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
E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee
L. BREWER, III JOSHUA K. WILLIAMS TOMMY J. JOHNSON Assistant
WILLIAMS, MOORE, and STEPHENS, JJ.
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.
following reasons, the defendant's conviction and
sentence are affirmed.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
also confirmed that Ex. 31, the stabbing video clip, was
recorded from her front porch by a friend of her brother.
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 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.
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.
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.
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