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State v. Barnett

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 16, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
MICHAEL LORENZO BARNETT, JR. Appellant

          Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 11F3407 Honorable Larry Donell Jefferson, Judge

          MICHAEL LORENZO BARNETT, JR. Pro Se

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

          ROBERT STEPHEN TEW District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          GEARY S. AYCOCK DANIEL J. HUNTER Assistant District Attorneys

          Before GARRETT, STEPHENS, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          STEPHENS, J.

         This criminal appeal arises from the Fourth Judicial District Court, Ouachita Parish, State of Louisiana. Following a bench trial, the defendant, Michael Barnett, Jr., was found guilty as charged of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, pursuant to La. R.S. 14:30.1. Barnett now appeals his conviction and sentence, which we affirm for the following reasons.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In the early hours of December 20, 2011, Deputies Seth Cox and Michael McLain, of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Department ("OPSD"), responded to a 911 call about a shooting on Dellwood Drive in Monroe, Louisiana. They found a deceased black male in a black shirt and dark jeans with multiple gunshot wounds lying at the edge of a ditch on Dellwood Drive. The deceased was later identified as Andre Alexander. Michael Barnett, Jr., was subsequently arrested and charged with second degree murder, in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1.

         Barnett was indicted for second degree murder on February 9, 2012. As of March 23, 2015, the matter had not yet proceeded to trial, and Barnett filed a pro se motion to quash the indictment based on La.C.Cr.P. art. 578(A)(2), which provides that no trial shall be commenced in a non-capital felony case after two years from the date of institution of the prosecution. In response, the state urged the applicability of La.C.Cr.P. art. 580(A), which addresses suspension of time limitations. Following a brief hearing, the trial court granted the motion quashing the indictment. The court then granted a stay of the proceedings and the state filed a writ application with this court, which was granted. The matter was considered an appealable issue. State v. Barnett, 50, 159-KW (La.App. 2 Cir. 04/16/2015). Ultimately, this court concluded that the running of the two-year time limitation of La.C.Cr.P. art. 578 was suspended by the defense motion for preliminary examination and thereafter by numerous continuances of the trial date, and the trial judge abused his discretion in finding otherwise and in granting the motion to quash. The judgment was vacated, and the motion to quash the indictment filed by Barnett was denied. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. State v. Barnett, 50, 213 (La.App. 2 Cir. 08/12/15), 174 So.3d 748.

         Barnett waived his right to a jury trial, and a bench trial began on August 15, 2016. The state announced for the record that Barnett rejected the state's offer for him to plead guilty to manslaughter with a sentencing range of 25-35 years.

         On August 23, 2016, Barnett appeared for the trial court's verdict. The trial court explained that after weighing the physical and testimonial evidence presented by the state at trial, it found that Barnett shot and killed Andre Alexander. The trial court found that specific intent to kill was established by the findings made in the report of Alexander's autopsy, which revealed that Alexander was shot five times, including once in the head. Barnett was found guilty as charged of second degree murder.

         On November 9, 2016, Barnett filed a post-trial motion for new trial and a motion to reconsider the verdict and/or for a directed verdict of acquittal.[1] The trial court denied the motions for new trial and for a directed verdict of acquittal, but granted the motion to reconsider the verdict. Resultantly, the trial court vacated its ruling finding Barnett guilty of second degree murder and entered a ruling of guilty of the responsive verdict of manslaughter. In response, the state filed a writ application to this court; we granted the state's writ, vacated the verdict of manslaughter, reinstated the conviction for second degree murder, and remanded the matter for sentencing. State v. Barnett, 51, 493-KW (La.App. 2 Cir. 04/04/2017), writ denied, 2017-0946 (La. 09/29/17), 227 So.3d 290.

         Back in the trial court (and prior to sentencing), Barnett then filed a pro se "motion to reconsider new trial," which the trial court granted after finding that the verdict of second degree murder was contrary to the law and evidence. The state sought to appeal the trial court's ruling, which the trial court denied. Thus, the state sought supervisory review of the trial court's denial of its motion for appeal, which we denied on the basis that the ruling granting a new trial was not a final appealable judgment. State v. Barnett, 52, 121-KW (La.App. 2 Cir. 02/08/2018). Ultimately, the state applied for supervisory review of the trial court's ruling granting Barnett a new trial; this writ was granted, the ruling reversed, the conviction for second degree murder reinstated, and the matter remanded for sentencing. State v. Barnett, 52, 156-KW (La.App. 2 Cir. 03/08/2018).

         Barnett appeared for sentencing on April 2, 2018. The trial court imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor, without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Barnett was advised of the time delays to appeal his conviction and sentence and to seek post-conviction relief, and he filed a motion to reconsider sentence. The motion was denied, and this appeal by Barnett ensued.

         DISCUSSION

         In his one and only assignment of error, Barnett argues there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction for second degree murder. Barnett asserts that the state did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was Andre's shooter. Barnett also argues that the state failed to prove that he wrote or sent the inculpatory text messages that Chereteria Kennedy alleged were from him. Barnett maintains that no eyewitnesses specifically identified him as the shooter and asserts that witness testimony regarding inculpatory acts and statements allegedly made by Barnett were contradictory and insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the shooter.

         Barnett notes that in testimony by those witnesses who saw and identified him at the scene or in the hours after the murder, none of those witnesses saw him with a gun. He also emphasizes that while Arthur Mott testified that the man he saw chasing the victim on Dellwood Drive was carrying a gun, Mott could not identify the gunman. Barnett dismisses the entirety of Mott's testimony as noncredible because Mott assumed that the unknown gunman was wearing shorts since Mott could see the gunman's socks, while none of the other witnesses said Barnett was wearing shorts.

         Barnett further argues that the state provided no physical or forensic evidence tying him specifically to Andre's murder. Barnett asserts that he is innocent because no gun was recovered; Andre suffered five gunshot wounds but only two shell casings were recovered; forensic testing of the vehicle Barnett rode in before and after the homicide revealed no evidence tying him to the murder; and, in the security video of Barnett at the gas station after the murder, there was no visible blood on his shirt, pants, or shoes. We disagree.

         Legal ...


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