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State v. Mayeux

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 6, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
CHARLES P. MAYEUX, JR. AKA CHARLES P. MAYEUX

          APPEAL FROM THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF AVOYELLES, NO. 188, 015-B HONORABLE WILLIAM BENNETT, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Annette Roach APPELLATE COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Charles P. Mayeux, Jr.

          Anthony F. Salario COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Michael Francis Kelly COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Hon. Charles A. Riddle, III COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, John E. Conery, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.

          D. KENT SAVOIE JUDGE.

         Defendant, Charles Mayeux, appeals his conviction of second degree murder and sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In the early morning hours of March 21, 2015, Defendant, who was the Chief of Police and the Assistant Fire Chief of Evergreen, Louisiana, called 911 to report a fire at his residence in Evergreen. The body of Defendant's wife, Shelly, was later found in the bedroom of the residence. They had been married for about ten months at the time of Shelly's death. After an investigation, Defendant was subsequently arrested. On July 16, 2015, he was charged by grand jury indictment with one count of second degree murder of his wife, which is a violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1. A jury trial was held August 28, 2017, through September 1, 2017.

         Evidence introduced at trial indicated that Defendant was the only person present with Shelly in their residence at the time of her death. Although an autopsy was performed, the cause of Shelly's death was undetermined. All experts agreed, however, that Shelly died before the fire. The cause of the fire was also undetermined; however, the fire marshal concluded that the fire was intentionally set to cover up a homicide. His conclusion resulted from the suspicious timing of Shelly's death with the onset of the fire; the Defendant's lack of effort to try to rescue Shelly despite his training as a firefighter and despite the proximity of both the fire station and Defendant's firefighting gear; a history of violence between Defendant and Shelly; a history of abusive behavior by Defendant toward his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend; and Defendant's inconsistent statements as to the events leading up to the fire.

         Following trial, Defendant was found guilty of second degree murder by a 10-2 jury verdict. He filed a Motion for New Trial on September 12, 2017, which was denied by the trial court. On September 12, 2017, the trial court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.

         Defendant filed a notice of appeal on September 12, 2017, which was granted that same date. On appeal, Defendant states the following as assignments of error:

1. The evidence introduced at the trial of this case, when viewed under the Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) standard, was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Charles Mayeux committed the second degree murder of Shelly Mayeux.
2. The trial court erred in allowing evidence of other alleged other crimes/bad acts to be admitted at trial when no exception to the hearsay rule applied and/or the probative value of the evidence was far outweighed by the prejudicial effect the evidence would have on Charles Mayeux.
3. Counsel rendered assistance below that guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and Charles Mayeux was prejudiced as a result of counsel's deficient performance when counsel failed to object to the admission into evidence of the investigative report prepared by Deputy State Fire Marshal Chase Hawthorne, which contained inadmissible hearsay and evidence.
4. The trial court erred in providing an incorrect and/or insufficient limiting instruction to the jury concerning evidence admitted at trial.
5. The trial court erred in accepting Deputy State Fire Marshal Chase Hawthorne as an expert in origin and cause and fire investigation.

         ERRORS PATENT

         In 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 no errors patent.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER 1

         Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the second degree murder of his wife, Shelly Mayeux.

         Standard of Review

         The following jurisprudence sets forth the standard of review in this case:

When the issue of sufficiency of evidence is raised on appeal, the critical inquiry of the reviewing court is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, rehearing denied, 444 U.S. 890, 100 S.Ct. 195, 62 L.Ed.2d 126 (1979); State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559 (La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982); State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La.1981). It is the role of the fact finder to weigh the respective credibility of the witnesses, and therefore, the appellate court should not second guess the credibility determinations of the triers of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under the Jackson standard of review. See State ex rel. Graffagnino, 436 So.2d 559 (citing State v. Richardson, 425 So.2d 1228 (La.1983)). In order for this Court to affirm a conviction, however, the record must reflect that the state has satisfied its burden of proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

State v. Kennerson, 96-1518, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/7/97), 695 So.2d 1367, 1371.

         Thus, to affirm, the record must reflect that the State satisfied its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt all of the essential elements of second degree murder under the above standard. Louisiana Revised Statute 14:30.1(A)(1) defines, in pertinent part, second degree murder as "the killing of a human being . . . when the offender has specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm[.]"

