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State v. Looney

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 28, 2019


          Appealed from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana Docket Number 12-14-0134 Honorable Mike Erwin, Judge Presiding

          Hillar C. Moore, III Dana J. Cummings Allison Miller Rutzen Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana

          Bertha M. Hillman Covington, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Joleslie Looney


          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         The defendant, Joleslie Looney, was charged by grand jury indictment with one count of manslaughter, a violation of LSA-R.S. 14:31.[1] She pled not guilty, but later withdrew the plea and pled not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial court appointed a sanity commission to examine the defendant's sanity at the time of the commission of the crime. Thereafter, the State and the defense stipulated to the doctor's reports, and the trial court ordered the matter to proceed. After a trial by jury, the defendant was found guilty as charged of manslaughter. The trial court sentenced the defendant to forty years imprisonment at hard labor. The defendant now appeals, claiming that the sentence is constitutionally excessive. For the following reasons, we affirm the defendant's conviction and sentence.


         In early 2013, Bessie Looney, the victim, was living in Rogersville, Tennessee, near Thomas Looney, III, the victim's son and the defendant's brother, who lived in Kingsport, Tennessee. At that time, Bessie suffered from a bad back and was "getting a little forgetful." Sometime in 2013, Thomas called his sister, the defendant, and suggested that either they place their mother in an assisted living facility in Tennessee or that the defendant move to Tennessee and help him take care of their mother. Sometime between February and April of 2013, the defendant and her daughter, Lauren Looney, brought Bessie back with them to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thomas stated that he was sure Bessie could have afforded a good nursing home and that he and Bessie owned several properties. Thomas worked for a paper mill and made a salary in excess of $100, 000.00. He explained that if the defendant had indicated she needed help caring for their mother, he would have called on one of the members of their large extended family for assistance. Additionally, he had always sent money to the defendant when she asked for assistance, and on the last occasion, he had sent the defendant $500.00.

         On September 29, 2014, Sergeant Glenn Hutto was called to the home of the defendant in Baton Rouge to photograph the scene of a death. Regarding the condition of the residence, Sgt. Hutto noted that it had a strong, bad odor. In one of the bedrooms, he discovered Bessie dead and slumped over in a wheelchair. Sgt. Hutto testified that the floors were sticky from "some form of waste all over it." When Bessie was removed from the wheelchair by someone from the coroner' office, police officers observed that she had multiple wounds on her lower back and posterior. Her skin had so adhered to the wheelchair's strap that the officers had difficulty removing the strap. Her skin had also adhered to the pad on which she sat. She was nude from the waist down with a dress draped over her head. Corporal Sherri Harris, the lead detective on the case, testified that it appeared someone had attempted to dress Bessie, but was unable to fit the dress onto Bessie's body because of the onset of rigor mortis. Corp. Harris noted that the sheets were the only clean items in the room. When police returned with a search warrant, they discovered that the stench came partially from the closet in Bessie's room. When police opened the door, the swarm of flies that flew out was so thick that the officers were forced to exit the house because they could not breathe without inhaling a fly. The officers discovered that the closet was full of soiled bedsheets, soiled diapers, and "paddings." Additionally, the officers discovered that Bessie's bedroom was "covered in urine and fecal matter" and that it also covered her wheelchair, the bathtub, the bathroom, and the clothes recovered from the closet.

         When police officers received information from the coroner regarding Bessie's bedsores, they arrested the defendant and Lauren for cruelty to the infirmed. Bessie's doctor indicated at trial that on April 11, 2013, the last time he weighed her, Bessie weighed one hundred and thirty pounds. He stated that the family told him they had not been giving Bessie her prescribed B-12 shots because they did not have any syringes. He also testified that after May of 2013, there was no indication that Bessie was seen again by any doctor at the Baton Rouge Clinic.

         Dr. William "Beau" Clark, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner and the State's expert witness in emergency medicine, testified that Bessie weighed eighty-two pounds at the time of her death. She also had multiple infected bedsores, one of which extended into the muscle and bone of her right hip. Other bedsores were found on the rest of her body, including her shoulder, elbow, foot, knee, wrist, and hand. Dr. Clark testified that Bessie's cause of death was septic shock as a result of the bedsores becoming infected with bacteria from feces. The autopsy also revealed that Bessie suffered from high blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and osteoporosis and that her kidney functions were consistent with an individual who was dehydrated. The toxicology report revealed that none of the medicines that are used to treat the medical conditions from which Bessie suffered were present.[2]

         At trial, the defendant's friend, Cynthia Eagles, indicated the defendant worked for the City of Baton Rouge Public Works Department, and her employers did not appreciate her hard work, and her work environment was "hostile" because she was "bullied" at work. She characterized the defendant as a "hard-working person that struggled a lot" and "a proud person who didn't want people to know about her struggle." Ms. Eagles also testified that the defendant, who did not have a vehicle, never asked her to drive Bessie to the doctor.

         Another friend of the defendant, Chinquania Gallo, testified that the defendant had a number of physical ailments and suffered from work stress. She also stated that the defendant struggled with her finances and a lack of transportation. The defendant did not, however, ever ask Ms. Gallo to help her transport Bessie to the doctor or hospital.

         Dr. Herman Soong, a psychiatrist, testified that the defendant could distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the offense and that the defendant told him that she was unaware that her mother had bedsores. However, she later told him that she knew of the bedsores, but claimed she was unaware of their severity. The defendant also told Dr. Soong that she waited approximately an hour to call 911 after she discovered her mother had died because she wanted to change the sheets and dress her mother first. Dr. Soong testified that at the time ...

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