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State v. McGill

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 10, 2019


          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 331, 475 Honorable Ramona Emanuel, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Peggy J. Sullivan Counsel for Appellant

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          EDWIN L. BREWER, III JOSHUA K. WILLIAMS TOMMY J. JOHNSON Assistant District Attorneys

          Before WILLIAMS, MOORE, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         The defendant, Brittney McGill, was indicted for the second degree murder of her friend, Gabrielle "Gabby" Cooper, during a physical altercation that erupted from a dispute over a car. After trial, the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, a violation of La. R.S. 14:31, thereby rejecting McGill's claim of justifiable homicide. The court sentenced McGill to 22 years' imprisonment at hard labor. This appeal followed.

         For the following reasons, the defendant's conviction and sentence are affirmed.


         Brittney McGill and Gabby Cooper were friends who purchased a yellow Chevrolet Cobalt together. Gabby provided the money to purchase the car, but because she had no driver's license as required to register the vehicle, Brittney agreed to register it in her own name. Things soon fell apart. According to trial testimony from witnesses who knew the circumstances, when the car's temporary paper tags were near expiration, Gabby advertised on Facebook seeking someone who could provide underground tags. Brittney also heard that Gabby was letting other people use the car. On April 11, 2015, accompanied by police, Brittney retrieved the Cobalt and parked it at her residence. This was two days before the incident leading to Gabby's death.[1]

         On April 13, 2015, La'Tia "Tia" Haynes drove Gabby and Sha'Crystal "Crystal" Burrough to a house on the corner of 69th Street and Clift Street, where the Cobalt was parked in the driveway. The house is owned by the parents of Haston "Head" Smith Jr., who was Brittney's boyfriend at that time. Brittney was in the house when the young women arrived.

         The house faces 69th Street at the corner of Clift Street. La'Tia parked her car around the corner on Cliff St. beside the front yard. As the trio entered the fenced yard, Head Smith arrived in his green Mustang and backed into the driveway in front of the yellow Cobalt. He was accompanied by two male friends, Sha'Cortez Monroe and Jacobe Harris. Crystal testified that they asked Head about getting the Cobalt. Brittney immediately stepped outside and said, "She ain't getting nothing!" Tia Haynes confirmed that Brittney refused to give the Cobalt to Cooper.

         Crystal and Tia both testified that Gabby and Brittney "just started fighting" right then and there in the driveway. Crystal did not see or know who threw the first punch. She testified that the fight went on for some time, consisting of three or four "rounds." She said they kept stopping or that she and Head would break the combatants up, but their arguing led them to start fighting again. Crystal said that there were no weapons used while the fight was contained in the driveway. At some point in the fight or perhaps during a break in the action, Gabby ripped the paper tags off the Cobalt.[2]

         At least two onlookers video-recorded parts of the fight on their cell phones. Crystal and Tia made four such video clips on Crystal's cell phone, and police copied these onto a DVD introduced into evidence as Ex. 30 and played to the jury. Of limited quality and duration, their main usefulness was to enable the jury to understand and compare testimony regarding the scene of the fight and to identify the participants and onlookers in the fight by their clothing. Importantly, the jurors were able to assess the actions of the two women leading up to the actual stabbing.

         Tia testified that after the third round, she, Tia and Gabby began walking out of the driveway to Tia's car. She said the stabbing occurred in the street behind Tia's parked vehicle on Clift St. A higher quality cell phone video of this fatal stage of the fight was recorded from the front porch of the house directly across the street (introduced as Ex. 31). The recording shows Tia (wearing shorts) standing on the sidewalk corner just outside the front yard of the house while Gabby (wearing pink pants) and Crystal (wearing a pink sweater) are standing near the edge of the property on the right side of the driveway. At the same time, Brittney (wearing white pants and black blouse) is seen walking out from the carport on the right side of the two cars parked in the driveway with her hands on her hair. As she walked around the corner of the Mustang toward the three women, Gabby backed onto the sidewalk while Tia and Crystal stepped toward Brittney. Gabby then turned and began walking away from the corner onto the street, heading toward the middle of the intersection. Brittney, who initially walked across the yard toward Tia's car, evaded Tia and Crystal and began walking toward Gabby. When Gabby looked back and saw Brittney approaching her, she stopped and faced Brittney while backing up toward Tia's car. Brittney lunged toward Gabby, thrusting several times with her right arm as Gabby was backing onto the corner sidewalk screaming. Tia testified at trial that Gabby screamed that she had been stabbed, but also she (Tia) did not realize this until she collapsed by her car. The video confirms Tia's testimony that Gabby screamed several times and then collapsed behind her car. As several onlookers rushed toward Gabby behind Tia's car, Brittney can be seen walking out from the carport on the right side of the two cars, looking toward Tia's car, then turning and walking back toward the carport. At this moment the video ended.

         Crystal and Tia testified that they waited until an ambulance came and picked up Gabby to take her to the hospital. They intended to go to the hospital but were stopped by police and brought in for questioning about the incident.

         There were other witnesses at trial whose testimony corroborated the video evidence. Laretha Moore testified that she was in her home directly across the street on West 69th St. when she heard noise outside. Moore went outside and saw two women fighting at the house across the street. She identified Gabby Cooper, a former coworker, as one of the women, and said that she attempted to talk to them and convince them to stop fighting. When it seemed as though the fighting was over, Moore went back into her house, but soon heard another commotion. When she went outside again, it looked as though Gabby was leaving. Moore walked to the end of her driveway and observed the two women fighting again. She did not actually see the stabbing, but heard Gabby say that she had been stabbed.

         Moore also confirmed that Ex. 31, the stabbing video clip, was recorded from her front porch by a friend of her brother.

         Henry Jones, another neighbor who witnessed the fight, testified that he heard a commotion outside. He opened his front door and observed two women fighting in the front yard of the house cater-corner to his across the intersection. Jones testified that the fighting stopped and Gabby[3] grabbed the tags off one of the cars and started toward the car parked on Clift St. (Tia's vehicle); Brittney then followed Gabby out of the yard. He saw Brittney rush at Gabby and make a thrusting motion, and then Cooper fell to the ground. Jones stated that, when he "saw it getting really crazy," he called 911.

         EMS transported Gabby to University Health, where physicians were unable to stop the bleeding from her heart, and she died. After EMS arrived, Crystal and Tia left the scene in Tia's vehicle, but were stopped by police and taken in for statements. Head Smith, Sha'Cortez Monroe and Jacobe Harris were also taken to the detectives' office to give statements. Thereafter, Smith could not be located, and he did not testify at trial. A bench warrant was issued for him as a material witness.

         Each of the witnesses confirmed that Gabby Cooper was stabbed by Brittney McGill. One of the men, Sha'Cortez Monroe, reported to Shreveport Police Corporal David Bonillas that he picked up the knife used to stab Gabby and placed it inside the house on the kitchen counter. Police retrieved that knife and other kitchen knives from the counter during their initial investigation. The murder weapon was identified and introduced into evidence at trial.

         Officer Jeffrey Hammer responded to the scene and took Brittney into custody. Brittney gave a voluntary, recorded statement to Cpl. Bonillas, saying that she stabbed Gabby because Gabby would not stop fighting and no one would intervene to stop it. Brittney also stated that she retrieved a knife to protect herself because there were three other women. When ...

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