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State v. Richards

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

June 6, 2018



          Keith Stutes, District Attorney Cynthia Simon, Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Edward K. Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Aaron Orlando Richards

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Billy Howard Ezell, and John E. Conery, Judges.



         On March 29, 2010, in the late evening, Defendant, Aaron Orlando Richards, and co-defendant, Marcus Feast, followed Timothy Falgout to a home where he was delivering a pizza. Defendant stabbed the victim five times during the course of a robbery. The victim died as a result of the stab wounds.

         On October 27, 2010, Defendant was indicted for the first degree murder of Timothy Falgout, in violation of La.R.S. 14:30. At the same time, Defendant was indicted for attempted first degree murder, violations of La.R.S. 14:27 and 14:30, and purse-snatching, a violation of La.R.S. 14:65.1. The latter two charges were severed from the first degree murder charge on April 30, 2012.

         On December 8, 2010, Defendant filed a "Jackson Demand for Notice of Any Bad Acts That the State May Wish to Use at Either Phase." On January 12, 2012, the State filed a "State's Notice with Regard to Aggravating Circumstances" and "State's Response to Defendant's Jackson Demand for Notice of Any Bad Acts That the State May Wish to Use at Either Phase" and on March 28, 2012, the State filed an amended response.

         The issue of the La.Code Evid. art. 404(B) other crimes evidence was taken up on May 30, 2012. Following testimony and arguments, the trial court took the matter under advisement. On July 9, 2012, the trial court ruled that the evidence the State sought to admit at trial was relevant and admissible. The trial court's ruling was affirmed. State v. Richards, 12-1063 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/17/12) (unpublished opinion), writ denied, 13-152 (La. 3/1/13), 108 So.3d 1183.

         On July 18, 2016, the State filed a "Notice of Intent Not to Seek the Death Penalty." A jury trial commenced on April 4, 2017, following which Defendant was found guilty as charged. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, to be served consecutively with any other sentence Defendant was currently serving.

         Defendant has perfected this timely appeal, wherein he asserts four assignments of error: (1) The trial court erred in allowing the introduction of other crimes evidence; (2) The trial court erred in failing to grant defense counsel's challenges for cause and in granting a state's challenge for cause; (3) The trial court erred in releasing a potential juror for cause on its own; and (4) The evidence submitted at trial was insufficient to find Defendant guilty of first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

         For the following reasons, we find no merit in any of Defendant's assignments of error and affirm his conviction and sentence.

         I. Assignment of Error Number Four.

         Defendant's fourth assignment of error asserts there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for first degree murder. We will address Defendant's fourth assignment of error first because should this claim have merit, the remaining assignments of error become moot. Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 101 S.Ct. 970 (1981), State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731 (La.1992).

         Defendant argues there were too many errors committed during the trial to allow a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the murder of Mr. Falgout during the course of a robbery.

         In State v. Chesson, 03-606, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/1/03), 856 So.2d 166, 172, writ denied, 03-2913 (La. 2/13/04), 867 So.2d 686, this court stated in considering questions of sufficiency of the evidence:

[A] reviewing court must consider the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the prosecution and consider whether a rational trier of fact could have concluded that the essential elements of the offense were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). The reviewing court defers to rational credibility and evidentiary determinations of the trier of fact. State v. Marcantel, 00-1629 (La.4/3/02), 815 So.2d 50.

         Additionally, in State v. Williams, 13-497, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/6/13), 124 So.3d 1236, 1240, writ denied, 13-2774 (La. 5/16/14), 139 So.3d 1024, this court noted:

"Evidence may be either direct or circumstantial." State v. Jacobs, 07-887, p. 12 (La.App. 5 Cir. 5/24/11), 67 So.3d 535, 551, writ denied, 11-1753 (La.2/10/12), 80 So.3d 468, cert. denied, [566 U.S. 388], 133 S.Ct. 139, 184 L.Ed.2d 67 (2012). We note that, whether the conviction is based on direct evidence or solely on circumstantial evidence, the review is the same under the Jackson v. Virginia standard. State v. Williams, 33, 881 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/27/00), 768 So.2d 728 (citing State v. Sutton, 436 So.2d 471 (La.1983)), writ denied, 00-99 (La.10/5/01), 798 So.2d 963. Circumstantial evidence is that where the main fact can be inferred, using reason and common experience, from proof of collateral facts and circumstances. Id. Where the conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, in order to convict, "assuming every fact to be proved that the evidence tends to prove, in order to convict, it must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence." La.R.S. 15:438.
First degree murder, in pertinent part, is defined as:
A. First degree murder is the killing of a human being:
(1) When the offender has specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm and is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated kidnapping, second degree kidnapping, aggravated escape, aggravated arson, aggravated or forcible rape, aggravated burglary, armed robbery, assault by drive-by shooting, first degree robbery, second degree robbery, simple robbery, terrorism, cruelty to juveniles, or second degree cruelty to juveniles.

         La.R.S. 14:30 (at the time the offense was committed).

         "Specific intent is that state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequence to follow his act or failure to act." La.R.S. 14:10(1). "Specific intent may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the offense and the conduct of the defendant." State v. Draughn, 05-1825, pp. 7-8 (La. 1/17/07), 950 So.2d 583, 592-93, cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1012, 128 S.Ct. 537 (2007).

         During the trial, the following testimonies and exhibits were submitted by the State and Defendant:

         (1). Addie Bourgeois testified that in April 2009, after arriving at Buffalo Wild Wings' parking lot in Lafayette, Louisiana, she was mugged (as she exited her vehicle) and robbed. She stated that even before she was outside her car, a man approached her, punched her in the face, and stole her purse. She described him as a light brown male, possibly Hispanic, wearing a green polo shirt. While Ms. Bourgeois never identified Defendant as the assailant, Todd Borel (a detective with the Lafayette Police Department) investigated the robbery and eventually connected Defendant to the crime.

         Detective Borel testified he obtained a video from Buffalo Wild Wing's surveillance camera for the evening of the robbery. The video showed Ms. Bourgeois' vehicle pulling into the parking lot. Another vehicle pulled in right behind her vehicle. A man exited the second car, approached Ms. Bourgeois, struck her, and raced back to the waiting vehicle. The detective stated the next day he learned that one of Ms. Bourgeois' credit cards was used at a Wal-Mart store approximately forty-five minutes after the robbery. Detective Borel obtained Wal-Mart's surveillance video and identified Defendant, wearing a green polo shirt, and another man making a purchase with Ms. Bourgeois' credit card. That same evening, the credit card was used again at a gas station in Kaplan. A surveillance video was also obtained of one of the men using the credit card. The gas station's store clerk identified the man using the credit card as Darvin Williams. Mr. Williams was picked up and questioned by police. Mr. Williams admitted that he was with Defendant the night Ms. Bourgeois was robbed. Mr. Williams told the detective he was driving the vehicle that pulled up behind Ms. Bourgeois' vehicle and it ...

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