FROM THE THIRTY-THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
ALLEN, NO. CR-2014-1638 HONORABLE E. DAVID DESHOTELS,
C. Marx COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Ralph Johnson
Herbert Todd Nesom Joe Green COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of
Johnson DEFENDANT/APPELLANT IN PROPER PERSON: Ralph Johnson
composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, John E. Conery, and Candyce
G. Perret, Judges.
E. CONERY JUDGE.
28, 2014, Defendant Ralph Johnson was charged by grand jury
indictment with one count of second degree murder in
violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1, and one count of obstruction of
justice in violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1(B)(1). Defendant pled
not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to both
charges. After the appointment of a sanity commission and
consideration of its report, the trial court found Defendant
competent to stand trial. The issue of sanity at the time of
the offense was reserved for trial. Defendant also raised the
affirmative defense of voluntary intoxication under La.R.S.
14:15(2). The jury found Defendant guilty of second degree
murder, and not guilty of obstruction of justice. The trial
court heard and denied Defendant's motion for new trial
and motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal. At the
sentencing hearing held on March 27, 2018, Defendant received
the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor to
be served without the benefit of probation, parole or
suspension of sentence. Defendant now appeals his conviction
and sentence. For the following reasons, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
April 7, 2014, police were dispatched to the Bowman Hicks
apartments, in response to a call that a black male was
running around with a knife chasing people and stabbing
someone. Upon arrival, Officer Froehlich and Officer Frank
were pointed in the direction of Unit 56, the apartment of
Ralph Johnson, who witnesses identified as the person who
committed the stabbing. The officers arrested Ralph Johnson
for aggravated battery for stabbing Michael Kirklin. When
officers were later informed the victim had died, Ralph
Johnson was charged with second degree murder.
Whiting testified that, the night before the incident, she
and Defendant smoked PCP at her apartment, but noted that
Defendant was not acting erratically. However, according to
Ms. Whiting, the next day, Defendant returned to her
apartment and was talking to "Leroy about he wanted
to cook some crack, but he had some cocaine, but he
didn't have enough cocaine. And Leroy wasn't gonna do
it and he was mad." When Defendant's request was
denied, he became angry and left.  Ms. Whiting testified that
when Defendant returned to her apartment, he was very angry
and threatening to kill everyone who was at her apartment. He
then attempted to cut into the screen on Ms. Whiting's
front door with a knife, at which point she called the police
and he left.
residents of Bowman Hicks apartments testified that Defendant
then began threatening a group of teenage boys, who Defendant
believed were mocking him. Eye-witness accounts and video
evidence show that when Michael Kirklin, the victim, told
Defendant to "chill out" Defendant then began to
chase him, wielding his knife and threatening him. The victim
ran into the home of Laura Kirklin, his grandmother, and
Defendant followed him. Laura Kirklin testified through
perpetuated video testimony obtained prior to trial
that Defendant attacked her and held a knife to her stomach.
According to the testimony of Cletoria Kirklin, the
victim's younger cousin, the victim rushed out of the
apartment and punched Defendant in an attempt to stop
Defendant from attacking his grandmother. Cletoria Kirklin
further testified that the victim threw a chair at Defendant,
who then began chasing the victim, at which point the victim
slipped and fell. Defendant got on top of the victim and
immediately began stabbing him. According to Cletoria
Kirklin's testimony, Defendant stabbed the victim five or
six times. Lauranna Kirklin, another cousin of the victim,
also testified that Defendant stabbed the victim multiple
times, then he stood up and ran to his house, dropping the
knife as he ran.
State called a total of ten witnesses who presented
eye-witness accounts of the events on April 7, 2014. The
State also submitted into evidence a cellphone video taken by
Jahiem Kirklin, a cousin of the victim, which depicted the
actions of Defendant prior to the murder. Another cellphone
video was submitted into evidence by the State from Terrance
"T.J." Merritt, a friend of the victim, which
clearly showed Defendant stabbing the victim.
State also presented a video of Defendant's post-arrest
interview statement to Detective West on April 7, 2014.
Defendant's account of events prior to the stabbing
matches most of the eye-witness testimony. According to the
video interview, Defendant stated that he had a knife because
he was going after Leroy to get his money back because Leroy
sold him baking soda instead of crack. Defendant also stated
that when he was headed to Leroy's apartment, a group of
teenage boys started to tease him, then the victim hit him
with a chair. Defendant stated that "Mike got in the
way" but claims that he does not remember what
happened. Later in the interview, when questioned about the
knife, Defendant was not able to recall whether he had a
knife. According to Defendant's statements in the video
interview, he did not remember anything about stabbing the
victim, stating that he only remembered getting hit with a
chair and then going to jail, but nothing in between those
11, 2014, Defendant entered pleas of not guilty and not
guilty by reason of insanity. The trial court appointed a
sanity commission composed of Dr. James Anderson and Dr.
Garrett Ryder, who issued reports finding Defendant competent
to stand trial. On May 1, 2015, the trial court issued an
amended order directing Dr. Ryder and Dr. Anderson to
supplement their initial evaluations with their findings as
to Defendant's state of mind at the time of the offense.