         Because the instant case involves a conviction based upon circumstantial evidence, we are further mindful of the following in connection with our review:

When the conviction is based upon circumstantial evidence, La.R.S. 15:438 provides that the state "must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence" in order to convict. State v. Camp, 446 So.2d 1207, 1209 (La.1984). "Circumstantial evidence consists of proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which elemental factors may be inferred according to reason, experience and common sense." State v. Burns, 441 So.2d 843, 845 (La.App. 3 Cir.1983). However, La.R.S. 15:438 does not establish a stricter standard of review on appeal than the rational juror's reasonable doubt standard. The statute serves as a guide for the jury when considering circumstantial evidence. On appeal, the issue is whether a rational trier of fact, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, could find that all reasonable hypotheses of innocence were excluded. State v. Williams, 13-497 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/6/13), 124 So.3d 1236, writ denied, 13-2774 (La. 5/16/14), 139 So.3d 1024.

State v. Baumberger, 15-1056, pp. 10-11 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/1/16), 200 So.3d 817, 826-27, writ denied, 16-1251 (La. 5/26/17), 221 So.3d 859, cert. denied, ___U.S.___, 138 S.Ct. 392 (2017).

         While Defendant herein also challenges the admissibility of certain evidence introduced at trial, we will consider all of the evidence introduced at trial for purposes of reviewing the record for sufficient evidence. See State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731, 734 (La.1992):

When issues are raised on appeal both as to the sufficiency of the evidence and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence. The reason for reviewing sufficiency first is that the accused may be entitled to an acquittal[.]. . . When the entirety of the evidence, including inadmissible evidence which was erroneously admitted, is insufficient to support the conviction, the accused must be discharged as to that crime . . . .
On the other hand, when the entirety of the evidence, both admissible and inadmissible, is sufficient to support the conviction, the accused is not entitled to an acquittal, and the reviewing court must then consider the assignments of trial error to determine whether the accused is entitled to a new trial.

         Review of the Evidence

         At the time of the incident, Defendant was the Chief of Police and the Assistant Fire Chief of Evergreen. Defendant testified at trial. He stated that on Friday, March 20, 2015, the day prior to the fire, his wife Shelly had woken up sick and was vomiting. Therefore, he stayed home with her, rather than going to work. According to Defendant, Shelly told him that she might be having a miscarriage. However, there was evidence reflecting that Shelly had previously had a tubal ligation; but, Defendant denied knowledge of that. Defendant testified that Shelly would not stop vomiting and that they drove to the hospital that morning. However, he could not make Shelly go inside the hospital; therefore, they left the hospital and stopped to get gas in Bunkie.

         Defendant further testified that on March 20, 2015, he had responded to a police call regarding horses that were loose on the highway. He indicated that a horse was behind his house, so he searched for it on foot; however, he was unable to find it.

         He stated that when he returned home from the call, he and Shelly began making plans for picking up Shelly's children. He told Shelly he would go pick up his paycheck from work and then go pick up the children. He testified that after picking up his check, traffic caused him to run late; therefore, the stepmother of Shelly's two sons called him. Defendant indicated that after he had picked up the children, he brought them to Shelly's mother's house. He then stopped at Walmart to purchase medicine for Shelly, and then stopped at Family Dollar in Cottonport to purchase soup and crackers for Shelly. He testified that it was approximately 5:00 p.m. and still daylight when he returned home. He indicated that later that evening, Shelly had quit vomiting, they watched television, and then laid in bed together and had sexual intercourse.

         According to Defendant, he then spoke to his dad about a new truck, and asked Shelly if she wanted to ride with him to his dad's house in Bunkie. While driving, Defendant received a call from Mr. Rushing Juneau. Defendant testified that they never made it to his dad's house because Shelly had gotten nauseated again.

         Defendant also indicated that, as a police officer, he had made "rounds" on March 20, 2015, prior to the fire. He explained that he typically made rounds at night, before going to bed, and, at trial, he described his route as follows:

