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State v. Guidry

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 8, 2019



          Keith A. Stutes Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Michele S. Billeaud Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Edward K. Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Miles J. Guidry

          Miles J. Guidry Louisiana State Prison PRO SE: Miles J. Guidry

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Shannon J. Gremillion, and John E. Conery, Judges.


         Defendant, Miles J. Guidry, was charged by indictment on March 23, 2016, with one count of second degree murder, a violation of La.R.S. 14:30.1. On May 24, 2016, he waived formal arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. Defendant filed numerous motions, including a "Motion for Prieur Hearing," "Motion to Suppress Search of Vehicle In Colorado," "Motion to Suppress Gruesome but Otherwise Extremely Prejudicial Photographs and Evidence," "Motion to Exclude the Note Recovered from the Suzuki XL-7 by Glendale Police," "Motion in Limine to Exclude Irrelevant and Inadmissible Character Evidence," "Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Prior Bad Acts as it is Inadmissible Hearsay," and "Motion in Limine to Preclude the Forensic Pathologist from Offering Any Opinion Testimony Outside His Written Reports." All of the motions were denied by the trial court. Defendant then sought supervisory writs with this court as to the gruesome photographs, and this court remanded the matter, ruling that the trial court must make an individual determination as to each of the over 400 photographs.

         Trial began on May 7, 2018, and on May 15, 2018, a unanimous jury returned a verdict of guilty. At the May 29, 2018 sentencing hearing, the trial court ruled on Defendant's May 25, 2018 motion for a new trial, advising him that the motion was denied. Defendant then made an oral motion for a post-verdict judgment of acquittal, which was also denied. Defendant was then sentenced to the statutorily-mandated life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, and the trial court instructed him that he was given credit for time served. On May 29, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion for Appeal and Designation of Record which the trial court granted on May 31, 2018. Defendant assigns the following errors, which we address in differing order:

1. The trial court erred in allowing inadmissible other crimes evidence to be admitted.
2. The trial court erred in denying defense counsel's challenges for cause.
3. The trial court erred in denying defense counsel's Motion in Limine regarding the note found in Miles Guidry's vehicle.
4. The trial court erred in allowing Detective Neil St. Cyr to testify as an expert in several areas.
5. The trial court erred in allowing Dr. Christopher Tape to testify to information not in his autopsy report.
6. The trial court erred in that the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, was insufficient to find Miles Guidry guilty of second degree murder.
7. The trial court erred in denying defense counsel's Motion to Suppress Gruesome or Otherwise Extremely Prejudicial Photographs and Evidence.


         On November 28, 2015, the victim, Claire Walley, and Defendant brought their four-week-old son to the victim's mother's house so that the couple could go out and celebrate Defendant's birthday. At approximately 11:40 p.m., the victim and Defendant returned to pick up their son, talked to the victim's mother about returning the next day to watch the Saints game, and then went home.

         The next morning at about 6:00 a.m., Defendant's mother received a call from Defendant instructing her to come over to his home he shared with the victim and told his mother to enter through the back door. Once Defendant's mother arrived, she tried to enter through the back door, but it was locked, so she let herself in through the side door and discovered a trail of blood on the floor that lead to the victim. Defendant's mother then observed the victim lying on the floor in a pool of blood, with more blood coming from a cut on her neck, and a knife nearby. After calling her husband for support, she then called 911 as she tended to her grandson who she found crying, but unharmed, in a back room of the house. One of the responding officers, Deputy Jordan Ancelet, arrived and found two deputies on the scene. The three officers then entered the residence and found the deceased victim on the floor. The officers began to search the house to make sure there were no other occupants. After completing the sweep of the house, the officers exited the house to avoid contaminating the crime scene. The officers then ran the information on Defendant's vehicle to attempt to locate it, and cameras located the vehicle, via its license plate, going into Texas at about 3:49 a.m. Defendant was subsequently stopped for speeding in Woodville, Texas and issued a citation; however, the officer was delayed in receiving information that there was a warrant for Defendant's arrest. Defendant was eventually located in Glendale, Colorado, when Officer Trace Warrick observed Defendant's vehicle parked in an empty parking lot at 4:00 a.m. on December 7, 2015. After the officer ran the license plate and learned of the warrant for a homicide connected with a possible occupant of the vehicle, Defendant was handcuffed, and the vehicle was treated as a crime scene. Defendant was then sent back to Lafayette and booked into jail.


