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State v. Leonard

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 26, 2018


          APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 525-332, SECTION "0" Honorable Laurie A. White, Judge



          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Dale N. Atkins


         Defendant, Tavis Leonard ("Defendant"), appeals his convictions for second degree murder, armed robbery, and attempted manslaughter. After reviewing the record and applicable law, we affirm Defendant's convictions.


         On June 25, 2015, the State indicted Defendant for the second degree murders of Charles Meyers (count 1) and Michael Meyers (count 4); the attempted second degree murders of Christopher Dorsey (count 2) and Torran Stewart (count 5); and the armed robbery of Christopher Dorsey and Charles Meyers (count 3). Defendant pled not guilty to all charges.

         The State elected to go to trial on counts 1, 2, and 3, only. The trial lasted two days and concluded with Defendant being found guilty as charged on counts 1 and 3, and guilty to the lesser charge of attempted manslaughter on count 2. Defendant's motion for new trial was denied.

         Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence (count 1); twenty years at hard labor (count 2); and ninety-nine years without benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence, plus five-years enhancement (count 3). The sentences were to be served concurrently, with the exception of the five-year firearm enhancement, which would be served consecutively to the other sentences.

         A motion for appeal was granted the same day.


         The trial testimony of co-defendant, Wade Reed, established the chronology of events of the March 26, 2014, the date of the crime in question.

         Reed recalled that on March 25, 2014, Defendant, a close friend, solicited his participation in a plan to rob Christopher Dorsey. Reed said Dorsey's house was targeted because Defendant was aware, through Jonathan Holmes[1] that Dorsey was a drug dealer and kept large amounts of cash in his home.

         The following day, Defendant, driving a white Volkswagen Beetle which he borrowed the night before from his friend, arrived at Reed's house. Reed and Defendant then drove to Dorsey's Briarheath Drive residence, arriving at about 8:00 a.m. They sat in the car for about an hour until Dorsey and his family left the residence.

         Reed and Defendant went around the corner and jumped the back fence. However, Dorsey returned to his residence sooner than Wade and Defendant expected. Dorsey drove his vehicle into the backyard, where he was approached by the armed Defendant. Dorsey exited the truck and relinquished a "brick" of cocaine he was carrying. Defendant took Dorsey's house key and, while Defendant was walking to the front door, Charles Meyers drove up in his truck. Defendant removed Meyers from his vehicle at gunpoint and forced him into the backyard with Dorsey.

         Reed opened the front door and admitted Defendant, Dorsey, and Meyers. By that time, Holmes had arrived and was admitted to the residence. While Defendant and Holmes searched the house for drugs and money, Reed confiscated cash concealed in Meyers' truck.

         Dorsey told Reed he had $90, 000 stashed in a sock hidden in a wall in the attic. Defendant retrieved the cash. Defendant then made Dorsey call his father, also a drug dealer, and request $250, 000. At the same time, Reed and Holmes removed electronic equipment from the house and loaded it into the Volkswagen. All of the men left the house through the back door and entered Dorsey's black Avalanche truck. Reed tied Dorsey's and Meyers' hands behind their backs, got into the driver's seat, and confiscated the gun Dorsey kept in his truck. Dorsey sat next to Reed. Defendant, Meyers, and Holmes rode in the rear seat. As Reed drove down Hayne Boulevard, Holmes and Meyers began fighting over a gun. Reed stopped the truck because he feared being shot in the tussle. In the confusion, Meyers jumped out of the truck and ran. Holmes pursued Meyers, shooting at him. While Holmes shot at Meyers, Dorsey reached for Reed's weapon. As they grappled over the gun, Dorsey was shot once in the head and slumped over. At that point, Defendant jumped from the rear seat of the truck and ran to a waiting vehicle. Believing Dorsey was dead, Reed exited the truck. As Reed walked away, he heard the truck door close and saw Dorsey driving away without them. Reed fired at the truck. Eventually, Reed and Holmes walked home.

         Reed recalled that of all the money and drugs he, Defendant, and Holmes had taken from Dorsey, he received only $5, 000.00, with an unfulfilled promise of more from Defendant. Reed also testified that Defendant's stepfather and step-grandfather had been murdered in January 2015.

         Reed identified State's Exhibit 4 as the surveillance video from Dorsey's residence. While the video was played for the jury, Reed narrated the recording, identifying the people seen in the recording and explaining the activity depicted.

         NOPD Detective Rayell Johnson, lead investigator in this case, arrived on the scene at 11700 Hayne Boulevard at approximately 10:00 a.m. on March 26, 2014. Johnson saw Meyers' body lying in the middle of the street. Several gunshot wounds were visible on the body. A bullet-riddled black Avalanche truck was parked a short distance away. Dorsey, who suffered a single gunshot wound to the head, had already been transported to the hospital.

         Shell casings from .40 caliber and 9mm caliber ammunition were collected from the scene. The .40 caliber shells were found close to Myers' body and the 9mm casings were located near the intersection of Arcadia Lane and Hayne Boulevard. Ballistics testing showed that the 9mm ammunition was fired by Reed as he shot at Dorsey fleeing in a black truck.

         After processing the scene, Johnson relocated to the hospital and spoke to Dorsey, who was unable to identify his assailants. However, Dorsey related the facts of the crimes consistent with Reed's testimony. The detective learned from Dorsey that Dorsey's Briarheath residence was a crime scene. Johnson identified photographs of the interior of the residence, showing the house had been ransacked. Johnson retrieved the home surveillance video, which was played for the jury. Johnson recalled that the events depicted in the video matched what Reed told him.