A. I leave my home, that's my home, I usually check the fire station, my sister use [sic] to live here and I use [sic] to make a round and I'll cross the bayou, I had the senior apartments here, I go through the parking lot, that's what's good about being a police officer in a small town, you know everybody, so if something's out of place, you recognize it, I check on my old people and I go down College, C.G. Lobin Construction is right here, I check that business, because it's attempted to be broken into before, I check all, I go down College, the Baptist church and cemetery is right her.
. . . .
A. I check this area, I come across, there some apartments in this area that I have trouble with sometimes with people that live there, so I always look that area [sic], the park is right here, I use [sic] to have a lot of problems with people hanging out drinking right here.
. . . .
A. I checked the park because I had trouble with people with loitering, drinking, and stuff like that, and there's a little, there was a little store right here, a little mom and pop store I call it, it closes at like 3:00 in the afternoon, I'll check the catholic church, the K.C. Hall, the rectory, the cemetery back here.
Q. That's a different cemetery, so there [sic] two cemetery [sic]?
A. I mean yeah, that's all we got in Evergreen, you know I'll go the Burn's road, my city limits end in this area just like here, here on the highways, I'll go a little bit further.
Q. Why?
A. Because the Sherriff's[sic] office is, their [sic] busy, they have a lot more traffic than I do, so sometimes I'll go a little bit further out if there's like about this area is a big tractor shed for a farm, so sometimes I'll just go out at night and I turn around there, just shine the spot light make sure no one's breaking in and I have to turn around anyway, I do it on the Burn's road, there's a potato plant right here, sometimes I shine my light at the potato plant, I know the guy that owns it, I do it as a favor, I'll go back down Hills Street and we have the Sewer plant that's back here and believe it or not, people will break in to a sewer plant, there's tools, there's chemicals and I'll go . . .
Q. Let me ask you, does your fire, is your fire district bigger than your city limits?
A. It's a lot bigger than the city limits, my fire district goes almost to Goudeau, and around this COOP [sic], it's a lot bigger than the city limits.
Q. We're talking about the rounds that you make every evening?
A. It's a little gravel road, I'll check the sewer plant right here, my city limit on end [sic] here, I mean I don't care to turn around right at the city limits.
Q. Do you have jurisdiction outside the city to make an arrest?
A. Of course, yeah, if you're assisting the Sheriff's office or another town, yeah, you're a police officer.
Q. How many miles from your house to where we are right now, roughly?
A. May be a mile.

         Defendant explained that the night of March 20, 2015, he had made rounds along the route he described, but he did not remember where he had turned around. He stated that when he returned home, it was dark, and he and Shelly wanted to rent a movie. He also went to the fire department to get a laptop computer.

         Several other witnesses testified concerning communications they had with Defendant and Shelly on March 20, 2015, the day prior to the fire. Briana Rabalais, an employee of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's office and Shelly's co-worker, testified that Shelly had called in sick the morning of March 20, 2015, and sounded very upset at the time. Ms. Rabalais also indicated that she had called Shelly later in the day and that Shelly sounded irritated.

         In addition, Brian Bordelon, the owner of a trucking company for which Defendant worked, testified that on March 20, 2015, Defendant sent him an email or text indicating that Shelly had miscarried the night before and that he would be staying home with her. Mr. Bordelon stated that typically Shelly would pick up Defendant's paycheck, but that on March 20, 2015, Defendant had picked it up and Shelly was not with him.

         Laurie Bordelon, who was the stepmother of Shelly's two sons, testified that on March 20, 2015, Shelly was scheduled to pick up her sons from her between 4:00 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. When Shelly did not arrive as scheduled, she called Defendant's phone since Shelly did not have one, and Defendant answered telling her he was at the dentist for a broken tooth. Defendant, however, denied, making this statement to Ms. Bordelon. Ms. Bordelon also indicated that when Defendant finally arrived to pick up the boys, he was by himself, which was unusual, and that Defendant told her Shelly was sick.

         Shelly was also scheduled to have visitation with her daughter the weekend of the fire. Sherie Lemoine, Shelly's daughter's stepmother, testified that on March 20, 2015, she received a message indicating that Shelly would pick up her daughter at 5:30 p.m. because they only had one vehicle. The daughter, however, wanted to stay with her stepmother because they were boiling crawfish, so she tried to call her mother on Defendant's phone. She talked to Defendant and indicated she might not go. Shelly's daughter called back later and told Defendant she did want to go to their house, and Defendant told her he was not sure if he would be able to pick her up by 7:30 p.m. Defendant ultimately did not show up at all, without notice. According to Ms. Lemoine, this was unusual, as Shelly would always let her know whether or not she was coming to pick up her daughter.

         Defendant testified that on March 20, 2015, the night before the fire, he had fallen asleep on the couch watching a Will Farrell movie and Shelly had fallen asleep in the recliner. He indicated that in the early hours of March 21, 2015, he woke up to the fire, but did not "hear wood popping, wood splitting, like you do in a normal fire." At that point, he thought the house was "smoldering," so he got up, but did not see Shelly. He thought that maybe she "went to the bedroom or she ran out of the house", and he indicated that her blanket was still in the chair where she had fallen asleep. He testified that he then "got down" and crawled and tried to scream for Shelly, but that his "voice would cut out." Then he went outside. He stated that he did not see flames because of all the smoke, and that he did not have his "SCBA, which would be the face mask, the air pack," with him, as it was at the fire station. Defendant further explained that when he was exiting the house, he passed by the carport door and went towards the back door instead, but that he did not know why he did this.