         In assignment of error six, Defendant contends the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction of second-degree murder. We consider this assignment of error first, in accordance with State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731 (La.1992).

         The analysis for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is well-settled:

When the issue of sufficiency of evidence is raised on appeal, the critical inquiry of the reviewing court is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, rehearing denied, 444 U.S. 890, 100 S.Ct. 195, 62 L.Ed.2d 126 (1979), State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559 (La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982); State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La.1981). It is the role of the fact finder to weight the respective credibility of the witnesses, and therefore, the appellate court should not second guess the credibility determinations of the triers of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under the Jackson standard of review. See State ex rel. Graffagnino, 436 So.2d 559 (citing State v. Richardson, 425 So.2d 1228 (La.1983)). In order for this Court to affirm a conviction, however, the record must reflect that the state has satisfied its burden of proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

State v. Kennerson, 96-1518, p. 5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/7/97), 695 So.2d 1367, 1371.

         Under La.R.S. 14:30.1, second degree murder is relevantly defined as the killing of a human being "[w]hen the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm[.]" As the fourth circuit noted in State v. White, 14-397, p. 17 (La.App. 4 Cir. 7/29/15), 174 So.3d 177, 189 (footnote omitted), writ denied, 15-1577 (La. 10/10/16), 207 So.3d 408, "to prove second degree murder the state must prove the killing of a human being either with specific intent or when the offender is engaged in one of the listed crimes." "The severity of the attack on the victim is an indicator of the defendant's specific intent to kill." State v. Corley, 97-235, p. 6 (La.App. 3 Cir. 10/8/97), 703 So.2d 653, 659, writ denied, 97-2845 (La. 3/13/98), 712 So.2d 875.

         In the instant case, Defendant contends that "[t]he essential elements of the crime of second degree murder were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In the alternative, it is respectfully submitted the trier of fact erred in finding Miles guilty of second degree murder instead of manslaughter as the record supports such a reduction."

         First, Defendant argues that too many errors were committed at the investigatory stage and at trial to allow a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To support his claim, Defendant highlights several alleged errors, many of which will be addressed in the assignments of error that follow due to Defendant's claims regarding the inadmissibility of certain pieces of evidence and claims regarding rulings made by the trial court on some of Defendant's motions.

         He first notes that a detective with the Lafayette Police Department, Detective Chris Beasley, testified that a suspect was immediately identified, which negated the need to prioritize the identification of a fingerprint found on one of the homicide weapons. Defendant also argues that the fingerprint that was found did not match Defendant and was not able compared to the victim because the victim was laid to rest without being fingerprinted.

         Secondly, Defendant points to the fact that all of his motions were denied by the trial court.

         Defendant next points out that one juror was a member of law enforcement (Kimberly Sassau) and another was a relative of the victim (Fritz Farrar). This issue is fully and more appropriately discussed in assignment of error number two.

         The next alleged error Defendant urges is his assertion that highly prejudicial "other crimes" evidence was admitted. The alleged inadmissible "other crimes" evidence is testimony from Detective St. Cyr, an investigator for the Lafayette Sheriff's Department, regarding marijuana he found when he opened some of the evidence boxes he received pursuant to the warrant executed by the Glendale Police Department. Defendant objected to the admissibility of the testimony as highly prejudicial "other crimes" evidence because possession of marijuana is illegal in Louisiana; however the trial court ruled it admissible with the agreement that the State would bring out the fact, through questioning, that Defendant was not committing a crime when he purchased and then possessed the marijuana since he was in Colorado, where it is legal. The admissibility of this evidence is addressed below. The evidence regarding the possession of marijuana was properly admitted.

