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State v. Dyess

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

November 7, 2018

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
AUSTIN W. DYESS

          APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF LASALLE, NO. 16-838 HONORABLE J. CHRISTOPHER PETERS, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Edward K. Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Austin W. Dyess.

          J. Reed Walters District Attorney Twenty-Eighth Judicial District COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana.

          Court composed of Billy Howard Ezell, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          VAN H. KYZAR JUDGE.

         Defendant, Austin W. Dyess, appeals his convictions for second degree murder and conspiracy to commit second degree murder. For the reasons set forth herein, we affirm.

         DISCUSSION OF THE RECORD

         On June 22, 2016, a grand jury indicted Defendant on one count of second degree murder, in violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1; and one count of conspiracy to commit second degree murder, violations of La.R.S. 14:26 and 14:30.1. On September 25, 2017, Defendant proceeded to trial, and on September 27, 2017, a unanimous jury found Defendant guilty as charged on both counts.

         On December 5, 2017, Defendant was sentenced to serve life imprisonment at hard labor for the second degree murder conviction, as well as thirty years imprisonment at hard labor for the conspiracy to commit murder. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently, and the life sentence was to be served without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Defendant did not file a motion to reconsider sentence.

         The facts as presented at trial established that on April 24, 2016, the victim, Demond Garner, and his girlfriend, Chelsea Copling, both residents of Texas, attended a small party at the home of Joshua Sant in Tullos, LaSalle Parish. The couple left the party with Mr. Sant and Defendant and were subsequently found dead from gunshot wounds on April 27, 2016.

         The LaSalle Parish Sheriffs Office (LPSO) initially received a report of the missing couple on April 25, 2016, from the Tullos Police Department, and began an investigation, which led detectives to the home of Mr. Sant as being the last place that the couple was seen. They discovered that Defendant was present at the home the night that the couple went missing. During the course of the investigation, Defendant gave a series of statements to the detectives with LPSO, which will be discussed separately.

         Written Statement

         On April 26, 2016, Defendant provided a written statement to Chief of Police Gary McDaniel of the Tullos Police Department and LPSO Deputy Joseph Cain, in which he claimed that he was at Mr. Sant's house along with a "couple," later identified as the murder victims. He further stated that they were all playing a game of beer pong when the couple said they were ready to go home and began walking down the road alone. Defendant claimed that he and Mr. Sant "went looking for them" and when they could not locate them, they "called someone that knew them to tell him that they had left."

         Verbal Statement

         On April 27, 2016, LPSO Detective Tracy Clark began investigating the disappearance of Mr. Garner and Ms. Copling. He travelled to Joshua Sant's residence in Tullos, where he spoke with Defendant, who was present when Detective Clark arrived. Detective Clark testified that Defendant advised him that, "He had last seen them leave the residence walking up Park Street towards Highway 125, the night, during the night, and they were inebriated when they left the residence." According to Detective Clark, that statement was the same as the verbal account he had received from Mr, Sant.

         First Recorded Statement

         Later on April 27, 2016, Defendant gave a recorded statement to Detective Clark and Detective Brant King, after being Mirandized, [1] in which he initially denied knowing anything about the couple's whereabouts after they left Mr. Sant's house. Shortly thereafter, he claimed that he blacked out after going to Mr. Sant's house and drinking and did not recall what occurred, but then later stated, "I think I shot the black boy." He initially denied knowing where the shooting occurred, but then later during his statement, he led law enforcement, including Detectives Clark and Richard Smith, to the location where the bodies of the victims were found. Defendant stated that he thought Mr. Garner came at him because he "tried to put the gun to his head or something?" He further stated that Mr. Garner tried to take the gun from him, so he "pulled back and [he] shot [Mr. Garner] in the head." After Defendant shot Mr. Garner once in the head, Defendant said that he shot Mr. Garner two more times to make sure he was dead. He stated that Mr. Sant then shot Ms. Copling. Shortly thereafter, Defendant stated that he also shot Ms. Copling. Defendant said that someone had mentioned to Mr. Sant that Mr. Garner was a child molester and that may have made him mad, but he did not remember asking Mr. Garner about the truth of this claim. He further admitted they took the victims out into the woods to scare them because of this, after which he claimed that things got out of hand. Defendant then admitted that he and Mr. Sant had made a pact not to tell anyone what had happened. After the victims were located, Defendant was transported back to the local jail.

         Second Recorded Statement

         Beginning at approximately 11:44 p.m. on April 27, 2016, Detective Jimmy Arbogast and Detective Clark again interviewed Defendant, after advising him again of his Miranda rights. During this statement, Defendant admitted that he had attempted to hide information about the details of the ...


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