         Defendant testified that when he left the house, he was coughing, throwing up, and trying to catch his breath. He stated that, although he could not holler, he looked for Shelly. He further indicated that he saw flames rolling out of the bedroom window but saw no flames in the rest of house, and he called 911 three times.

         Defendant testified he called 911 and then "went back in the house" to find Shelly. He indicated that he was able to make it "to the bar." When he went out of the house, he then heard ammunition "going off" inside, which he stated sounded like "hand grenades." He explained that he had boxes of rifle bullets and other shotgun shells in the house. He then stated that he tried to go back into the house for a third time but was not able to go very far and he then ran out of the house. He testified that something had hit him in the head, although it did not cause him any injury, and he noted that ceiling tiles were falling. Defendant further explained that, at that point, he was "hysterical" and could not remember if he "crawled, ran, [or] skipped, the third time[.]"

         Evidence of Defendant's calls to Avoyelles Parish 911 was submitted at trial. Defendant's first call was at 2:08 a.m. on March 21, 2015. Over the course of five minutes, Defendant called 911 three times. He told the 911 operator that his wife was in the residence, that he could not get her out, and that bullets were "going off" in the residence. During the calls, Defendant did not give his full name or address, and emphasized his concern for the safety of the firefighters. He explained he did not give his name or address because he thought the 911 operator recognized his voice.

         Clint Armand, the Fire Chief of the Evergreen Fire Department, responded to Defendant's 911 calls, and he testified at trial. He explained that he and Defendant were close friends, Defendant had been his assistant at the Evergreen Fire Department for about seven years, and Defendant was trained as an EMT. Chief Armand further testified that, as a fireman, Defendant was issued "turnout gear," consisting of a coat, pants, hood, gloves, and a helmet. He also noted that on March 20, 2015, the day prior to the fire, Defendant did not stop by for his usual visit because, according to Defendant, "they were all sick or throwing up[.]"

         According to Chief Armand, Defendant's residence was approximately 450 feet from the Evergreen Fire Department, Defendant had the code to access the fire station, and he knew how to operate the fire truck. He also testified that when he received Defendant's 911 call, the fire truck was at the station with the keys inside the truck.

         After receiving the 911 call, Chief Armand drove the fire truck from the Evergreen Fire Department to Defendant's residence. He testified that when he arrived at the scene, he saw a fire on the left rear side of Defendant's residence. While he was handling the fire hose, he saw Defendant running in the opposite direction, back towards the carport of the residence. Defendant did not speak to him. Chief Armand indicated that he attempted to fight the fire from the outside of the house because, at the time, he was the only one who had arrived at the scene. He also testified that he was panicked and upset because he was friends with Defendant.

         Joseph Frank, the Fire Chief of Bunkie, also testified at trial. He had received a page at 2:20 a.m. on March 21, 2015, concerning the fire at issue. At trial, Chief Frank was accepted without objection as an expert in the field of firefighting. He testified that he arrived on the scene about seven or eight minutes after receiving the page, and when he did, other men from his department were already there. He described the fire as a "small cage" fire, "meaning that the whole building was not engulfed in flames[.]"

         Despite Defendant's warning that bullets were "going off" in the residence, Chief Frank's men entered the residence to extinguish the fire. Chief Frank, and others, testified that while it was necessary to be aware of the ammunition, the ammunition was not being used as a weapon, and therefore it would simply "pop" like a firecracker, causing the casing to burst. There was also evidence indicating that Defendant had previously pawned his service weapon, and only Defendant's duty belt with its "mags" was in the bedroom.

         Chief Frank indicated that one of his men first extinguished the fire in the kitchen without turnout gear, and then, with full gear, his men extinguished the remaining fire. According to Chief Frank, the fire was under control in twenty-five to thirty minutes. Chief Frank also indicated that Defendant never voiced any concern about getting his wife out of the residence, and Defendant never had to be restrained from going inside the residence.

         Chase Hawthorne, a Deputy State Fire Marshall, also testified at trial. He was accepted as an expert in origin and cause of fire. He indicated that he arrived at the scene at approximately 3:15 a.m. or 3:20 a.m., at which time, the fire was under control.

         Mr. Hawthorne testified that Shelly's body was found in the bedroom and that the bedroom was where the fire had originated. He noted that the fire was still burning when he arrived at the scene, the bedroom door was closed, the bed was still intact, and the mattress had not burned. Mr. Hawthorne also explained that Shelly's body was found face down, in a boxer's stance, which suggested to him that she had made no attempt to move away from the intense heat of the fire, which he explained had originated on the right side of Shelly's body. This observation lead Mr. Hawthorne to opine that Shelly had died before the fire. He further indicated that the couch on which Defendant alleged he was sleeping when the fire started was twelve to fourteen feet away from where Shelly's body was found. Mr. Hawthorne also noted that Defendant left a door to the residence open, which he suggested would allow the fire to receive more oxygen and grow faster.