         Defendant alleges that the crime scene was contaminated because of the unknown number of people who entered the residence after the murder. He bases this argument on testimony by Deputy Jordan Ancelet with the Lafayette Sheriff's Office indicating that he did not know how many people entered the house prior to his arrival. Further, Defendant points to Deputy Ancelet's testimony that he lacked training in crime scene integrity, and the only formal training he received was a basic course in the police academy about things like what not to step on when securing a crime scene. Deputy Ancelet did testify that he was only in the home long enough to verify that no one else was inside so as not to contaminate the scene any further than it might be contaminated during their sweep, then he and two other officers secured the scene by putting up crime scene tape to secure a primary and secondary perimeter. Defendant states that Detective Shea of the Lafayette Police Department testified that he was the only person at the crime scene wearing protective garments; however, his testimony, when asked whether he had on protective garments was, "We wore gloves and, I call them booties." Actually, it was Detective Beasley who testified that when the scene was being processed, he was the only person wearing Tyvek sleeves and a surgical mask in addition to the booties they wore.

         According to Defendant, another error was the admission into evidence of a highly prejudicial, unauthenticated note found in Defendant's vehicle. The note in question was found pursuant to the search executed by the Glendale Police Department on Defendant's vehicle following his arrest in Colorado. The note, which was read out loud by Detective Wroblewski with the Glendale Police Department, explained Defendant's actions and stated in relevant part:

This letter is not intended to be my excuse for why I did what I did, just an insight to the monster that built up inside of me and the cause that unleashed him. Claire did not deserve what she received, and now I am here full of regret and sorrow who [sic] are stricken with pain by my actions. Worst of all, I fear for our son and the life of opportunity that I have denied him. . . .
Before Wyatt was born, there was great stress between us. Our arguments increased in frequencies up until a few weeks before his birth. . . . She didn't want others to know about our problems though every now and then I would get so worked up feeling disrespected that I would forcefully grab her wanting her to understand my anger, but that would only lead her to fear me and want to leave. . . . I would get physical. It wasn't her faults [sic] that angered me. I loved her and accepted them. It was her inability to admit to them. . . . To make matters worse, I was constantly in school the entire time she was pregnant and that carried stress into us. . . . Whenever I wasn't consumed by school work, I would be at home, cook for her, tend to her needs, and all I wanted in return is to let me put all my attention on school for a few days so that I can achieve. Every time I would start getting into a rhythm, she would bring something up that pushes my buttons. . . . It made me feel so unsupported in my school work after as supportive I felt I've been with her and the pregnancy whenever I have a chance. . . . It grew resentment in her towards me, that her life is now over because of the baby. It would anger me so much that she was taking away the joy of being a parent. . . . [N]o matter what I said or did, that negative feeling towards me persisted. . . . I felt unwanted. . . . I just wish she would have taken the time to respect how my busy life consumes my time necessary away from her. It was this constant feeling of a lack of respect that I had, after I felt I had done well enough to deserve it. That grew into rage. . . .

         Defendant also cites the failure of twenty-two swabs of DNA to be submitted for testing as another error supporting his claim that the evidence was not sufficient to find him guilty of second degree murder. Detective Beasley testified that he did not submit twenty-two of thirty-seven DNA swabs for testing; however, he did state that later in the investigation other people would sometimes submit swabs to the lab after finding out additional information. Defendant also notes that there was a backpack found near the victim's head that was never swabbed.

         Defendant next points to the testimony of Winnie Kurowski, a forensic chemist with the Acadiana Crime Lab. On direct examination, Ms. Kurowski testified about the testing of blood samples on a bread knife found at the scene. Ms. Kurowski stated that the DNA profile on that knife matched the profile of the victim, and no other DNA profiles were found on these samples. Ms. Kurowski was questioned on cross-examination about testing of blood evidence. She testified that the crime lab tested samples that they deemed to be of probative value. Out of twenty-three items, seven were not tested for the presence of blood, because the crime lab did not suspect that they would be probative in nature; however, Ms. Kurowski did state that the defense, prosecution, or law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation could request testing on any items that had not been tested. Some of these items that were not tested included an infant onesie, a swab from a PT Cruiser, a swab from a set of blinds, a swab from a first aid kit latch, the victim's fingernails, and a swab from a bottle. Ms. Kurowski further testified that there was DNA present on the blade of the kitchen knife that did not match either the victim or Defendant. She further testified that to avoid cross-contamination of the samples, they wear gloves and masks, they wear their hair back, they keep their nails short, and they do not eat or drink near the samples. Despite these precautions, Ms. Kurowski stated that cross-contamination can still occur, and in the situation here with the mixed DNA profile, because the lab was not able to attribute the DNA profile to anyone associated with the case, they included in the report that the DNA profile could have been from contamination from a lab employee.

