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State v. Hutsell

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

April 18, 2018


          APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 525-331, SECTION "J" Honorable Darryl A. Derbigny, Judge

          Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr. DISTRICT ATTORNEY Donna Andrieu, Chief of Appeals Kyle Daly, Assistant District Attorneys Parish of Orleans, COUNSEL FOR STATE OF LOUISIANA.


          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Paula A. Brown.


         This is a criminal appeal. Defendant, Christopher Hutsell ("Mr. Hutsell"), seeks review of his conviction of second degree murder. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Mr. Hutsell's conviction and sentence.


         On June 25, 2015, Mr. Hutsell was indicted with one count of second degree murder and one count of obstruction of justice.[1] A jury trial on the charge of second degree murder commenced on November 9, 2015.[2] On November 17, 2015, the jury found Mr. Hutsell guilty of second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S.14:30.1.[3] On February 4, 2015, Mr. Hutsell was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.[4] This appeal follows.


         In March 2015, Mr. Hutsell and the victim, Julia Anderson ("Ms. Anderson"), had been in a romantic relationship for about twenty-one or twenty-two days. Both were part of a traveling community and were in New Orleans during this time period. On March 19, 2015, around 10:00 p.m., the couple, along with their three dogs, were in the parking lot of the McDonald's ("the McDonald's") located on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans. Mr. Hutsell was fussing at Ms. Anderson and calling her names. As the argument escalated, Mr. Hutsell stabbed Ms. Anderson. Witnesses observed Mr. Hutsell exit the McDonald's parking lot on foot and proceed to Mardi Gras Truck Stop ("the Truck Stop") which was nearby. Mr. Hutsell was apprehended by police around twenty minutes later at the Carnival Club Casino and Sports Bar ("the Casino") located less than one mile from the McDonald's where Ms. Anderson was stabbed.[5] Ms. Anderson died as a result of the stab wound.

         This matter was tried by a jury, and the testimony elicited at trial was as follows:


         Keith Robertson ("Mr. Robertson") testified that on March 19, 2015, he pulled into the parking lot of the McDonald's on Elysian Fields Avenue and parked.[6] From his car, he observed a Caucasian female sitting "Indian style" on the parking lot block and an African-American male standing up next to her. Mr. Robertson stated that the male and female were facing toward him when he first pulled up, and, as he continued to observe the couple, the male turned to the side. Mr. Robertson described the male as "black, hippie, dreaded, " and he looked like a homeless person. He did not see any other "hippie-type people" around them. Mr. Robertson did not recall any facial tattoos but explained the male was dirty. Mr. Robertson recalled observing three dogs, a skateboard, and a Timberland boot near the couple.

         Mr. Robertson testified he could tell by facial expressions that the man was "fussing" with the woman, but that the woman, as she sat on the curb, was not having a conversation with the male; she was responding "yes" or "no". Mr. Robertson testified as to what he witnessed in the following exchange with the State:

A. He [the African American male] go [sic] in his pocket, and what I figured, he, like - - (making a quick hand motion) - - punched in her neck, like with his fist.
Q. All right. So you saw him reaching into his pocket?
A. Yes.
Q. At that moment, did you see what he actually pulled out of his pocket?
A. No. I saw silver when he came back.
Q. All right. So he comes out of his pocket. What does he do when he comes out of his pocket?
A. Touched her neck.
Q. Okay. And was it hard?
A. No. It was just like a -- like a push.
Q. Was it quick?
A. Quick.

         Mr. Robertson continued and explained that the woman grabbed her neck, stood up, and tried walking towards Mr. Robertson, but she collapsed. The woman asked him for his help and said "[c]all the police." Mr. Robertson stated he was confused at first because he had not seen blood. As the woman spoke, she removed her hand from her neck and blood started coming out. After seeing the blood, Mr. Robertson called 9-1-1.