         Mr. Hawthorne also testified that while he was investigating the scene, Defendant appeared in the bedroom window. He asked Defendant to leave the crime scene and noted that Defendant became upset at the reference to a crime scene. Mr. Hawthorne asked Defendant to submit a statement, and he read Defendant's statement, which was written at 6:08 a.m. on March 21, 2015, into the record, stating as follows:

A. "Friday morning I woke up with my wife she was sick and called in to work, we both went back to bed and got up again at 8, she took a bath we watched TV for a little while and she went back to bed. I took care of different chores around the house." I'm assuming that says like laundry. "At about 1:15 my wife got up again and went lay on the recliner she asked me if I would go get the kids and bring them to her mom's house because she was not feeling good. I picked up the boys at Wendy's at 4:30 and brought them to their grandmother, my mother-in-law I stayed for about 30 minutes. I went to Wal-Mart to pick up my meds and look for some nausea meds for Shelly. On my way home I stopped at the Dollar Store picked up some Sprite and soup for Shelly. I came back home, I talked to my dad on the phone, I put up the things from the store, and put some clothes in the dryer. Shelly was still sleeping I went to Bayou Express in Cottonport and got something to eat. I came back home and Shelly was up. I told her I got her some soup but she did not want to eat. We watched TV for a little while. I asked if she wanted to get out the house, she said yes. We left to go to my dad's but the ride was making her sick, we turned around at the old co-op across from DC-2 and came back home. We started to watch a movie around 9:35 and I fell asleep. I woke up after getting hot and coughing and when I woke up everything was black. I tried to get to the bedroom but could not get past the TV because it was too hot and bullets were going off. I went outside to see if she made it out. I called dispatch and went back in the house, I got about mid-way through the kitchen but could not go further. I went back outside after hearing more bullets going off. I fell in the grass, threw up, that's when I first . . . that's when the first fire truck pulled up."

         Defendant gave another statement at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office at 11:50 a.m. on March 21, 2015, at which time he voluntarily turned over his clothing and cell phone and submitted to DNA testing. According to Hawthorne, at this time, Defendant showed no signs of injury, and his clothes did not smell of smoke. This was confirmed by the testimony of Michael Cammack, a detective with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office, who was present during the March 21st interview.

         Mr. Hawthorne testified that Defendant added additional information to his story in connection with his second statement, including that Defendant had been watching a Will Farrell movie prior to the fire. Mr. Hawthorne indicated that the movie case was found at the scene, however, no DVD was found in the DVD player.

         Mr. Hawthorne also testified Defendant had revealed to him that he and Shelly routinely fought and discussed divorce; but that, around the time of the fire, they had not fought because his wife was sick.

         Similarly, Detective Cammack testified that Defendant admitted he and Shelly fought often, with Shelly often asking for divorce. Defendant, however, denied physically abusing Shelly. According to Detective Cammack, Defendant had also revealed that, while he had not physically abused any other women with whom he had previously had relationships, he had pinned one of the women against the wall.

         Mr. Hawthorne and Detective Cammack also testified that, when the officers sought to collect Defendant's clothes during the interview, Defendant, without prompting, voluntarily stated that he and Shelly had sexual intercourse around 5:00 p.m. the night of the fire, despite Defendant's indication that Shelly was sick that day.

         Detective Cammack further testified that Defendant explained he had tried to go into the residence to rescue Shelly several times, but the smoke and heat prevented him from doing so and that he did not think about using the police radio in his possession, despite his training. Detective Cammack further noted that one of the back doors to Defendant's residence had previously been kicked in because Defendant was angry about keys being left in the house, and that the door to Defendant's office as chief of police had also been kicked in. Defendant described himself to the detectives as a "hot head" and that he had a "firecracker temper."

         Detective Cammack interviewed Defendant a second time in July 2015, and he testified as to several inconsistencies in Defendant's statements. For example, he noted that Defendant suggested during the first interview that his wife had been vomiting the day of the fire; but during the second interview, he stated she had a miscarriage. Defendant also indicated to Cammack that his wife was bleeding badly, and he had convinced her to go to the Bunkie hospital; however, when they arrived at the hospital, they did not go in and went back home. Defendant also indicated that his wife was not bleeding when they had sex prior to the ...


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