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State v. Vaughn

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 24, 2018


          On Appeal from the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana Docket No. 581744 Honorable Raymond S. Childress, Judge Presiding

          Warren L. Montgomery District Attorney Matthew Caplan Assistant District Attorney Covington, Louisiana Counsel for Appellee State of Louisiana

          Rachel Yazbeck New Orleans, Louisiana Counsel for Defendant/ Appellant Kyran Javon Vaughn


          McCLENDON, J.

         Defendant, Kyran Javon Vaughn, was charged by an amended bill of information with one count of armed robbery with a firearm, a violation of Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:64 and 14:64.3A (count I)[1], and one count of obstruction of justice, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:130.1A(1) (count II). At his arraignment, defendant entered a plea of not guilty on both counts, but following a jury trial, was found guilty of the responsive verdict of first degree robbery, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:64.1, on count I, and guilty as charged on count II. Motions for a new trial and post-verdict judgment of acquittal were filed by defendant, but denied by the district court.

         A habitual offender bill of information was filed by the State, alleging defendant's status as a second-felony habitual offender. Following a hearing, defendant was adjudicated a second-felony habitual offender on count I.[2] The trial court then sentenced defendant to imprisonment at hard labor for twenty years on count I, and imprisonment at hard labor for ten years on count II, with the sentences ordered to run concurrently.[3] A motion to reconsider sentence was filed by defendant, but subsequently denied by the trial court. Defendant now appeals, assigning error to the trial court's failure to sever the charges, to the insufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, and to the excessiveness of his sentences. For the following reasons, we affirm defendant's convictions, habitual offender adjudications, and sentences.


         At approximately 1:00 a.m. on the morning of September 14, 2016, the victim, Jessie Oates returned to his mother's house in the Kingspoint area of Slidell, Louisiana, with forty to fifty pounds of shrimp following a long day working on a shrimp boat. As Oates needed some money, he called a few individuals in hopes of selling some of the shrimp. Oates then left his mother's home, pulling the container of shrimp in a wagon, and carrying a drawstring backpack containing an iPad and headphones. As he was walking to his first stop, Oates testified that a dark blue Grand Prix, with two black males inside, pulled up beside him. Oates testified he could not see the driver's face, but the passenger, wearing blue jeans, a grey t-shirt, and a white hockey mask, exited the vehicle, pointed a gun at Oates, and demanded he empty his pockets. Oates described the gun as a "long" and "big" rifle or shotgun and was confident it "wasn't like a pistol or anything." Oates testified the two individuals did not hurt him, but, because the gun was pointed at him, he was afraid. He turned over the drawstring backpack containing his iPad and headphones and began to run away but, as he was doing so, the driver of the vehicle asked for the iPad's passcode. Oates relayed the passcode, ran around the corner, waited for the vehicle to leave, and returned to the location for his shrimp. Upon returning to his father's house a few hours later, Oates described the incident, and his father called the police.

         A few months later, Oates received a letter dated March 1, 2017, from "Ronaldo," "one of the dudes who is the charge for you being robbed in Kingspoint[.]" In one section of the letter, the writer asked Oates to drop the charges against defendant, stated that defendant recently received $15, 000.00 from a car accident, and indicated that he would give Oates "a few hundred" once the charges were dropped. Another section of the letter alleged that an individual named Rashad Price committed the robbery, but Oates testified he knew Price "very well" and was "sure" that Price was not one of the individuals who robbed him. Oates further testified he did not drop the charges, and did not accept any money in exchange for his testimony.

         Deputy James Stelfox of the St, Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office responded to the robbery at approximately 3:45 a.m. Upon speaking with Oates, Deputy Stelfox did not observe him to be intoxicated or under the influence, and was told by Oates that a "light blue" Pontiac with two black male occupants approached and stopped him, pointed a "shotgun or a rifle" at him, and robbed him. Deputy Stelfox was also informed the passenger of the vehicle was wearing a white hockey mask. Deputy Stelfox's investigation was complete when, after searching the Automated License Plate Recognition system, a hit returned on a license plate registered to a light blue Pontiac, which was observed near the Kingspoint neighborhood around 1:00 a.m. earlier that morning.

         Ronaldo Joseph, the co-defendant on count I, testified that on September 14, 2016, after completing his shift at Popeyes, he picked up defendant in his blue Pontiac car at approximately 11:00 p.m. Defendant, sitting in the front passenger seat, was wearing a blue shirt and a pair of shorts. After spending time with some friends, followed by a couple of trips to a local Time Saver gas station, the two eventually left. As Joseph was driving defendant back to his home, again with defendant in the front passenger seat, they noticed Oates carrying a "book bag and a wagon." Defendant instructed Joseph to turn around as he believed he knew Oates. Joseph pulled up beside Oates, and testified that when he did, defendant "hopped out the car with a mask and a gun and robbed the guy." Joseph described the gun as a brown, "sawed-off gun," and the mask as a white hockey mask. While Joseph testified he had not previously seen the gun or mask, he stated that defendant's shirt "was long enough to hide anything." As defendant exited the vehicle, he instructed Oates to "put [his] hands up and turn around, don't look at me or I'm going to shoot you." Joseph testified that defendant took Oates' book sack which contained an iPad. After demanding and receiving the iPad's passcode, the two left Oates, and Joseph subsequently dropped defendant off at his home. Upon reaching the residence, defendant threatened Joseph not to tell anyone what happened or "he was going to shoot up [his] mom's house."