At the hearing on the motion to determine mental capacity,
the doctors found that Defendant had the mental capacity and
competency to proceed to trial and that he was sane at the
time of the offense, and they so testified at trial.
and Post-Trial Proceedings
trial, the State presented the testimony of multiple
eye-witnesses, the officers who came into contact with
Defendant on the date of his arrest, and the doctors
appointed to the sanity commission. The defense presented
testimony of a detective, a deputy, and Mr. Carlos Robinson.
The State recalled Dr. Anderson as a rebuttal witness.
jury returned a verdict of guilty of second degree murder and
not guilty on the charge of obstruction of justice. The trial
judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) and set
sentencing for March 27, 2018. On November 30, 2017,
Defendant filed a motion and order for new trial and/or
motion for post-verdict judgment granting acquittal. At a
hearing on January 11, 2018, the trial court denied
Defendant's motions. At the March 27, 2018 sentencing
hearing, the trial court considered the PSI, which indicated
that Defendant was a fourth felony offender. In accordance
with La.R.S. 14:30.1, second degree murder, the trial court
sentenced Defendant to the mandatory sentence of life
imprisonment at hard labor to be served without the benefit
of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
now timely appeals his conviction and sentence asserting two
assignments of error through counsel and two assignments of
error through a pro se brief filed by Defendant.
submits the following counselled assignments of error:
1. The evidence introduced at the trial of this case, when
viewed under the Jackson v. Virginia, 433 U.S. 307,
99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) standard, was
insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements
of second degree murder. Ralph Johnson was under extreme
mental and emotional disturbance at the time of this offense,
which is of such severe nature that it is not possible to
treat this offense as a second degree murder.
2. The trial court erred in denying defense challenge for
cause of juror no. 23[, ] Penny Bergeron[;] juror no. 206,
Richard Nichols[;] and juror no. 112 Alexis Hamilton.
submits the following pro se assignments of error:
1. Johnson's trial counsel violated client autonomy when
he conceded guilt to specific intent murder during his
closing argument to the jury.
2. The State exercised a peremptory challenge against an
African-American juror in violation of Article I, §
§ 1, 2, 13, 16, 17 and 22 of the Louisiana Constitution
of 1974 and the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to
the United States Constitution.
accordance with La.Code Crim.P. art. 920, all appeals are
reviewed for errors patent on the face of the record. After
reviewing the record, we find there are no errors patent.
of Error One: Sufficiency of the Evidence
asserts that the State failed to provide sufficient evidence
to convict him of second degree murder. Specifically,
Defendant argues that the State failed to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that he had the specific intent to kill due
to his defenses that he was either insane at the time of the
offense or that he was so intoxicated that he could not form
specific intent. Alternatively, Defendant argues he was
provoked such that a responsive verdict of manslaughter
should be applicable, not second degree murder. Therefore,
Defendant's conviction and sentence should be reversed.
analysis for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is
The standard of review in a sufficiency of the evidence claim
is "whether, viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact
could have found proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each of
the essential elements of the crime charged." State
v. Leger, 05-11, p. 91 (La. 7/10/06), 936 So.2d 108,
170, cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1221, 127 S.Ct. 1279,
167 L.Ed.2d 100 (2007) (citing Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), and
State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676 (La.1984)). The
Jackson standard of review is now legislatively
embodied in La.Code Crim.P. art. 821. It does not allow the
appellate court "to substitute its own appreciation of
the evidence for that of the fact-finder." State v.
Pigford, 05-477, p. 6 (La. 2/22/06), 922 So.2d 517, 521
(citing State v. Robertson, 96-1048 (La. 10/4/96),
680 So.2d 1165, and State v. Lubrano, 563 So.2d 847
(La.1990)). The appellate court's function is not to
assess the credibility of witnesses or to reweigh the
evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La. 10/16/95),
661 So.2d 442.
The factfinder's role is to weigh the credibility of
witnesses. State v. Ryan, 07-504 (La.App. 3 Cir.
11/7/07), 969 So.2d 1268. Thus, other than insuring the
sufficiency evaluation standard of Jackson,
"the appellate court should not second-guess the
credibility determination of the trier of fact," but
rather, it should defer to the rational credibility and
evidentiary determinations of the jury. Id. at 1270
(quoting State v. Lambert, 97-64, pp. 4-5 (La.App. 3
Cir. 9/30/98), 720 So.2d 724, 726-27). Our supreme court has
However, an appellate court may impinge on the fact
finder's discretion and its role in determining the
credibility of witnesses "only to the extent necessary
to guarantee the fundamental due process of law."
State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1310 (La.1988). In
determining the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a
conviction, an appellate court must preserve "'the
factfinder's role as weigher of the evidence' by
reviewing 'all of the evidence ... in the light most
favorable to the prosecution.'" McDaniel v.
Brown, 558 U.S. 120, 134, 130 S.Ct. 665, 674, 175
L.Ed.2d 582 [(2010)] (quoting Jackson v. Virginia,
443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560
(1979)). When so viewed by an appellate court, the relevant
question is whether, on the evidence ...