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State v. Coleman

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 14, 2018


          Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 13F1116 Honorable Larry D. Jefferson, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Carey J. Ellis, III Counsel for Appellant

          ROBERT S. TEW District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          HOLLY A. CHAMBERS-JONES Assistant District Attorney

          Before GARRETT, McCALLUM, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (PRO TEMPORE)

         Following a jury trial in the Fourth Judicial District, Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana, the defendant, Cortez Coleman, was found guilty as charged of the second degree murder of Steve Brown. Coleman was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, and he now appeals his conviction. For the following reasons, Coleman's conviction and sentence are affirmed.


         On April 18, 2013, deputies with the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office found Steve Brown lying on the ground outside an abandoned house at 202 Central Street in West Monroe, Louisiana. Brown had a gunshot wound to the head and was dead. Ultimately, officers learned from two eyewitnesses, Ashley Williams and Viktavia Franklin, that Brown had been shot by Cortez Coleman, who then fled into the nearby woods. Coleman was later arrested and indicted by a grand jury on the charge of second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1.

         Prieur Hearing

         On January 14, 2015, the state filed a notice of intent to use other crimes evidence under La. C.E. art. 404(B)(1) and a motion for a Prieur hearing, in accordance with State v. Prieur, 277 So.2d 126 (1973). Specifically, the State sought to introduce evidence that on June 9, 2011, Coleman and a friend, DeKendrick Patterson, conspired to lure Henry Lyons to a remote location in order to rob him of his 1996 Chevrolet Caprice and rims, and then shot Lyons multiple times before stealing his vehicle. The State asserted that the purpose of using said other crimes and/or wrong acts was to show Coleman's pattern of conduct, identity, absence of innocent intent, motive, plan and preparation, and to negate any claim of mistake or accident. These "other crime" facts were similar to the facts in the current case, in which the State alleged that Coleman conspired with his girlfriend to lure the instant victim, Brown, to a remote location in order to rob him of his 1996 Chevrolet Impala and rims, and shot and killed Brown.

         On July 8, 2015, the parties appeared before the trial court for arguments on the State's Prieur motion. Officer John Martin, who was a major crime investigator with the East Carroll Parish Sheriff's Department on June 9, 2011, testified that he responded at 1:45 a.m. to the East Carroll Parish Hospital to interview a shooting victim named Henry Lyons. Officer Martin testified in detail about the series of events Lyons described to him, leading up to Coleman shooting him in the leg and hand and stealing Lyons' vehicle. Coleman and his accomplice, Patterson, drove off in Lyons' vehicle, leaving Lyons in the ditch. According to Ofc. Martin, Lyons believed that Coleman wanted to get the rims on Lyons' vehicle, which was later found abandoned on I-20 West in Richland Parish. The rims were still on the vehicle, but the vehicle was completely out of gas.

         Officer Martin testified that arrest warrants were issued for both Coleman and Patterson. Patterson surrendered two days after the incident. Officer Martin interviewed Patterson, who confirmed Lyons' story. Officer Martin testified that Patterson told him that he and Coleman planned to convince Lyons to give them a ride and then rob him of the rims on his vehicle.

         Officer Martin testified that Coleman was apprehended three months later and charged with attempted murder and carjacking. Coleman declined to give a statement to officers and posted a bond. When Coleman failed to appear at the next scheduled court date, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. For unknown reasons, the warrant was not entered into the National Crime Information Center database.

         The state asserted that the evidence of the 2011 offenses and Lyons' prior identification of Coleman as the shooter and carjacker were admissible to establish Coleman's intent to rob Brown of his vehicle and rims and to negate Coleman's claim that he accidentally shot Brown. On October 21, 2015, the trial court granted the motion and ruled that testimonial evidence of the 2011 offenses and the victim's identification of Coleman as the perpetrator were admissible at trial.

         Trial of the Matter

         The evidentiary portion of the trial in this matter began on July 21, 2016, wherein numerous witnesses testified, as will be discussed herein. In connection with the others crimes evidence against Coleman, which had been the subject of the previous Prieur hearing and which the trial court had determined could be introduced at trial, Lyons was called to testify. However, once on the witness stand, Lyons asserted that he had been drinking on June 9, 2011, and was under the influence of alcohol when interviewed by Ofc. Martin. At trial, he claimed no recollection of Coleman shooting him, how he ended up in the hospital with two gunshot wounds, or how his vehicle was stolen. Lyons admitted that he knew Coleman but denied having told Ofc. Martin anything regarding Coleman being the person who shot him and stole his vehicle.

         Defense counsel objected when the State attempted to impeach Lyons' testimony with trial testimony by Ofc. Martin, arguing that when a non-party witness's credibility is attacked through prior inconsistent statements incriminating the accused, the evidence is generally not admissible for its assertive value as substantive evidence of guilt. The trial court ruled that Ofc. Martin's testimony regarding Lyons' prior statement was inadmissible-effectively denying the use of the State's other crimes evidence against Coleman.

         The State filed an emergency request for supervisory review, and this court reversed the trial court, citing State v. Johnson, 99-3462 (La. 11/03/00), 774 So.2d 79, which held that an exception to this general rule exists for cases in which the witness's prior inconsistent statement also constitutes a prior statement of identification for purposes of La. C.E. art. 801(D)(1)(c). Accordingly, this court ordered the trial court to allow Ofc. Martin's testimony in order to impeach Lyons' trial testimony denying that he made the statements identifying Coleman as the 2011 perpetrator and as substantive evidence that Coleman committed the prior similar offense. State v. Coleman, 51, 178-KW (La.App. 2 Cir. 07/25/16).

         Despite this court's ruling, defense counsel again challenged Ofc. Martin's testimony about Lyons' prior inconsistent statement by filing a motion for mistrial pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 770(2) on July 26, 2016. While acknowledging that Ofc. Martin's testimony was admissible as evidence that Lyons previously identified Coleman as the 2011 perpetrator, Coleman's motion for mistrial argued that Officer Martin's testimony about Lyons' statement was inadmissible for the purposes of establishing that Coleman shot and robbed Lyons for the purpose of taking Lyons' rims. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial based on the previous ruling on the emergency writ.

         After the State rested, the trial court conducted a colloquy with Coleman regarding his rights, and Coleman exercised his constitutional right to remain silent. The defense rested and each side gave closing arguments. A unanimous jury found Coleman guilty as charged of second degree murder. A presentence investigation report was ordered for sentencing. No post-trial motions were filed.

         At a sentencing hearing, the trial court reviewed the facts of the case and aggravating and mitigating factors. Coleman declined to make any statement at sentencing. The trial court imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Coleman was advised of the time period within which to seek post-conviction relief.

         Coleman filed a motion to reconsider sentence; however, the trial court denied the motion. Coleman sought an "out-of-time" appeal, which was granted, and this appeal ensued.


         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his first assignment of error, Coleman argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support the verdict of second degree murder.[1]Coleman takes issue with the witness testimony considered by the jury. He specifically argues that Williams' testimony was unreliable because she was also charged with a crime in this offense and asserts her testimony was self-serving. Coleman maintains that Williams' testimony is less credible because she initially lied to the officers and told them divergent versions of events on the night in question. Coleman also argues that Franklin's testimony was less credible because she did not describe Steve Brown's shooter. We disagree.

         Legal ...

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