FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 521-673,
SECTION "0" Honorable Benedict J. Willard, Judge
Cannizzaro Donna Andrieu Irena Zajickova COUNSEL FOR THE
STATE OF LOUISIANA/APPELLEE
Herrle-Castillo LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT COUNSEL FOR
composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Regina
Bartholomew-Woods, Judge Dale N. Atkins
N. ATKINS, JUDGE
and Lakeitha Joseph ("victims") were reported
missing on February 19, 2014. Nearly a month later, their
bodies were recovered from the Intracoastal Waterway in New
Orleans. After a lengthy investigation that brought
investigators to Georgia, Texas, and across southeast
Louisiana, the New Orleans Police Department determined that
several people were involved in the double murder and had
conspired to cover up the evidence.
August 28, 2014, the State charged Horatio Johnson
("defendant") with two counts of second degree
murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1; one count of
conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice by tampering with
evidence, a violation of La. R.S. 14:26 and 14:130.1; and one
count of obstruction of justice, a violation of La. R.S.
14:130.1, in connection with the murders of defendant's
cousin, Kenneth Joseph, and Kenneth's wife, Lakeitha
pled not guilty to all charges on September 4, 2014. On
January 21, 2017, the trial court denied defendant's
motions to suppress evidence, identification, and statements.
A jury trial was held between August 21 and August 31, 2017.
The State presented testimony from several witnesses and
introduced numerous exhibits. After the State rested its
case, defense counsel notified the court that it did not
intend to call any witnesses. The jury returned a verdict of
guilty on all counts, with eleven-to-one verdicts for the
second degree murder convictions and the conspiracy to
obstruct justice conviction, and a unanimous verdict to
convict for obstruction of justice.
filed a motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and a
motion for new trial, both of which the trial court denied.
Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit
of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on each count
of second-degree murder (counts 1 and 2); twenty years for
the count of conspiracy to obstruct justice (count 3); and
forty years for obstruction of justice (count 4), with the
sentences to be served consecutively. Defendant now appeals
his convictions. We affirm defendant's conviction and
and LaKeitha Joseph borrowed a Dodge Caravan from
Kenneth's sister, Ms. Alosia Hayward, on February 18,
2014. When they did not return the van to Ms. Hayward the
following morning, she tried calling them throughout the day,
but she received no response. That evening, she, her mother,
and her sister drove to the victims' home in Reserve,
Louisiana, but neither the van nor the Josephs were there.
The victims' house had been ransacked. Ms. Hayward stated
that either her mother or her sister reported the Josephs
missing to the St. John the Baptist Parish authorities.
Scene Investigator Scotty Lewis with the St. John the Baptist
Parish Sheriff's Office testified that he investigated a
call of a residential burglary at 530 Homewood Place in
Reserve. Lewis spoke with the first responding officer on the
scene, photographed the exterior and interior of the
residence, and swabbed various surfaces in the residence for
Kirsten McAbee of the St. John the Baptist Parish
Sheriff's Office began investigating the victims'
disappearance by entering their names into the national
database of missing persons and posting neighborhood flyers.
McAbee obtained the victims' cell phone records, which
showed that Lakeitha Joseph's last outgoing call occurred
on the night that she went missing, February 18, 2014.
Detective McAbee's analysis indicated that Lakeitha's
phone moved from Reserve to LaPlace to Lutcher and, finally,
to Kenner on that same date. McAbee also obtained a search
warrant for defendant's residence in LaPlace, and a
warrant to search the home of Brittany Martin,
defendant's girlfriend. McAbee confiscated a Toshiba
laptop computer and an iPad from the victims' residence.
McAbee subsequently learned that the victims' van was
sighted at a Georgia Travelodge Hotel and that the van was
associated with a Travelodge guest named Frank Mike.
Georgia, Officer James Jackson, Jr. of the Fulton County
Police Department responded to a call of an abandoned Dodge
Caravan in the College Park area on February 27, 2014.
Jackson learned that the van had been reported stolen from
LaPlace, Louisiana, and the report bore the notation
"missing endangered person. Hold for latent
prints." Jackson impounded the vehicle for processing.
County Police notified Detective McAbee that they had located
the victims' missing van in College Park, Georgia. The
Georgia authorities searched the area for the victims,
canvassed for witnesses, and obtained a search warrant for
Helen Weathers was an expert forensic crime scene
investigator for the Fulton County Police Department in
Atlanta, Georgia. On March 1, 2014, pursuant to a warrant,
she processed the 2010 Dodge Caravan. She photographed the
van and examined its exterior and interior, noting that it
had recently been washed, but the tires had not been cleaned
and were visibly dirty. The key was in the ignition; a
receipt from LaPlace, Louisiana, was found; and two coffee
packets were seen in the front console. There were reddish
stains on the floor board near the sliding door on the side
of the van and on the floor next to the driver's seat,
large blood stains on and under the second-row and third-row
seats and floor mats, and blood stains behind the side
interior paneling. Ms. Weathers swabbed the interior of the
van for DNA evidence and collected other evidence from the
van's interior, all of which was subsequently transferred
to the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). Ms. Weathers
also obtained guest registration information and surveillance
video from the Travelodge Hotel in College Park, Georgia.