         Finally, according to Defendant, Dr. Christopher Tape, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on the victim, was erroneously allowed to testify to information that was not included in his autopsy report, admitted to making mistakes, and his autopsy report indicated no prior trauma to the victim's abdomen despite her having had a C-section four weeks before. On direct examination, Dr. Tape testified that he performed an autopsy on the victim and found that she had suffered fatal incise wounds, which are slices made with a knife or other bladed object, across the whole front of her neck. These wounds were multiple cuts that formed the same wound, and these cuts damaged the vascular structures and airway in her neck. Dr. Tape stated that his interpretation of the neck wounds was that they were formed from multiple sawing motions across the neck and that the purpose of doing that would be to kill, possibly in an attempt to decapitate the person. Dr. Tape later testified regarding the manner in which the wounds may have been inflicted. When the State asked him what the left side of the cut being deeper than the right side would indicate, he stated that it would be consistent with someone making cuts from behind the victim using their right hand. Defendant objected to this hypothesis because Dr. Tape had not included it in his report, but the trial court overruled the objection. Similarly, Defendant objected to Dr. Tape's testimony regarding his opinion that the wounds were not done in an instant because the sawing motion takes time and there were several cuts because Defendant stated that this testimony was also outside the information contained in his report. The trial court also overruled this objection. These issues are discussed in assignment of error number six.

         In its reply brief, the State argues that the evidence supporting Defendant's guilt is abundant. For example, the State points to the testimony of DNA analysts, Carolyn Booker and Ms. Kurowski, who both testified as to their analyses of the blood evidence. The State notes that Ms. Kurowski testified that the analysis of the blood found on Defendant's clothes that he was last seen wearing and the blood on the serrated knife found at the scene showed that it was victim's blood. Further, she testified that blood found on the victim's abdomen belonged to Defendant. When Defendant was arrested, he had an injury to his hand that he stated was from a self-inflicted cut that he sustained after midnight on November 29th, but he would not provide further details about how it was sustained. Booker testified that her analysis of the DNA found on the straight-edge knife belonged to both the victim and Defendant. Regarding the note found in Defendant's vehicle, the State argues that the note provided an explanation from Defendant as to why he committed the acts in question.

         The State also points to the circumstantial evidence presented at trial. The victim was found wearing the same clothes she was last seen in by her mother the night before, which would indicate that the murder happened not long after she arrived home for the night. Further, the trail of blood led from the victim's body through the house to Defendant's bloody clothes and to the couple's baby. As noted above, when Defendant was arrested, he had an injury to his hand. The jury was presented with information about Defendant fleeing despite making plans to see the victim's mother the next day and that when Defendant was found, he appeared to be living in his car and was in possession of the victim's wallet as well as the previously-mentioned note that explained Defendant's actions. The State further notes that the jury was also presented with evidence regarding the victim's injuries, including a punctured lung, punctured liver, and cuts to her neck so severe that Dr. Tape could not testify to how many wounds were inflicted there.

         Alternatively, Defendant argues that he is entitled to a reduction of the conviction to the lesser included offense of manslaughter. Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:31(A) defines manslaughter, in pertinent part, as follows:

(1) A homicide which would be murder under either Article 30 (first degree murder) or Article 30.1 (second degree murder), but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender's blood had actually cooled, or that an average person's blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed . . . .

         Sudden passion and heat of blood are mitigating factors that defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence. State v. Cofer, 16-871 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/5/17), 216 So.3d 313, writ denied, 17-1150 (La. 5/11/18), 241 So.3d 1014.

         Defendant argues that given the couple's plans to return to the victim's mother's house the next day, if Defendant did commit the crime, it must have been done in sudden passion and heat of blood. To further support this claim, Defendant hypothesizes that the stress of school, work, and a newborn became too much, and an argument ensued which caused him to snap and kill the victim.

         There is no evidence in the record supporting a reduction to manslaughter. Aside from Defendant's hypothesis, there is nothing in the record that even approaches a preponderance of the evidence for any mitigating factors.

         Considering the evidence presented in this case and the jurisprudence above, the unanimous guilty verdict was a rational decision pursuant to Kennerson. As the record supports a rational conclusion that Defendant had the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm of the victim, this assignment of error is without merit.


