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State v. Cooley

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 23, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA Plaintiff-Appellee
ANTON CARON COOLEY Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 322, 662 Honorable Brady D. O'Callaghan, Judge.

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Sherry Watters, Counsel for Appellant.

          ANTON C. COOLEY, SR. Pro Se.

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney, TOMMY J. JOHNSON MONIQUE Y. METOYER MEKISHA S. CREAL Assistant District Attorneys, Counsel for Appellee.

          Before PITMAN, STONE, and COX, JJ.

          COX, J.

         Anton Caron Cooley ("Cooley") was convicted by a unanimous jury of the second degree murder of Karen Johnson, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. His motions for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and new trial were denied. Cooley was sentenced to life imprisonment without benefits. He now appeals. For the following reasons, Cooley's conviction and sentence are affirmed.


         Late in the evening of April 7, 2014, Yolanda Bailey, a resident in the victim's neighborhood, made a 911 call reporting a woman's scream and two gunshots in the vicinity of Valley View Drive in Shreveport, Louisiana. Ms. Bailey testified that she heard a woman's piercing scream, as if pleading for her life, followed by a gunshot. Ms. Bailey then called 911. After she hung up, she heard a second gunshot.

         Responding officers found a deceased female under the carport of a residence on Valley View Drive. The woman was lying on her back with apparent gunshot wounds to the head. Medics determined that she was deceased and the coroner was notified. Several officers of the Shreveport Police Department testified about clearing and securing the scene, as well as gathering and photographing evidence. The officers' testimonies established that there was a black Mercedes vehicle parked askew in the front yard with the engine running. The contents of a woman's purse were scattered on the bed in the master bedroom. Among the contents was identification, which belonged to Karen Johnson. Karen's slippers were by the open door leading to the carport area.

         The officers' testimonies also established that Karen's son arrived at the scene very distraught and provided them with the name "Tony, " another name used by Cooley. Ballistics confirmed that shell casings found near Karen's feet were fired from the gun recovered during the investigation. It is not disputed that the gun belonged to Cooley and that he and Karen were together when she was killed. It is also not disputed that, after Karen was shot, Cooley left the scene in her vehicle, a white sedan. He ran the vehicle off a nearby road and got stuck in the mud in a field behind a residence. Police located the vehicle on the night of April 7 and had it towed to central storage.

         The record indicates that the field where the white sedan was stuck was behind Jerome Cooley's ("Jerome") residence, a cousin of Cooley. Cooley went to Jerome's house and spoke with Jerome and his wife, Shelley. Jerome testified that he and Cooley were very close. He stated that when Cooley arrived, Cooley had a gun and told him that he thought he had "hurt her." Shelley testified that she heard Cooley say "that he thought he might kill her." Cooley asked Jerome to contact the police because he wanted to turn himself in and did not want to get hurt in the process. Jerome testified that he called Officer Mike Edwards, who was a friend of his and on the Shreveport Police force. Jerome and Shelley gave Cooley a cigarette (which Shelley testified had blood on the side of it), beer, and food.

         Officer Edwards testified that he and Jerome Cooley were friends and in a trucking business together. He received a call from Jerome around 10:30 p.m. on April 7, asking him to come to Jerome's residence. When Officer Edwards arrived, he found an assault rifle on the cab of a small pickup truck. Officer Edwards testified that, as he retrieved the rifle, he heard a young man, whom he identified as Cooley, say "All she had to do was let go of the gun." Officer Edwards advised Jerome that he needed to take Cooley to the station and Jerome told Cooley to put down his cigarette and beer and go with the officer. Officer Edwards handcuffed Cooley and transported him to the police station. Pictures of the gun and Cooley's muddy pants were introduced and published to the jury during Officer Edwards' testimony.

         Dr. Long Jin, an expert in forensic pathology, testified about the autopsy and stated that the cause of Karen's death was homicide; specifically, two gunshot wounds to the head. The first shot entered her temple area and the second shot was in the forehead. Dr. Jin testified that soot marks on the skin indicated that the barrel of the gun was touching the skin when fired. The temple shot was angled slightly from the front to the back and traveled left to right. There were no defensive wounds on Karen's body and no signs of struggle.