Joseph's body was recovered from the Intracoastal
Waterway in New Orleans on March 10, 2014. Several days
later, on March 22, 2014, the NOPD retrieved Kenneth
Joseph's body, bound in blue rope with a kettle bell
attached, from the same waterway. The case was now designated
as a homicide investigation.
Detective Robert Bachelder was present at the scene when both
bodies were retrieved. At trial, Bachelder identified crime
lab photographs showing that the victims' ankles were
bound by rope, and that a thirty-pound kettlebell was
attached to the rope that bound Kenneth Joseph's ankles.
Erin O'Sullivan, a forensic pathologist with the Orleans
Parish Coroner's Office, performed an autopsy on the body
of Lakeitha Joseph. Ms. Joseph had suffered a subscapular
hemorrhage on the left side of her head, as if she had been
struck; however, Dr. O'Sullivan testified that the blow
would not have caused her death, as there was no accompanying
fracture of the skull. Dr. O'Sullivan noted that the blue
rope knotted around the victim's ankles had caused
abrasions to the skin on the legs. In addition, the
victim's lower right leg was fractured. Dr.
O'Sullivan found no evidence of gunshot or knife wounds.
She stated that Ms. Joseph died of asphyxia by drowning.
Richard Tracy, another pathologist with the Orleans Parish
Coroner's Office, performed an autopsy on the body of
Kenneth Joseph. Mr. Joseph's body had arrived at the
Coroner's Office with a kettlebell and rope attached to
his legs. The body exhibited signs of decomposition,
bloating, and discoloration of skin, but there were no signs
of penetrating or blunt force injuries, and no hematomas or
broken bones. Dr. Tracy testified that Orleans Parish Coroner
Dr. Rouse classified the death as a homicide by drowning.
parties who had been charged with the disappearance of the
Josephs testified for the State at defendant's trial.
Frank Mike testified that he arrived at his house in
New Orleans East on February 19, 2014, to find a silver Dodge
Caravan parked in his driveway by his friend Steven
"Future" Bradley. Bradley, along with Horatio
Johnson, Amir "Blue" Ybarra, and an unknown black
female arrived at Mike's house and moved the van to the
back of the house. Bradley gave Mike permission to drive the
van to Atlanta on business, but Bradley instructed Mike not
to put anything in the back of the van because it might be
stained by blood. When Mike opened the van's door, he saw
blood in the back.
testified that he arrived in the Atlanta area on February 20,
2014, and booked a room at the Travelodge Hotel in College
Park for two nights. Mike later learned that a van just like
the one he borrowed from Bradley was connected to a missing
couple from Reserve, Louisiana. During the two days he was in
Atlanta, Mike repeatedly tried to call Bradley. When Bradley
finally returned Mike's calls, he did so using
defendant's cell phone. Mike decided to abandon the van.
He washed it, vacuumed the inside, wiped down the interior,
and parked it at an apartment complex about a mile from the
Travelodge Hotel. Mike and Bradley later got into a heated
argument by cell phone, during which Bradley told Mike that
he had used the van to rob a couple of $200, 000.00 and
several bricks of cocaine.
April 3, 2014, after learning that the victims' bodies
had been recovered, Mike spoke to NOPD Detective Ryan Vaught
and identified photos of Bradley and defendant, whom he knew
Donald Silva, a former bail bondsman and friend of Bradley,
testified that he told the police that Bradley had confessed
to him that the Josephs were lured to a recording studio in
the 2400 block of David Drive where they were beaten to death
by Steven Bradley, Amir "Blue" Ybarra, and
defendant. Silva testified that Bradley and Ybarra
transported the victims' bodies in a van and dumped them
in the Intracoastal Waterway, as defendant had instructed.
Silva added that the motive for the murders was a large sum
of money. On cross-examination, Silva confirmed that he was
not present when the murders occurred and that he had learned
of the murders from Bradley.
Brittany Martin also was charged with the second degree
murders of Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph, but she pled guilty
to obstruction of justice in exchange for the State's
agreement to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against
defendant's trial, Ms. Martin described defendant as her
boyfriend, indicating that they began their romantic
relationship about two years before the murders. Ms. Martin
said that she was in love with defendant and thought that
they would marry. She testified that on February 18, 2014,
she received a telephone call from defendant asking her to
meet him at a recording studio on David Drive. From the
studio, she accompanied defendant to a warehouse near the
airport where Kenneth and Lakeitha Joseph met them. The
Josephs arrived at the warehouse in a van and stood outside
talking to defendant. She and defendant then drove back to
the recording studio in her Toyota Scion while the Josephs
followed in their van. Defendant and Kenneth Joseph entered
the studio while she and Lakeitha Joseph remained in their
respective vehicles. Twenty minutes later defendant exited
the studio and summoned Ms. Martin and Lakeitha Joseph into
the studio to hear Kenneth Joseph rapping. Lakeitha entered
the dark studio followed by defendant and Ms. Martin, at
which point defendant began to strangle Lakeitha Joseph. Ms.