         Mr. Robertson recalled the man who stabbed Ms. Anderson came to the side of his vehicle and tried to talk to him. Mr. Robertson told the man to "go ahead." Mr. Robertson continued that the man grabbed a dog, a skateboard, and a backpack and walked off. Mr. Robertson stated the man started walking toward the overpass on Elysian Fields Avenue. Mr. Robertson followed the man until the 9-1-1 operator told him to stop. Mr. Robertson then returned to the McDonald's.

         Mr. Robertson spoke with the police after the officers arrived at the McDonald's. He was taken by the police to the Casino to identify a suspect that was apprehended. From the police car, Mr. Robertson identified the perpetrator. Mr. Robertson testified that there was no doubt in his mind that the person he identified was the person that stabbed the woman. In court, Mr. Robertson identified Mr. Hutsell as the perpetrator.

         Zerrick Warren ("Mr. Warren") testified that he was at the McDonald's the night of the stabbing. He was driving, and Toreion Angelleti ("Ms. Angelleti") was a passenger. There was a long line for the drive through that night. Mr. Warren recalled a man, who was later identified as Mr. Robertson, exited the McDonald's restaurant and asked him if he had seen what happened. Mr. Warren looked and saw the victim, a young Caucasian female, bleeding. He did not witness the victim get stabbed. To help stop the bleeding, Mr. Warren took off his shirt and gave it to Ms. Anderson. According to Mr. Warren, when he first noticed the victim, the perpetrator was standing a few inches from her and was calling her a "THOT." When the State asked him what he saw the defendant do on March 19, 2015, he responded, "I saw this guy leaving this young lady for dead, picking up his belongings, saying that she [sic] a THOT, she is a ho, and just walking off. And that's when I proceeded to get back in my car and follow him because I couldn't let this guy get away."

         While Mr. Warren was trying to help the victim, he saw the perpetrator gathering his belongings located behind the victim. Mr. Warren recalled the perpetrator picked up a skateboard, retrieved a dog, and walked towards the Truck Stop located over the overpass or bridge. Mr. Warren returned to his car, where Ms. Angelleti was still a passenger, and followed the perpetrator. He drove to the Truck Stop and waited for the perpetrator, whom he could still see on the bridge. He explained the bridge was between the McDonald's and the Truck Stop, and the perpetrator was on the bridge for around five minutes. Mr. Warren testified he did not let the perpetrator out of his sight.

         Mr. Warren testified that he identified Mr. Hutsell as the perpetrator that night. He explained that after he returned to the McDonald's to give his statement to the police, he went in a police vehicle to the Casino where Mr. Hutsell was being held. The officers asked if he saw the perpetrator, and Mr. Warren responded affirmatively. In court, Mr. Warren identified the perpetrator as Mr. Hutsell.

         Ms. Angelleti testified that she was a passenger in Mr. Warren's vehicle when the couple went to the McDonald's on March 19, 2015. Ms. Angelleti stated that when they drove into the parking lot, she saw two people arguing-an African-American male and a Caucasian female. She described the male as wearing a hood or hat over his head with dreadlocks hanging out, rugged or torn clothing, and a jean jacket. Ms. Angelleti continued that she did not see a white male with dreadlocks around the couple. She recalled she rolled her window down, and she heard the male cursing and calling the woman "bitches, whore." Ms. Angelleti explained that when the male walked away from the woman, the woman was in "panic mode, holding her neck" and called for help. Ms. Angelleti testified that she did not witness the woman get stabbed. Ms. Angelleti stated that Mr. Warren exited the vehicle to give the victim his shirt while she stayed in the car.

         Ms. Angelleti and Mr. Warren followed the perpetrator. She recalled the perpetrator had an army-type bag and a dog with him. Ms. Angelleti stated that the perpetrator exited the parking lot and walked onto the bridge on Elysian Fields Avenue. Ms. Angelleti was of the opinion the perpetrator was on the bridge for two to three minutes.

         The last place Ms. Angelleti saw the perpetrator was at the Truck Stop. She testified that she was in a police vehicle when she was brought to the Truck Stop where she identified the perpetrator. In court, Ms. Angelleti identified Mr. Hutsell as the perpetrator.

