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State v. Thompkins

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 27, 2019


          On Appeal from the 17th Judicial District Court, Parish of Lafourche, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 528713 The Honorable Walter L Lanier III, Judge Presiding

          Kristine Russell District Attorney Joseph S. Soignet Assistant District Attorney Thibodaux, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellee, State of Louisiana

          Gwendolyn K. Brown Attorney for Defendant/Appellant, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Toronzo Thompkins


          CRAIN, J.

         The defendant, Toronzo Thompkins, was convicted of second degree murder and negligent homicide. For second degree murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, and for negligent homicide, he was sentenced to five years at hard labor, with the sentences ordered to run concurrently. The defendant appeals, challenging the trial court's denial of post-trial motions. We affirm.


         On September 22, 2013, Nikki Landry and Henry Lefort were found in Landry's apartment, both dead from multiple gunshot wounds. At that time, the defendant was incarcerated waiting for trial to begin the next day on a drug-related offense. Landry, a confidential informant for the Lafourche Parish Drug Task Force, was to testify for the state at the defendant's trial. Landry's identity had been kept confidential until earlier that month when the trial court ordered it disclosed. After being convicted of the drug-related offense, the defendant bragged to the Drug Task Force supervisor that the supreme court would throw his case out because the state had no witness.[1]

         Following the police investigation of the double homicide, the defendant's son, Traveyon Blackledge, was arrested, and later convicted, on two counts of second degree murder. See State v. Blackledge, 17-1130, 2018WL913745 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/16/18), writ denied, 18-0433 (La. 10/29/18), 254 So.3d 1208. Although he was incarcerated at the time of the murders, the defendant was also a suspect because the confidential informant was killed the day before his drug trial was to begin. Telephone calls the defendant made in the days preceding the murders established the defendant sought to have Landry killed to prevent her from testifying against him at his drug trial. The recorded calls were played for the jury at the defendant's murder trial. The state argued the defendant used coded language in the recordings to order Blackledge to kill Landry, and that Lefort was killed at Landry's apartment simply because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The defendant was convicted as a principal in the second degree murder of Nikki Landry and the negligent killing of Harry Lefort.


         In this appeal, the defendant solely challenges the trial court's denial of his post-trial motions for new trial and disclosure of a juror's identity. In the motions, the defendant argued that during trial he encountered a juror in the hallway while law enforcement officers were escorting him to the bathroom. The defendant asserted the juror could see and hear the officers guarding him and ordering persons to clear the hallway. The defendant claimed he was handcuffed, his legs may have been shackled under his clothing, and the officers referred to him as the "prisoner" or "inmate" in front of the juror. The defendant argued for a new trial because his "right to be brought into court with the appearance, dignity[, ] and self-respect of a free and innocent man [was] violated before a member of the jury standing in judgment prior to jury deliberation and verdict." In a companion motion, the defendant sought the name and address of the juror he encountered so he could subpoena her to appear and testily about the manner and degree the encounter affected her verdict.[2]

         At the hearing on the motions, the state argued the jurors' identities were not hidden from the defendant at trial, and the juror he encountered in the hallway could have been identified if an objection had been timely made. The trial court denied the motion to disclose the juror's identity, noting the trial involved the defendant's jailhouse telephone calls, which made it apparent to the jury the defendant was incarcerated. The trial court emphasized there was no contemporaneous objection about the hallway encounter, which prevented the trial court from addressing the issue, including possibly using an alternate juror. The trial court also noted no juror had come forward to raise the issue.

         Against the advice of counsel, the defendant testified in support of the motion for new trial. He described his version of the juror encounter and said he told his attorney about the incident when he returned to his seat. According to the defendant, that attorney advised he would "make the argument." The defendant said he told his second attorney about the incident after realizing the first attorney was not raising the issue. The defendant said he knew he was not in a position to object himself and feared he would "miss [his] argument." The defendant testified the second attorney (who represented the defendant at the hearing on the motion for new trial) said he would make the objection but did not.

         Defense counsel argued a new trial should be granted because the evidence in no way placed the defendant at the murder scene. The trial strategy was to let the jury know the defendant was incarcerated, making incarceration an alibi. Defense counsel also argued the jailhouse recordings did not include ...

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