         Corporal Tracy Mendels testified that she participated in the gathering and photographing of evidence at the scene. Particularly relevant to this appeal, Corp. Mendels observed oil and grit debris from the carport concrete on Karen's body and clothing. Corp. Mendels testified that this indicated that Karen was rolled or moved at some point before she was found.

         Corporal Jennifer White testified that she recovered two cell phones from inside the residence. Corp. White also testified that, without manipulating the body, she noticed projectile fragments in the victim's hair. She stated that after Shreveport firemen cleaned the carport of biological matter, she noted and photographed two defects in the otherwise smooth slab of concrete. The defects were at least two inches wide and near where Karen's head had been. A third defect was found in the wall. Regarding the assault rifle that was later located, Corp. White observed hair and blood splatter on the rifle. Photographs of the defects and gun were introduced and published to the jury.

         Ratish Upadhyay, the custodian of records for AT&T, testified regarding one of the cell phones that was recovered from the residence, a Samsung AT&T phone, which Mr. Upadhyay identified as a "go phone." The phone number, or subscriber information, for the phone was (318) 402-5844. Mr. Upadhyay provided a detailed description of how finding subscriber information and locating a phone by cell signal is done. The subscriber information, a mobility usage report, and NELOS (Network Event Location Services) report were introduced into evidence for the AT&T phone during his testimony.

         Lieutenant Shannon Mack testified next and was accepted by the court as an expert in forensic cell phone analysis. Lt. Mack testified that she completed a forensic download of the two cell phones in this investigation. The second cell phone was an off-brand, manufactured by Huawei. The telephone number assigned to that phone was (318) 990-8920. She testified that the Samsung phone's number was saved in the contacts of the Huawei phone as "Cooley Baby." After analyzing the data from the two phones, Lt. Mack testified that there were "32 call detail records" (texts and phone calls) between the phones from 6:00 a.m. to 8:29 p.m. on April 7, 2014. Specifically, she testified that there was a lot of activity between the phones during the early morning hours that day and the final contact between the phones was at 8:29 p.m. On cross-examination, Lt. Mack stated that the only phone she was asked to tie to the Valley View address was the Samsung AT&T phone and that phone's last location on April 7 was the Valley View location.

         Briana Johnson, Karen's daughter, also testified. Briana was at her grandmother's home with Karen the afternoon and evening before the shooting. Briana testified that Karen received multiple calls on her cell phone, but she did not answer. Briana confirmed that Karen's cell phone number was (318) 990-8920 (the Huwae). Briana looked at the phone and saw that Cooley was the caller and Briana told her mother to answer the phone. Briana testified that Karen went into another room and answered the phone. Briana could not hear what was being said, but testified that her mother's tone was elevated. After the call, Karen stayed one or two minutes and then left. Briana testified that "eight or nine" minutes later, her phone started "blowing up" with calls about something happening to her mother. She went to her mother's home, but never saw her alive again.

         In addition, the state presented the testimony of two of Cooley's former girlfriends. First, Tonya Williams testified that she and Cooley were in an "off and on" relationship for about seven years starting in 2005. Tonya explained that the two were living together in April 2008, and had a conversation one evening about ending the relationship, which made Cooley unhappy. The next morning, Cooley approached Tonya about having sex and she refused. He asked her to speak to him in the bedroom and Tonya again brought up ending the relationship. Tonya testified that Cooley grabbed her around her neck, choking her, and bit her hand, drawing blood. The two struggled and he straddled her back, with her on her hands and knees, and dug his fingers into her eye sockets. Tonya was screaming and her daughter, who was 11 years old, came into the room and left again to retrieve a weapon. Cooley continued gouging her eyes and forced her to lie down on her stomach, after which he hit her across the back of the head with a radio. At some point, Cooley left the residence and Tonya, whose eyes were bleeding, sought medical attention at the emergency room. Cooley was convicted and sentenced for this offense. The minutes were introduced into evidence. On cross-examination, Tonya conceded that the relationship resumed after Cooley was released from jail and the relationship ended in 2012.

