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State v. Bragg

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 7, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
STEPHAN TYLER BRAGG

          APPEAL FROM THE THIRTY-FIFTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF GRANT, NO. 2016-759 HONORABLE WARREN D. WILLETT, DISTRICT JUDGE.

          Justin C. Harrell Attorney At Law COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Stephan Tyler Bragg

          James P. Lemoine District Attorney Thirty-Fifth Judicial District Court Renee W. Nugent Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Shannon J. Gremillion, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          SHANNON J. GREMILLION JUDGE

         On August 12, 2016, Defendant, Stephan Tyler Bragg, was charged by bill of information with ten counts of sexual battery, in violation of La.R.S. 14:43.1. The ten counts were alleged to have occurred between October 25, 2014, and June 9, 2016, and all concerned a juvenile victim, K.R.D. (DOB: 10/25/2005).[1]

         On April 26, 2018, a 10-2 jury found Defendant guilty of five counts of sexual battery and not guilty of the remaining five counts. On May 24, 2018, the trial court sentenced Defendant to forty-five years imprisonment at hard labor with the first twenty-five years to be served without benefits on each count and ordered the sentences to run concurrently. Although defense counsel objected to the introduction of a district attorney's file related to Defendant's prior conviction for carnal knowledge of a juvenile, no objection was made as to the actual sentence, nor was a motion to reconsider sentence ever filed.

         Defendant now appeals his convictions and sentences, raising three assignments of error: (1) there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions; (2) his rights were violated by the trial court allowing Jada Bragg, the victim's cousin, to testify under La.Code Evid. art. 801(D)(1)(d) as a first reporter; and (3) his rights were violated when the State introduced into the record evidence related to his prior conviction for carnal knowledge of a juvenile during sentencing. For the following reasons, Defendant's convictions and sentences are affirmed.

         FACTS

         The State's first witness was Captain James Watkins of the Grant Parish Sheriff's Office. Captain Watkins testified that he was promoted from Detective to Captain in February of 2017. He noted that, as a detective, his job included investigating everything from petty theft to murder. Captain Watkins also testified there was no special unit in Grant Parish for addressing sex crimes. Captain Watkins testified that he was involved in the investigation of Defendant, and said he has worked on roughly thirty sex-offense cases. Captain Watkins stated the investigation into Defendant began when Katie Devine and William Bragg, the victim's parents, brought her into the station on June 10, 2016.

         Captain Watkins described the sheriff's process for investigation of juvenile sex offenses, noting they immediately remove the juvenile from the room and ask the parents not to question the child about the incident to avoid influencing the child's answers when they are questioned by someone at the Rapides Advocacy Center. Captain Watkins testified that he was in an adjacent room with the ability to speak to the interviewer during the victim's recorded interview, but that only the forensic interviewer was in the room with the victim. After the victim disclosed that she was abused by Defendant, her uncle, Captain Watkins obtained an arrest warrant.

         Captain Watkins acknowledged that he did not schedule a medical exam of the victim, noting that in his experience, a medical exam would not have been helpful since the allegations involved "using the digits." Captain Watkins noted the victim stated there had been three to four months between the last time she was abused and when it was reported because "[s]he was scared to tell anybody what was going on so nobody knew um, she would just tell her parents that she did not want to go over there, and they didn't think nothing of it, and they continued to bring her over there." It was noted that Defendant is the brother of the victim's father.

         On cross-examination, Captain Watkins stated that in June 2016, there were four detectives at the Grant Parish Sheriff's Office. Captain Watkins acknowledged he had not had any special training regarding sex offenses since his time at the police academy. He further noted that during the victim's interview at the advocacy center, the only people able to monitor the interview would be the detective investigating the case and a representative from the Department of Child and Family Services, if they had become involved. Captain Watkins acknowledged the victim told the interviewer that Defendant had, on multiple occasions, penetrated her vagina digitally and that it hurt badly every time he did so. Captain Watkins again admitted that he made the decision not to seek a medical examination in the case. When asked if he was familiar with what a hymen was or how a doctor would conduct a physical exam, Captain Watkins stated, "I am not a doctor." Captain Watkins also verified that he did not speak with Dominique Bragg or Donna Tyler, Defendant's wife and mother-in-law, as their names were not mentioned by the victim during her interview.