Martin screamed and ran outside, then returned to the studio
because she thought she had left her car key. When she
realized her car key was in her back pocket, she exited the
studio and drove to a gas station on Veterans Boulevard where
she sat and drank a soda. She stated that she did not call
the police because she was in shock and was not thinking
clearly. Defendant called her and asked her to return to the
studio, and she complied.
she returned, defendant greeted Ms. Martin outside. Defendant
re-entered the studio, but she remained in her car. She
claimed that she did not call the police at that time because
she feared what defendant might do to her family. When she
told defendant she was leaving, he got into the car with her.
They drove to a retail store where she purchased a knife for
protection and hid it in her bra. She drove back to the
recording studio and defendant went inside while she sat in
her car. Fifteen minutes later they drove to defendant's
residence in LaPlace where he washed and changed his clothes
and shoes. He packed the items that he had been wearing in a
plastic bag, which he put in the trunk of her car. They drove
to a deserted area so defendant could burn the bag. After
burning the bag of clothing, they drove to the Walmart in
Kenner, arriving about 1:00 a.m. Defendant took her car key
and made her enter the store with him. Defendant purchased
rope, a kettlebell, gloves, articles of clothing, and
degreaser. They checked out at the self-serve register using
Ms. Martin's American Express card and returned to the
recording studio. Ms. Martin remained in her car as the
defendant entered the studio with the items purchased at
Martin noticed that the Joseph's van was still parked in
the back of the studio. About twenty minutes later, defendant
exited the studio accompanied by Bradley and
"Blue," who drove the victims' van to the front
door, where the men loaded two large items into the back of
the van. Ms. Martin thought the items were the victims'
to Ms. Martin, Steven Bradley and "Blue" drove the
van, with defendant and Ms. Martin following in Ms.
Martin's Scion, to New Orleans East, where the
victims' bodies were tossed into the water. They then
went to LaPlace for gas, but Ms. Martin's credit card was
declined. Bradley and Blue later met Ms. Martin and defendant
and traveled to Baton Rouge to Bradley's mother's
house; they all then went to "Box's" house and
cleaned the van's interior and exterior. After cleaning
it, Bradley and "Blue" drove the van back to Frank
Mike's house in New Orleans. After the men spoke with
Mike, Ms. Martin drove them back to the recording studio.
According to Ms. Martin, defendant and "Blue" got
manicures to remove the blood from under their nails; she
drove to Wendy's for food and then drove defendant home.
Martin continued her romantic relationship with defendant
until May 7, 2014, when she surrendered to the police.
Sometime before turning herself in, however, Ms. Martin and
defendant drove to Texas where they purchased two
thirty-pound kettlebells. Defendant instructed Ms. Martin to take
them to her home and, if anyone asked, she should say that
she used them to exercise. Ms. Martin testified that when she
left defendant, he warned her to keep quiet.
cross-examination, Ms. Martin stated that she met defendant
while she was a correctional officer. Attempting to refute
Ms. Martin's assertion that she did not go to the police
because she feared the consequences from defendant, counsel
for defendant elicited testimony that between February 18,
2014, and April 9, 2014, Ms. Martin was researching
engagement and wedding rings, honeymoon destinations, and car
and real estate prices in and around the New Orleans area.
She also said she accompanied defendant to visit his family
in Texas on March 30, 2014, where they celebrated her
birthday. Defense counsel also confronted Ms. Martin with
romantic letters that she sent defendant while both she and
defendant were incarcerated on these charges. Defense counsel
posited that Ms. Martin accused defendant of the murders in
retaliation for reneging on his promise to marry her, but Ms.
Martin denied that assertion.
Buendia testified that he and defendant were friends, and
that he had done some graphic design work for defendant's
business and for Ms. Martin's business. Around April 25,
2014, Buendia drove defendant to an apartment on Houma
Boulevard and then drove home. Defendant returned to
Buendia's house accompanied by Ms. Martin; they spent the
night at Buendia's house. The following morning,
defendant asked Buendia to take a ride with him, and
defendant, Buendia, and Ms. Martin drove to a Walmart in
Texas. Defendant told Buendia to purchase a thirty-pound
kettlebell, which defendant had placed in a specific location
in the store. They traveled to another Walmart where
defendant and Buendia repeated the routine, and then returned
to Buendia's ...