmates playing basketball and talking back and forth in code about their plans to kill him. Quintin also recalled a time when defendant thought his girlfriend, Carletta, was cheating on him, believing that she and the guy she was seeing were trying to set him up. Quintin described defendant as paranoid of everyone around him. Quintin also testified that he never saw defendant carry a gun.

         Defendant's ex-girlfriend, Carletta Simmons, testified that during their two and a half year relationship in college, defendant became suspicious of everyone, including herself, and began to withdraw from those around him. She testified his paranoia became evident one day when she was with defendant and his roommates, who were talking about basketball. Defendant pulled her to the side and told her they were talking in code about him and believed that she was likely in on "the setup." Carletta recalled that defendant drove her past several apartments on campus noting that someone in one of the apartments was trying to kill him and again accused her of being involved.

         Gary James, defendant's father, testified that he personally suffers from depression and was diagnosed by a physician, thirty years prior, with paranoid schizophrenia and was medicated with Risperdal and Prozac. Mr. James testified that he takes the medication daily and that it helps him from seeing and hearing things. He ...

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