         Erica Simmons testified that she was in a relationship with Cooley in 2003 that lasted a year or less. When Erica decided to end the relationship, she stopped speaking with Cooley. Erica testified that on April 1, 2003, Cooley came to her place of employment, Lifeshare Blood Center, and watched her close. Erica asked a friend to walk with her to her car and Cooley followed. Erica told Cooley she did not want to talk to him, but Cooley calmly and persistently asked why she was ending the relationship with him. Erica responded that Cooley had thrown three of her phones in toilets and that he "knew what he had done." Erica testified that she then told him she had to pick up her kids and he got in the car with her. Cooley told her that he would ride with her and talk, and Tonya could bring him back to his car. She agreed. The two drove to the daycare and picked up Tonya's two children, ages one and three, and Tonya put them in car seats in the backseat. Erica testified that they continued to talk and Cooley fluctuated between being apologetic and loving and irate about her telling him it was over.

         Erica went by her apartment complex to speak with the manager because, unbeknownst to Cooley, she was having the locks changed. Cooley remained in the car. After Erica spoke with the apartment manager and returned to the car, Cooley told her that he would pay for replacement phones and they went to Walmart. While checking out, Cooley refused to pay for the phones and the two argued. The children were in the store with them. Erica testified that when they got back to her car, Cooley began "sweet talking" again and apologized, saying that he did not have the money right now for the phones, but would pay her for them. Erica testified that she was angry and told him that she was going to leave him in the parking lot, but Cooley talked her into taking him to his car.

         While Erica was driving, she continued to tell him it was over. Erica testified that Cooley became irate, hitting the dashboard and the steering wheel. Erica testified that she called her best friend to try to ignore Cooley, but Cooley yanked the steering wheel causing the car to move into the path of oncoming traffic. Erica testified that Cooley said, "I will kill all of us in this MF." As Erica tried to avoid hitting another car, Cooley said, "Bitch, the only way out of this relationship is to die out." The next thing Erica remembered was Cooley grabbing her cell phone and repeatedly punching her in the side of her face with it. Erica stated that there was blood everywhere and she remembered hearing her kids screaming and seeing blood splatter on their faces. Erica blacked out and regained consciousness at Willis Knighton hospital.

         Erica has undergone two facial surgeries and a retinal detachment surgery as a result of the injuries inflicted by Cooley. She testified that the entire right side of her face is metal and she has headaches daily, for which she takes medication. Cooley was convicted of second degree battery for the offense against Erica. The minutes of that prosecution were introduced into evidence. The state rested at the conclusion of Erica Simmons' testimony.

         After a very thorough discussion between the trial judge, Cooley, and Cooley's counsel, Cooley elected to testify and was the only witness for the defense. Cooley provided the following version of events.

         On April 7, 2014, Cooley had decided to go to Texas to visit a second woman with whom he was romantically involved. Karen was aware of this other woman and was angry. While Cooley was at home (the residence on Valley View Drive) that evening packing for Texas, Karen came home and the two argued. Cooley testified that Karen "blew" and made "for a little old argument." He stated that Karen repeatedly told him to call that bitch and tell her he was not coming.

         Cooley stated that he had the "AK" on the bed to pack to take with him and Karen reached for the gun. Cooley testified that the two "tussled" over the gun and he "used his body" to position himself to take the gun from her and he tossed it to the head of the bed. She reached for the gun again and Cooley grabbed the gun. Cooley testified that Karen then ran and blocked the bedroom door shouting at him to call the bitch and "tell her you ain't coming." Cooley turned his back to Karen and went through the doorway. Cooley stated that Karen was slapping him and trying to prevent him from leaving and he was trying to get outside.

         Cooley testified that he told Karen, "I didn't stop you from where you was all day today, so you not going to stop me from where I'm going." Cooley intended to leave immediately, but could not find the car keys. Because he "got to get Karen out of the way, " he slammed her up against the living room wall with his body and she fell. When she got up, Karen walked out of the house and he kept looking for the car keys. Cooley testified that, at that point, he decided he should not be in the house:

If I stay in this house with this woman here, I know what's fixin' - she ain't going to stop. Karen needed me to put my hands on her so she could tell police I beat her up. That's what she did. And I'm not giving her that.

         Cooley stated that he could see Karen outside through a large window and she was standing with her arms folded and was "hot." Cooley took the clip out of the gun and went outside. Karen began yelling at him and snatched the gun from under his arm and began putting it together. The two then tussled for the gun and as Karen "laid there and she inserted the bullet into that chamber. I got ...

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