         On re-direct, Captain Watkins noted one of the reasons he did not have a vaginal examination done was because it was unlikely there would be evidence present, given the victim said it had been months since the last time Defendant had touched her. He also stated that neither Defendant's wife nor mother-in-law have attempted to speak with him since Defendant was arrested.

         The State's next witness was the victim's first cousin, Jada Bragg, who testified that she was sixteen-years old and in the tenth grade. She stated that Defendant was her uncle, her mother's brother, and that she called him Tyler. Jada testified that she is three years older than K.R.D. and is like a big sister to K.R.D. She testified that one night, K.R.D. spent the night with Jada and her mother after they had all been at Defendant's house earlier in the day. Jada noted that Defendant, his wife Dominique, their daughter Layla, and Dominique's mother lived in the house. She testified they had been at Defendant's home for no more than three hours. Jada noted that while she and Layla, who was only about two or three years old, did not have a great relationship, Layla and K.R.D. were very close and Layla would always cry when K.R.D. left.

         Jada testified that Layla wanted K.R.D. to spend the night, which was normal, but K.R.D. did not want to stay, whereas she normally would spend the night. Jada stated that when she asked K.R.D. why she did not want to stay with Layla, K.R.D. initially would not give her a reason but then started crying. Jada testified that, after a couple of tries, K.R.D. managed to tell her she did not want to stay because Defendant would touch her and it hurt, eventually telling Jada that he would touch her "lower region." Jada asked why K.R.D. had not told her before, and K.R.D. told her that she did not want "Layla to have a broken up family." Jada stated that K.R.D. did not want her to tell anyone, but that after about an hour she was having a panic attack and told her mother, who then told K.R.D.'s mother, Katie. Jada noted that knowing what K.R.D. was going through made her sad, stated everything she had said was the truth, and no one had spoken to her about what to say at trial.

         Jada testified that she told her mother what K.R.D. had told her initially and that her mother told K.R.D.'s mother. She seemed very unsure of whether she had ever spoke to Captain Watkins or when and where any conversation with him took place. She acknowledged that Defendant's home had wood floors but was unsure if the house was on a slab or if it was elevated off the ground. She restated that she thought it was weird that K.R.D. did not want to stay at Defendant's with Layla the way she normally did, which led to K.R.D. telling Jada about Defendant touching her.

         The State's next witness was Ms. Shelly Bell, a Christus Health employee previously employed by the Rapides Children's Advocacy Center. Ms. Bell noted she had a Bachelors' degree in Family and Child Studies from Louisiana Tech, a week of intensive training on being a forensic interviewer, then continuing training and education while working for the advocacy center. She noted that as a forensic interviewer, her goal was "just to hopefully not traumatize [the children] more." She testified she interviewed K.R.D. on June 13, 2016, at the advocacy center office in Alexandria. Ms. Bell stated that once the interview began, it was her interview, so while a detective might have questions or concerns about certain facts, they did not tell her explicitly what to ask.

         Ms. Bell testified that immediately after an interview, she would stop the recording and make a DVD for the detective to keep for their file. She also stated that if requested, another member of the office would transcribe the video, then she would review it and deliver it to the detective. Ms. Bell testified at the end of her interview with K.R.D., she utilized an anatomical drawing to verify what part of the body K.R.D. was discussing, giving the following reasoning:

Throughout the interview um, she was very reluctant to - - to refer to a certain name for any body part. Um, and so in that case, it was either just a gesture or down there, or where I use the restroom, so just for clarification, to make sure there were no assumption[s] whatsoever, I went and got the drawing and had her circle the body part on her body that she was talking about.

         Ms. Bell stated she believed K.R.D. was nine at the time of the interview. The State then played the video of K.R.D.'s interview with Ms. Bell while distributing a copy of the transcript of the interview to each member of the jury.

         K.R.D.'s Interview at Rapides ...


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