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State v. Anthony

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 20, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
WILLARD ANTHONY

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 15-2842, DIVISION "I" HONORABLE NANCY A. MILLER, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA, Paul D. Connick, Jr., Terry M. Boudreaux, Anne M. Wallis, Douglas W. Freese, Lindsay L. Truhe

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, WILLARD ANTHONY Letty S. Di Giulio

          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE

         Defendant appeals his convictions and sentences for several felony offenses. For the following reasons, we vacate defendant's convictions and sentences, and we remand the case to the trial court for a new trial.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Defendant, Willard Anthony, was convicted by a jury of aggravated rape (two counts), human trafficking, second degree battery, aggravated battery, sexual battery, and felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence for each count of aggravated rape, to twenty years imprisonment at hard labor for human trafficking, to ten years imprisonment at hard labor for second degree battery, to ten years imprisonment at hard labor for aggravated battery, to ten years imprisonment at hard labor for sexual battery, and to twenty years imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence for felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court ordered all sentences to run concurrently with each other. Defendant appeals his convictions and sentences.

         FACTS

         C.W.[1] testified that in April 2015, she was addicted to drugs and "not living a good lifestyle." In order to make money, she was working as a prostitute in Florida, where she first met defendant at a motel in Pensacola. He invited her back to his room, where there were three other women who were also prostitutes. C.W. described that they were all hanging out and drinking, and at some point, defendant, who always kept a gun on him, started "acting really paranoid," picked her up, and "body slammed [her]." C.W. remembered going to sleep at the end of the bed that night but waking up the next day in a car not knowing how she got there. She questioned defendant, who was driving, and he told her they were in New Orleans. C.W. expressed that she wanted to go back to Pensacola, but defendant pointed a gun at her and told her that she was "part of [his] family now."

         C.W. stated that after they arrived at a hotel in New Orleans, co-defendant, Pierre Braddy, posted pictures of her and the other women online in order to get clients. The next day, they went to a hotel in Jefferson Parish. C.W. had a solo client appointment so everyone else waited in the car in the parking lot. C.W. testified that she wanted to get away, so she asked the "john" to help her escape. She told defendant that she wanted to leave with the john to make more money, but he said she could not go. C.W. told defendant she was going to tell the client goodbye, but instead, she got in his car and told him to "just go." C.W. and the client pulled out on the highway, but defendant pulled up next to them and pointed his gun at them. C.W. jumped out of the car and started to run, but defendant caught up with her and pulled her back into the car he was driving. C.W. testified that the "girls" started hitting her in the car. Defendant beat her with a belt in the hotel parking lot, at one point strangling her, and she lost consciousness.

         When they got back to the hotel room, C.W. took a shower because she was bleeding, but defendant came in and continued to beat her. Defendant continued to verbally antagonize her and hit her with various objects, including his gun. C.W. also testified that defendant made the other girls hit her. She further testified that at the request of defendant, who was armed with a gun, Braddy urinated on her, put his penis in her mouth, and made her swallow the urine. After a while, defendant directed Braddy and the other girls to go to Walmart to buy makeup for C.W. so she could continue to make money.

         C.W. testified that while she and defendant were alone in the hotel room, he told her various things that would happen to her if she ever tried to run again. Then, he "forced himself" on her and also inserted his gun into her vagina.

         At some point later, Detective Steven Abadie arrived in connection with his investigation, and he was initially undercover as a client. C.W. eventually learned that Detective Abadie was with the police and he took her to the hospital. She was later brought to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center.

         Steven Abadie testified that he was working as a detective with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Vice Squad in April of 2015. He explained that he investigated prostitution or prostitution-related activities, including human trafficking, and he would go undercover. Detective Abadie went undercover on April 13, 2015, and arranged a "date" with a prostitute at the Sun Suites Inn on Manhattan Boulevard. When he arrived at the hotel room, he encountered Nadia Lee and Brittany Grisby, lying on one of the beds. He also saw C.W., who "was sitting…on her knees and…she was beat." He testified that he had "never seen somebody beat like this," so he knew "there was a pimp involved." He elaborated that her entire face was swollen, with one eye completely shut and a large laceration over her left eye, and she was "black and blue from head to toe." After Detective Abadie exchanged money with Ms. Lee for a "date," he said the code word and the covering officers came in shortly thereafter.

         Detective Abadie brought C.W. to the hospital due to her significant injuries. She disclosed to him how she received her injuries, and based on that, he felt the need to investigate crimes other than prostitution, namely aggravated rape, human trafficking, aggravated battery, and second degree battery.

         Nadia Lee testified that she met defendant and Braddy in April 2015 at a hotel in Alabama, and she agreed to travel with them to Florida. She explained that she did not initially know that defendant was a pimp. However, Ms. Lee realized soon after they arrived in Florida that he was a pimp. She testified that they used defendant's phone to set up calls, and he made sure the appointments were set up and that the girls would get to and from where they were working. She stated that defendant decided how much money she would charge for each client and "all the money had to go to [defendant]."

