APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 15-343, DIVISION
"P" HONORABLE LEE V. FAULKNER, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D.
Connick, Jr. Terry M. Boudreaux Gail D. Schlosser Lynn
Schiffman Rachel L. Africk
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, GARY M. FRANCOIS Sherry A.
composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Stephen J. Windhorst, and
Hans J. Liljeberg
J. LILJEBERG JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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. Ms. Jones recalled that a physician at
West Jefferson Mental Health diagnosed defendant with
psychosis and placed him on Risperdal to treat his
paranoia. Ms. Jones explained that she weaned him
off his medication in his second year of high school because
he appeared to have improved.
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."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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...