         Joseph testified that he did not write the letter that Oates received regarding defendant offering to pay him money in exchange for not testifying and that he neither offered nor paid Oates any money. Furthermore, Joseph testified that an affidavit, which was not notarized or signed by any witnesses, but was allegedly signed and sent by him to the St. Tammany Parish District Attorney's Office, in which he claims he lied about being with defendant on the night of the robbery, contained a false signature. Joseph affirmatively testified that defendant was with him on the night of September 14, 2016.

         Detective Jared Lunsford of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office was assigned to the case and visited the Time Saver gas station a few days later to determine the availability of additional evidence. Detective Lunsford spoke with the store clerk of the Time Saver gas station and reviewed the surveillance footage captured from the store's security cameras. As Detective Lunsford and the store clerk watched the footage, the clerk visually identified defendant and provided Detective Lunsford a copy of defendant's driver's license. The security footage revealed that, at approximately 1:40 a.m., Oates was walking down the street pulling a wagon when defendant and Joseph returned to the Time Saver gas station. The video also showed the light blue Pontiac stopping near Oates and the front passenger of the Pontiac, who had on a white hockey mask, exiting the vehicle and approaching Oates who then threw "his arms up in the air . . . [backed] away ... and then [turned] and [ran] away." Detective Lunsford stated that defendant appeared to be wearing a "blue polo-type shirt, short sleeves, with blue jeans and black and white shoes and a hat with something written on it." Also as a part of his investigation, Detective Lunsford questioned Joseph, who admitted to being the driver of the blue Pontiac, identified, his passenger as defendant, and corroborated that defendant wore a "Jason" style mask, used a firearm in the robbery, pointed it at Oates, and took Oates' iPad. Detective Lunsford arrested Joseph and, after locating and searching defendant's residence, arrested him as well.

         Nicole Joseph, Ronaldo Joseph's mother, testified that she received a letter from defendant postmarked January 17, 2017, with the return address on the envelope reading "Kyran Vaughn, St. Tammany Parish Jail." The letter begins with "[t]his is Kyran the codefendant in your son's case" and proceeds to include the following pertinent statements: (1) "Ronaldo doesn't understand that my people ... went and talked to the victim who is a heroin addict and he doesn't even want to [pursue] the charges anymore[.] [H]e's not coming to trial and me and Ronaldo will walk away with no time because if the victim doesn't come to trial the case gets dismissed. So please Ms[.] Joseph [I'm] asking you from the heart can you please talk to your son and let him know we got the case beat"; (2)"I'm asking can you please talk to him about not testifying"; (3) "also I want [to] let you know that my brother . . . gave the victim [$2, 000.00] not to come to court even though he wasn't going to come anyway and my family is going to let him stay at my house when [it's] time for him to come to trial"; (4) "Also we can actually both go home next month if your son takes his recorded statement back because without his statement they don't have probable cause to have us in here[.] I'm going to send the Affidavit with this letter [and] you can send it to him tell him to put that he was [lying] and he felt pressured by detectives to give a statement and we had nothing to do with a robbery ... . [It's] called recanting your statement"; and (5) "I know what I'm talking about[.] My auntie is a lawyer in Chicago[.] I know the law. Tell him to do that and we can both be hom[e] before Mardi Gras[.]"

         Robert Foley, who was qualified and tendered at trial as a forensic document examiner handwriting expert, reviewed the letter received by Mrs. Joseph and the affidavit and letter purportedly authored by Ronaldo Joseph, as well as handwriting exemplars from both Joseph and the defendant. After conducting his analysis, Foley opined that there were "indications" that defendant wrote the letter to Mrs. Joseph and the alleged Ronaldo Joseph affidavit and letter, and he was confident that the letter to Mrs. Joseph and the letter to Oates were authored by the same person. Foley also compared the handwriting of Ronaldo Joseph to the signature on his alleged affidavit and concluded it was not his signature.


         In his second assignment of error, defendant argues the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the crime of first degree robbery as "[t]he descriptions of [defendant] are wildly different between the testimony of Ronaldo Joseph and Jesse Oates." Further, defendant contends the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the crime of obstruction of justice, arguing the State "did not definitively prove that [he] authored any of the items presented to the court and the jury[, ]" and that "[n]o individuals were ...

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