Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the
Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 15-F1466
Honorable Daniel J. Ellender, Judge.
LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Douglas Lee Harville Counsel
S. TEW District Attorney Counsel for Appellee.
CHAMBERS JONES JENNIFER H. JOHNSON Assistant District
GARRETT, COX, and STEPHENS, JJ.
a bench trial, the defendant, Darren Scott Lambert, was
convicted of domestic abuse battery by burning and attempted
manslaughter. He was sentenced to 35 years at hard labor
without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of
sentence for domestic abuse battery by burning and 20 years
at hard labor for attempted manslaughter. The trial court
ordered that the sentences be served concurrently. The
defendant appeals, contending the evidence was insufficient
to convict him. We affirm the defendant's convictions and
sentences. However, we remand the matter to correct the court
minutes to reflect that the defendant's sentence for
attempted manslaughter was imposed with no restriction of
approximately 2½ years, the defendant and the victim,
Katie Battaglia, were engaged in an on-again, off-again
relationship that was aptly described at trial as
"toxic." There were multiple incidents of domestic
abuse by the defendant against Katie. The violence ultimately
culminated in a tragic episode on May 30, 2015, when the
23-year-old defendant poured rubbing alcohol on Katie, age
21, and then set her on fire. Katie suffered second and third
degree burns to her upper torso, back, arms and ears.
Additionally, Katie, who was approximately 10 weeks pregnant,
lost the baby. The defendant was charged with domestic abuse
battery by burning and attempted second degree murder. He was
also charged with first degree feticide, but that charge was
dismissed prior to trial.
defendant, who was represented by retained counsel, waived
his right to a jury trial. The six-day bench trial began on
April 10, 2017. The testimony of Katie, her parents, and her
best friend established that the defendant's abuse of
Katie began early in the relationship and continued
throughout its duration. Furthermore, one episode led to his
arrest and subsequent guilty plea for violence against
Katie's father. The defendant testified on his own behalf
and claimed that Katie set herself on fire. After hearing all
of the testimony and closing arguments, the trial court
recessed for several hours to consider all the evidence and
review the extensive notes taken during the lengthy trial.
After deliberating on the matter, the trial court found the
defendant guilty as charged of domestic abuse battery by
burning and guilty of the responsive verdict of attempted
manslaughter. In lengthy and extensively detailed oral
reasons for its verdicts, the trial court made strong
credibility determinations in favor of Katie and the other
witnesses for the prosecution. The trial court concluded that
there was a significant history of domestic violence in the
relationship between the defendant and Katie. It further
found that the defendant's "self-serving"
testimony "defied . . . and contradicted logic" in
the defense filed a motion for post-verdict judgment of
acquittal, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to
convict the defendant based on the victim's inconsistent
testimony. At the sentencing hearing on June 21, 2017, the
trial court denied the motion as procedurally
improper.After reviewing the presentence
investigation report, the trial court sentenced the defendant
as described above.
defendant appealed, asserting that the evidence was
insufficient to convict him.
standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the
evidence claim is whether, after viewing the evidence in the
light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier
of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime
proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560
(1979); State v. Tate, 01-1658 (La. 5/20/03), 851
So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct.
1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v. Carter, 42,
894 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1/9/08), 974 So.2d 181, writ
denied, 08-0499 (La. 11/14/08), 996 So.2d 1086. This
standard, now legislatively embodied in La.C.Cr.P. art. 821,
does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle to
substitute its own appreciation of the evidence for that of
the fact finder. State v. Pigford, 05-0477 (La.
2/22/06), 922 So.2d 517; State v. Dotie, 43, 819
(La.App. 2 Cir. 1/14/09), 1 So.3d 833, writ denied,
09-0310 (La. 11/6/09), 21 So.3d 297.
Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving
both direct and circumstantial evidence. An appellate court
reviewing the sufficiency of evidence in such cases must
resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by viewing that
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When
the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by
the direct evidence and inferred from the circumstances
established by that evidence must be sufficient for a
rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt
that the defendant was guilty of every essential element of
the crime. State v. Sutton, 436 So.2d 471 (La.
1983); State v. Robinson, 50, 643 (La.App. 2 Cir.
6/22/16), 197 So.3d 717, writ denied, 16-1479 (La.
5/19/17), 221 So.3d 78.
appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses
or reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La.
10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442. A reviewing court accords great
deference to a trier of fact's decision to accept or
reject the testimony of a witness in whole or in part.
State v. Sims, 49, 682 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/27/15), 162
So.3d 595, writ denied, 15-0602 (La. 2/5/16), 186
there is conflicting testimony about factual matters, the
resolution of which depends upon a determination of the
credibility of the witnesses, the matter is one of the weight
of the evidence, not its sufficiency. State v.
Crossley, 48, 149 (La.App. 2 Cir. 6/26/13), 117 So.3d
585, writ denied, 13-1798 (La. 2/14/14), 132 So.3d
410; State v. Speed, 43, 786 (La.App. 2 Cir.
1/14/09), 2 So.3d 582, writ denied, 09-0372 (La.
11/6/09), 21 So.3d 299. In the absence of internal
contradiction or irreconcilable conflict with physical
evidence, one witness's testimony, if believed by the
trier of fact, is sufficient support for a requisite factual
conclusion. State v. Johnson, 47, 913 (La.App. 2
Cir. 4/10/13), 113 So.3d 1209.
testimony of a victim alone is sufficient to convict a
defendant. State v. McGill, 50, 994 (La.App. 2 Cir.
1/11/17), 213 So.3d 1181, writ not cons., 17-0455
(La. 4/24/17), 219 So.3d 329.
Abuse Battery by Burning
abuse battery is the intentional use of force or violence
committed by one household member upon the person of another
household member. La. R.S. 14:35.3(A). If the domestic abuse
battery is committed by burning that results in serious
bodily injury, the offense shall be classified as a crime of
violence. La. R.S. 14:35.3(M).
time of the offense, La. R.S. 14:35.3 provided the following
B. For purposes of this Section:
(1) "Burning" means an injury to flesh or skin
caused by heat, electricity, friction, radiation, or any
other chemical or thermal reaction.
(4) "Household member" means any person of the
opposite sex presently living in the same residence or living
in the same residence within five years of the occurrence of
the domestic abuse battery with the defendant as a spouse,
whether married or not, or any child presently living in the
same residence or living in the same residence within five
years immediately prior to the occurrence of domestic abuse
battery, or any child of the offender regardless of where the
(5) "Serious bodily injury" means bodily injury
that involves unconsciousness, extreme physical pain, or
protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or
impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or