         Brandy Johnson ("Ms. Johnson") was working at the McDonald's on March 19, 2015. Her shift was from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. When she arrived for her 10:00 p.m. shift, she saw a man standing and a woman sitting down in the parking lot. Ms. Johnson stated the couple was talking or arguing; she could not hear them. She described the woman as a dirty-looking Caucasian with brown hair, and she recalled the woman had two dogs. She described the male as a dirty-looking Caucasian man with dreadlocks. Although Ms. Johnson testified that she told the police that the man was Caucasian, on cross-examination, she admitted that she could not tell the race of the man because he was dirty.

         Ms. Johnson acknowledged the video from the surveillance camera at the McDonald's showed her exiting the restaurant into the parking lot around 11:19 p.m. At that time, Ms. Anderson had been stabbed, and Ms. Johnson checked on the victim. Ms. Johnson did not witness Ms. Anderson being stabbed.


         Through the identification of one of the dogs that was with the victim the night of the stabbing, the police traced the victim's mother, Jannene Anderson ("Ms. J. Anderson"). Ms. J. Anderson identified the victim as her daughter, Ms. Anderson. Ms. J. Anderson lives in Michigan City, Indiana. She testified that the last time she saw her daughter was the day after Christmas or New Years in 2014. She acknowledged Ms. Anderson had a boyfriend name Gabriel ("Gabe") who traveled with her daughter. Ms. J. Anderson stated Gabe, whom she described as being of mixed nationalities, had dreadlocks. The last time she saw Gabe, however, at Thanksgiving 2014, less than four months before the victim was killed, his head was shaved, and he did not have dreadlocks.

         Brook Songer testified that she had known Ms. Anderson for about five and a half years from being a part of the traveling community. She also knew Mr. Hutsell, who she called "Cosey, " from the traveling community. Ms. Songer, Ms. Anderson, and Mr. Hutsell were in New Orleans in March 2015. Ms. Songer stated that Mr. Hutsell and Ms. Anderson were in a relationship for approximately twenty-one or twenty-two days before Ms. Anderson's death. During her testimony, Ms. Songer identified a picture of Ms. Anderson with Mr. Hutsell taken on March 12, 2015, in the French Quarter.[7] Ms. Songer testified that a few days before March 12, 2015, Mr. Hutsell punched Ms. Anderson in the eye and gave her a "busted lip." Ms. Songer stated Mr. Hutsell frequently screamed at Ms. Anderson. Ms. Songer recalled whenever she saw the couple in the French Quarter, Mr. Hutsell would have a "tight rein" on Ms. Anderson, he would yell at her, and he would "pull her and then jerk her."[8]

         Ms. Songer testified she knew Gabe through Ms. Anderson, and that she last saw him at the beginning of February 2015. She recalled, at that time, Gabe's head was shaved. Ms. Songer further stated that Gabe was in Florida on March 19 and 20 of 2015.

         9-1-1 CALLS AND OFFICERS

         The first call came into 9-1-1 at 11:20 p.m., and an incident was created at 11:22 p.m.[9] In the 9-1-1 call, Mr. Robertson described the perpetrator as a homeless male, dressed like a hippie, with a pit bull dog, walking down the Elysian Fields Avenue overpass. In addition to Mr. Robertson, others at the scene called 9-1-1 to report the incident. The callers gave similar descriptions of the perpetrator as Mr. Robertson: (1) the perpetrator appeared homeless with dreads; (2) he was wearing a black shirt with gray pants, and had a gray pit bull; (3) the man and dog were walking down Elysian Fields Avenue over the bridge; (4) a possible homeless African-American male with something dark on his head, walking a dog down Elysian Fields Avenue toward the Truck Stop; and (5) an African-American male wearing black clothing, with "dreads, " a backpack, carrying a skateboard, and he had a pit bull dog.