         Ms. Lee testified that she first met C.W. one night when C.W. mistakenly knocked on their hotel room door, looking for a "john," and defendant invited her in. According to Ms. Lee, defendant indicated that he wanted C.W. to stay and, after a while, C.W. agreed to stay with them. However, shortly thereafter, defendant started treating C.W. very badly, "like beating her up and choke slamming her." Ms. Lee described that early the next morning, they were leaving the hotel, and she told C.W. that she could come with them or stay in the room. C.W. left with them. The group left in two cars, drove to New Orleans, and started receiving clients at a hotel. After they were "caught" by the police at the New Orleans hotel, they relocated to the Sun Suites Inn on the westbank of Jefferson Parish.

         Ms. Lee stated that at some point, C.W. had a "date," and everyone else stayed in the car. When it was over, C.W. came down to the car and told defendant that the client wanted to take her to a bar for some drinks, but defendant told her no. Ms. Lee stated that C.W. walked back to the client, got in his car, and they drove off. Ms. Lee described that they chased after them until they caught up with them. Defendant rolled down his window, pointed his gun at the client's car, and told him to let C.W. out of the car. C.W. exited the car and started running away, but defendant caught her. Ms. Lee and Ms. Grisby started hitting C.W. while she was in the car. Ms. Lee stated that in the parking lot of the hotel, defendant started beating C.W. with his belt.

         According to Ms. Lee, once they all returned to the hotel room, defendant was angry and told the women to beat C.W. After they took turns hitting her, defendant continued to beat C.W. with a phone receiver and threw a chair at her. Ms. Lee stated that C.W. was bleeding, and defendant told her to lick the blood off of the floor. After this, Braddy, at the direction of defendant, urinated in C.W.'s mouth and on her face. After all this, C.W. looked "unrecognizable" because of how swollen she was; defendant told the other girls to go to the store to get C.W. some makeup for her face "because she was still going to work." The women left for the store with Braddy, leaving defendant and C.W. in the hotel room for about thirty minutes until they returned. Thereafter, Detective Abadie and other officers arrived in connection with the undercover operation, and they were all arrested.

         On cross-examination, defense counsel alluded to an alleged deal between Ms. Lee and the State in exchange for her testimony.[2] While Ms. Lee denied that she received any sort of "deal" from the State in exchange for her testimony, she acknowledged that she had not been charged with any offenses in this matter.

         Defendant testified in his own defense. He testified that C.W. came willingly with them to New Orleans in order to make more money working as a prostitute. He similarly testified that C.W., Ms. Lee, and the other women were working as prostitutes at a hotel in Jefferson Parish, but he denied being a pimp. Regarding the incident where C.W. tried to leave in a car with a client, defendant testified that C.W. told him she wanted to go to make more money, but she was moving quickly and he did not know if she was being kidnapped. Defendant admitted that he pursued them and pulled a gun on them. Defendant also testified that once C.W. got out of the client's car, she started running, but he did not know what she was running from. Defendant testified that once they caught her, Ms. Lee and Ms. Grisby started to beat C.W. in the parking lot. Defendant denied hitting C.W. with a gun or putting a gun in C.W.'s mouth. He also denied "doing anything" with C.W. while he was alone with her in the room while the others were at Walmart, but he stated that he did have consensual sex with C.W. one morning. Defendant testified that C.W had multiple opportunities to leave, could have left at any time, and was not forced or coerced into staying with them.

         Dr. Mark Perlin, the Chief Executive and Scientific Officer of Cybergenetics, a company that assesses genetic data, was qualified as an expert in the field of interpretation of DNA mixtures and their matched statistics. He analyzed the DNA mixture from a swab taken from the interior of the gun recovered in this case. He was able to conclude that neither C.W., nor defendant, nor Braddy could be excluded as contributors. He further concluded that a match between the swab of the gun and C.W. was 1.17 million times "more probable than a coincidental match" to an unrelated Caucasian person; that the match between the firearm and defendant was 1.59 thousand times "more probable than a coincidental match to an unrelated African American person"; and that a match between the firearm and Braddy was 63.2 trillion times "more probable than a coincidental match to an unrelated African American person."

         The jury also heard testimony from the screening prosecutor for this case, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Block. Mr. Block testified that he did not offer Ms. Lee a deal in exchange for her testimony in this matter. Mr. Block's testimony is discussed in detail, infra, as it is the subject of defendant's first assignment of error.

         LAW AND DISCUSSION

         In his first assignment of error, defendant argues that he was denied his right to a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, and to confront the actual evidence against him when the prosecution was permitted to elicit extensive and improper testimony from the screening prosecutor in the case. He asserts that the State's case for human trafficking and aggravated rape rested heavily on the testimony of C.W. and Ms. Lee, both of whom posed significant credibility problems. Defendant argues that in order to compensate for this, the State presented the testimony of Thomas Block, the screening attorney who brought this case before the grand jury. Defendant urges that instead of providing brief testimony to establish that Ms. Lee had not been offered a deal in exchange for her testimony, Mr. Block testified extensively about "his own opinions about the merits of the case." He argues that given the credibility problems of the eyewitnesses and the weight the jurors would have naturally given a prosecutor, Mr. Block's testimony was critical to the prosecution's ability to carry its burden of proof. He also argues that in Mr. Block's testimony, he vouched for the credibility of Ms. Lee and C.W., and he expressed his belief that defendant was guilty.