         Explaining his investigation, that led to the development of Defendant, Reed, and Holmes as suspects, Johnson traced the ownership of the white Volkswagen Beetle seen in the home surveillance video to Defendant's friend's mother. Johnson spoke with the friend, who identified Defendant as the person to whom she loaned the vehicle. The friend said Defendant returned the car the day after the shooting.

         Johnson testified that Reed and Holmes were identified by Dorsey from six-person photo lineups. However, Johnson was never able to present a photo line-up to Dorsey that included Defendant's photo.[2]

         Johnson obtained Defendant's cell phone number from the friend and arranged to take a statement from him at Police Headquarters. In his statement, Defendant admitted that he and Reed were friends, although he did not associate with him. Further, he denied knowing anything about the murder of Meyers and the attempted murder of Dorsey. Defendant said he lived in Kenner and his stepfather, Desmond Lange, lived in Gentilly, so he had no reason to go to New Orleans East.

         Johnson subpoenaed Defendant's cell phone records to track its activity at the time of the armed robbery and shooting.[3] Those records indicated that for two minutes prior to and two minutes after the murder, Defendant's cell phone "pinged" off the Sprint tower at Hayne Boulevard and Bullard Avenue, approximately two blocks from the scene of the murder. Moreover, the cell phone records indicated that Defendant's phone pinged off a cell tower in New Orleans East approximately twenty times during the time frame of the armed robbery and murder. The State played Defendant's statement in which Defendant denied knowledge of, and any involvement in, the incident, except to say he procured legal counsel for Reed.

         The friend testified she had known Defendant for a few months by March of 2014. She knew Reed to be Defendant's friend. On the evening of March 25, 2014, she agreed to lend Defendant her white Volkswagen Beetle. He arranged to meet her at school to pick up the car. He said he needed the car for work and returned it to her the following afternoon. When Defendant returned the car, he told her something went "bad" and that: "If the police come looking for me [Defendant], tell them you don't know me." She identified her white Volkswagen parked in the driveway at 7458 Briarheath Drive when it appeared in the video surveillance. She was very upset when she learned Defendant used her car to commit a robbery.

         Plaquemines Parish Detective Paul Durnin was assigned to the Criminal Intelligence Center (CIC) based in Jefferson Parish. Durnin explained that the CIC was composed of seventeen New Orleans law enforcement agencies which shared resources and intelligence in crime fighting. Durnin specialized in cell phone historical record analysis, such as the time, date, and duration of a cell phone call, the number was called, and the identification of the cell tower through which the call was routed.

         Durnin performed an historical record analysis on Defendant's phone to determine the location of it for the time period of March 26, 2014, from 7:06 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. Durnin's report of his analysis indicated that the cell phone used the Sprint Tower cell phone tower 5600, located at the intersection of Hayne Boulevard and Bullard Avenue twenty-six times during the specified time period. The records analysis also showed that two minutes prior to the homicide, Defendant's cell phone made an outgoing call, and that three minutes after the homicide, Defendant's phone received an incoming call. The calls made and received in the five-minute period of time used Sprint Tower 5700.

         Meredith Acosta, a firearms examiner for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was accepted as an expert in ballistics examination and identification. Acosta inspected ballistic evidence collected at the scene and generated a report of her findings. Acosta examined twelve .40 caliber shell casings and ten 9mm casings. Her testing revealed that two weapons were used in the shootings, and that all of the .40 caliber shell casings were discharged by the same weapon and the 9mm casings were fired by a different gun.

         Dr. Samantha Huber, Chief Forensic Pathologist for the New Orleans coroner's office, performed an autopsy on Meyer's body and authored a report documenting her findings. According to Huber, the victim sustained eight gunshot wounds, two of which were fatal: one of the bullets pierced the victim's lungs and trachea, while the other hit the stomach, small bowel and liver. Those wounds caused the victim to bleed to death.

         Defendant testified he was twenty-two years old, lived in New Orleans his entire life and graduated from high school. He said although he referred to Desmond Lange as he his father, Lange was actually his stepfather. Defendant said that at the time of his arrest, he was working for Coca Cola and Central Parking on Poydras and Camp Streets in downtown New Orleans.

         Defendant gave a statement to Johnson. He said Reed was a friend he had known for about seven years. Defendant denied any involvement in these incidents. When questioned about the white Volkswagen, Defendant claimed his friend requested that he take her car because she was spending the night before this incident on campus and did not have a parking pass to allow her to park her car there. She picked him up at his residence; they drove to the campus, and he drove her car to his stepfather's residence in Gentilly. Sometime later, Reed needed a ride, so Defendant loaned him the Volkswagen, which Reed returned to Defendant the following day. Defendant claimed he had forgotten his cell phone in the Volkswagen but that Reed returned it with the vehicle.

         When Reed returned the Volkswagen, Reed told Defendant something bad happened and that, if the police came looking for him, Defendant should say he did not know Reed. In turn, Defendant repeated what Reed told him when he returned the car to his friend and advised her to deny knowing Reed if the police asked.

         Not long after Defendant spoke to Johnson, Defendant's stepfather and step-grandfather were murdered. Defendant blamed their deaths on the fact someone knew he had spoken to the police and that the murders were committed as retribution.

         ERRORS ...

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