         Detective James testified he was called to the scene on the night Ms. Anderson was stabbed. He stated the first call reporting the stabbing was received at around 11:22 p.m., and he arrived at the McDonald's around 11:32 p.m. After speaking to the witnesses at the scene, he drove one of the witnesses, Antoinette Jones ("Ms. Jones"), over the Elysian Fields' bridge toward the Casino and Truck Stop.[10] He recalled he was in his unmarked vehicle. Detective James testified when he pulled into the front of the Truck Stop, Ms. Jones identified the perpetrator.[11] Detective James testified he immediately exited his vehicle, pulled out his gun, ordered Mr. Hutsell to the ground, and handcuffed him. A backpack was recovered from Mr. Hutsell. Detective James estimated Mr. Hutsell was apprehended around twenty minutes after the victim was stabbed.

         Detective Tanisha Sykes ("Detective Sykes") was the lead homicide detective assigned to investigate Ms. Anderson's death.[12] Detective Sykes arrived at the McDonald's within one or two hours after Ms. Anderson was stabbed. The testimony of Detective Sykes reflected Ms. Anderson was stabbed between 11:17 p.m. and 11:22 p.m. on March 19, 2015.

         Detective Sykes identified witnesses at the crime scene, and these witnesses provided descriptions of the perpetrator. Also, the witnesses informed the officers the perpetrator left the McDonald's and went to the Truck Stop. Detective Gus James of the New Orleans Police Department apprehended the suspect at the Casino. Detective Sykes testified that Mr. Hutsell was identified as the perpetrator by three witnesses that participated in a show-up identification procedure conducted at the Casino.[13] Detective Sykes indicated that the Casino was less than a mile from the McDonald's and estimated it would take a person about ten minutes to walk from the McDonald's to the Casino.

         Detective Sykes stated that the McDonald's video surveillance camera, which was focused on the area where the victim was stabbed, was inoperable. However, another surveillance camera at the McDonald's was working. The video showed an unknown male giving the victim money around 11:03 p.m. The detective testified that another surveillance camera at the McDonald's showed- after the victim was stabbed around 11:17 or 11:18 p.m.-the perpetrator, with a dog, walk halfway through the parking lot and throw a Timberland boot into the driveway.[14] The surveillance video also showed the perpetrator leaving the parking lot and walking toward Elysian Fields Avenue.

         Video surveillance from the Truck Stop verified the perpetrator went into the convenience store. Detective Sykes testified that video surveillance footage from the Truck Stop showed a subject, with a dog, walking from the direction of the crime scene to the Truck Stop. The time stamp of the footage was 11:28 p.m., March 19, 2015. Detective Sykes stated that the next portion of the footage showed the subject, who was wearing a black hat and had dreadlocks, enter the store and exit the cooler with a beer. According to the detective, the footage showed the subject leaving the Truck Stop at 11:30 p.m. and walking with a dog in the direction of the Casino.[15]

         Detective Sykes identified numerous photographs taken of the crime scene by the crime lab.[16] The photos depicted an Ozarka water jug and a left Timberland boot recovered from the McDonald's which were submitted for DNA testing. The photos taken at the Casino, after Mr. Hutsell was apprehended, depicted an army- green backpack, a skateboard, a dog. and a black piece of material.[17] Detective Sykes stated that these items were consistent with the descriptions of items provided by the witnesses.

         Photos, taken at the time of Mr. Hutsell's apprehension, depicted Mr. Hutsell with facial tattoos, dreadlocks, and wearing a black t-shirt with a picture of the Three-Stooges on it and a dirty, dark "green-ish blue jean vest" with silver spikes on the front of it. Detective Sykes noted that Mr. Hutsell's clothing and hairstyle were consistent with the descriptions provided by the witnesses. Detective Sykes admitted none of the witnesses stated the suspect had facial tattoos.

         As part of her investigation, Detective Sykes searched the area between the McDonald's and the Truck Stop: the overpass, below the overpass, the railroad tracks, and the area on both sides of the canal. A weapon was not found. Defendant Sykes noted that Mr. Hutsell had no blood on his clothes and no visible wounds or blood on his hand. Additionally, a pocket knife recovered from Mr. Hutsell was determined not to be the murder weapon.