         The State first responds with a procedural objection, arguing that defendant did not object to Mr. Block testifying as to defendant's guilt and, thus, this issue has not been preserved for appeal. However, our review of the numerous objections and motions for mistrial made during Mr. Block's testimony, involving objections to hearsay, opinions on the credibility of State witnesses, improper invasion of grand jury proceedings, and relevance, were sufficient to preserve the arguments defendant raises on appeal. The arguments in support of the defense objections necessarily included the issue of opinion testimony regarding defendant's guilt.

         The State further responds that Mr. Block's testimony never suggested, nor did defendant show, that his testimony and/or alleged opinions were based, expressly or implied, on evidence outside the record. The State urges that his testimony was not impermissibly based upon something uniquely within his personal knowledge, but on "facts, reports, and forensic evidence." The State further argues that the defense implied that Ms. Lee received favorable treatment and would lie to avoid going to jail, so the State was entitled to rebut this implication with Mr. Block's testimony. Finally, the State contends that if there was error in allowing the testimony of Mr. Block, any such error was harmless.

         After Ms. Lee testified, the State called Thomas Block to the stand. Mr. Block testified generally about his job as a screening attorney for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office and how his office decides to charge individuals with a crime following their arrest. He then spoke generally about grand juries, indicating that he presents evidence to a grand jury, which decides whether or not to issue an indictment. Mr. Block testified that he has an obligation not to present what he believes to be perjured testimony to a grand jury. At this point, defense counsel lodged his first objection-"with respect to the witness testifying as to his belief of the credibility or lack of credibility of the witness that testifies before the grand jury ... I don't think it's relevant." The State responded that it was only addressing questions of an earlier witness and "earlier comments during jury selection" where defendant "spoke to the subject matter of a grand jury," and the objection was overruled. The objection, however, continued into a bench conference, where defendant continued to argue that Mr. Block was "endorsing the testimony of this witness because he believes she was telling the truth." The trial court overruled the objection again, and defendant moved for a mistrial, which was denied.

         When the prosecutor asked about Mr. Block's obligation to make a full and fair presentation of accurate information to the grand jurors, he stated:

Yes. In fact, the only evidence that I present to a grand jury would be evidence that would be legally admissible in a court of law. I have a responsibility based upon my oath that I have taken to be an Assistant District Attorney as well as an officer of the Court and I take my job very seriously.

         Mr. Block agreed that there are "certain instances when a case comes to [him] because there is someone who is facing potential life imprisonment ... [and] there [are] sometimes other individuals who are arrested in connection with the same incident who are facing less serious charges." The State asked Mr. Block how he handles the screening process for those individuals who are not facing life imprisonment. Defendant objected again, arguing "the issue involves grand jury secrecy." The trial court overruled the objection noting that the question did not relate to grand juries.

         Mr. Block testified that he screened the charges against the individuals arrested in this matter, and he presented an indictment of defendant and Braddy to the grand jury, but did not file charges against Ms. Grisby or Ms. Lee. The State asked Mr. Block what steps he would take if he believed it was not appropriate to file charges against someone, over defendant's "ongoing objection." Mr. Block testified that, "you have to meet the elements of the offense in order to charge the person and each and every element of the offense must be met beyond a reasonable doubt and to the satisfaction of the trier of fact." He was asked by the State:

Assuming for the moment that this jury has heard sufficient information to persuade them that Nadia Lee committed one or more crimes, including prostitution and battery here in Jefferson Parish, would that information that they are aware of be something that you were aware of when you screened the case?

         Mr. Block replied:

Yes, I was aware. I had police reports and I had interviews that the detectives had done with both of the ladies, Ms. Grisby and Ms. Lee, that I was aware of. And based upon the totality of the circumstances as it relates to-

         Defense counsel objected to the hearsay nature of this testimony, but was overruled. Mr. Block continued:

Based upon the actions of Willard Anthony, in particular, there is an affirmative defense to the "crimes" quote, unquote-I'll put a quote around "those crimes"-committed by say for instance, Nadia Lee, she has an affirmative defense to the charges of prostitution or say crime against nature insofar as she was a victim of human trafficking as a result of his actions, Willard Anthony's actions.

         Defendant then lodged another "ongoing objection."

         Mr. Block testified that the reason the Louisiana Legislature enacted law providing an affirmative defense to prostitution and related charges for victims was, "[t]hey understand the victimization and the abuse that victims have to endure at the hands of their pimp's physical, emotional, psychological abuse and they understand that although they may have committed a crime, they did it at the behest of the pimp." Defendant lodged another objection, that Mr. Block was "giving an opinion as to the credibility of Ms. Lee," with the trial court noting that it did not "believe he's giving an opinion." Defendant continued objecting "to hearsay" and that the prosecutor could not "testify personally, his personal opinion based on this." The trial court noted that it did not believe Mr. Block had done that, but the court asked the State to ask a question to prevent a narrative. The State explained Mr. Block was testifying to "explain all ...


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