         Detective Sykes testified that the victim was taken to the hospital where she died as a result of the bleeding from the stab wound; and, there was information received that the victim did not stab herself. Detective Sykes testified that the victim was identified as Ms. Anderson through one of the dogs found at the crime scene.[18]


         Dr. Samantha Huber ("Dr. Huber"), who conducted the autopsy on Ms. Anderson, testified as an expert in the field of forensic pathology. Dr. Huber opined that Ms. Anderson sustained a single stab wound that went behind the clavicle and the first rib damaging the subclavian vessels (an artery and a vein). The entry wound went from the front to the back with a somewhat downward trajectory. Ms. Anderson died as a result of the bleeding from the wound.

         Elizabeth Hamilton ("Ms. Hamilton") testified she worked at the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory as a DNA forensic analyst. Ms. Hamilton conducted a DNA analysis of the mouth of the Ozarka water jug which was recovered from the crime scene. Ms. Hamilton testified that the analysis of the water jug was consistent with being a mixture of DNA from Mr. Hutsell, Ms. Anderson, and a third unknown person. Ms. Hamilton explained the two most "statistically significant DNA samples present" on the water jug were from Mr. Hutsell and Ms. Anderson. Additionally, Ms. Hamilton conducted a DNA analysis of the left Timberland boot recovered from the parking lot of the McDonald's. The analysis indicated Mr. Hutsell could not be excluded as a contributor, and Ms. Hamilton affirmed she could say with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that Mr. Hutsell's DNA was on the Timberland boot. Ms. Hamilton acknowledged the victim's DNA was not found on Mr. Hutsell's hands.

         Dr. Mark Perlin, employed by Cyber Genetics-a company located in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania-was accepted as an expert in DNA evidence interpretation and the likelihood ratio. He testified DNA testing indicated the DNA of Mr. Hutsell and Ms. Anderson were on the handle of the Ozarka water jug found at the scene of the offense, along with a very small amount of DNA attributed from a third unknown source.


         Joshua Pichon, an investigator for the Orleans Public Defender's Office, testified that he timed how long it would take a person to walk from the McDonald's to the Truck Stop without stopping, as part of the investigation. He concluded it would take eleven minutes and thirteen seconds. Mr. Pichon testified that the stabbing occurred at 11:19 p.m., and in his opinion, the earliest Mr. Hutsell could have gotten to the Truck Stop was a little after 11:30 p.m.


         A review of the record for errors patent on the face of the record reveals one error. See La. C.Cr.P. art. 920. The district court erred in sentencing Mr. Hutsell immediately after denying his motion for new trial and before imposing sentence without abiding by the mandatory delay required by La. C.Cr.P. art. 873.[19] An explicit waiver of the delay is required. State v. Kisack, 16-0797, pp. 6-7 (La. 10/18/17), 236 So.3d 1201. Nevertheless, the error is subject to the harmless error analysis. Id. "Absent a showing that prejudice resulted from the failure to afford the statutory delay, reversal of the prematurely imposed sentence is not required." State v. Seals, 95-0305, p. 17 (La. 11/25/96), 684 So.2d 368, 380 (citing State v. White, 404 So.2d 1202 (La.1981). In the case sub judice, Mr. Hutsell was convicted of second degree murder which carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence; thus, we find the error is harmless.


         Mr. Hutsell assigns four errors, and we will address each assignment of error separately.


         Mr. Hutsell challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him of second degree murder.

         When issues are raised on appeal as to the sufficiency of the evidence, and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing court must first determine the sufficiency of the evidence. State v. George, 15-1189, p. 9 (La.App. 4 Cir. 11/9/16), 204 So.3d 704, 711 (quoting State v. Marcantel, 00-1629, p. 8 (La. 4/3/02), 815 So.2d 50, 55). This Court, in State v. Hickman, 15-0817, p. 9 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/16/16), 194 So.3d 1160, 1165-66 (quoting State v. Brown, 03-0897, ...

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