         In Defendant's first assignment of error, he alleges that the trial court erred in allowing inadmissible other crimes evidence to be admitted. The admission of this evidence occurred when the State's witness, Detective St. Cyr, was being questioned on direct examination. The following exchange took place:

Q. Okay. So was that evidence that was collected pursuant to that search warrant, was it sent to you?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. Tell me how that - what's that process? What happens when you're getting evidence from another state or another jurisdiction?
A. They box it. And in this situation, they put it in two separate boxes that are sealed by the crime scene tech that obtained the evidence. She then initials it, that it's sealed. She ships it to us which in this case was Fed-Ex. We sign for it upon its arrival, and then I took pictures of the box that's still sealed and signed.
Q. So when you get the boxes - and it's Fed-Ex'd to you, is what you said?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. When you get that box, you open that box and how is the evidence stored in that box?
A. It's all individually packaged.
. . . .
Q. Did you open any of them?
A. I did open some of them, yes.
. . . .
Q. So I want to talk about maybe the ones that you did open. Did you open - well, which ones did you open?
A. I don't necessarily recall all the items I opened. I know I opened the notebook, the laptop, maybe the package of marijuana.
MR. LUSKIN: Objection, Judge. Can we have a sidebar?
THE COURT: On the record I'm sure, right?
MR. LUSKIN: On the record.
THE COURT: Okay. Remove the jury, please.
DEPUTY SHERIFF: Twelve jurors and two alternates have exited the room.
THE COURT: All right. Please be seated, ladies and gentlemen.
MR. LUSKIN: Judge, I think you can guess my objection here. The State's witness just testified to a package of marijuana. Before he testified to the package of marijuana, he made it clear where that marijuana came from. In fact, the State walked him through how secure the process was getting from the car to here. Marijuana, possession of marijuana is a crime.
THE COURT: Not in Colorado.
MR. LUSKIN: It's 404 evidence that was not sought to be admitted by the State, that was not part of their 404 motion. The witness just testified to it in front of the jury. We're moving for a mistrial, Judge.
THE COURT: I'm sorry?
MR. LUSKIN: That's our basis for a motion for a mistrial.
MS. BILLEAUD: Your Honor, the State's position is, you know, I did not know that Detective St. Cyr was going to mention that, and - but the marijuana is legal in Colorado and that's where it was obtained. And I believe even in the car, and I'm willing to - you know, we can find that and introduce that as well, that there was a receipt that it was bought in Colorado.
I think that any error that was made can be easily corrected by giving an instruction to the jury that that is not a crime in Colorado and that he didn't break any laws, so it should not be held against him or be considered a crime in any manner or any kind of wrong doing at all because it wasn't. It was a completely legal action that he did while he was in Colorado. And I think that would cure the problem. I mean, it shouldn't be held against him. We're telling them that. It's not a crime there.
THE COURT: Well, it also could be cured if you would just ask him about that receipt, if they found out whether it was bought in Colorado.
MS. BILLEAUD: I absolutely can.
THE COURT: And then he says yes, and then you ask him why he didn't arrest Miles for possession of marijuana, and then he says because it's legal in Colorado and not a crime over there. And then you go on and then everything's solved and I don't have to give them a limiting instruction.
MR. LUSKIN: Judge, if I can briefly. It's legal under federal law.[1]
MR. LUSKIN: Possession of marijuana is legal under federal law, right. The fact that it's legal in Colorado doesn't necessarily render it harmless. This was specifically addressed. This has been specifically addressed repeatedly. I put it in my motion in limine for this exact reason. We had a 404 hearing in order to clarify what exactly the State was going to seek to use in terms of prior bad acts. This wasn't part of that. This was never intended to be part of that. It's too late. We can't unring the bell. This is now - this is the third or the fourth piece of evidence that's been brought out through this witness. Each one of those pieces of evidence I've taken an issue with, unauthenticated evidence, hearsay evidence, and now we've got 404 evidence. The jury's heard all of that.
A limiting instruction is going to be unsuccessful. It's not going to cure the prejudice. Further questioning of Detective St. Cyr is not going to cure the prejudice. It's too late. I think we need a mistrial. That's the only way to fix this. We can start fresh.
THE COURT: Denied. Anything further before we bring the jury in?
MR. LUSKIN: Not at this time, Judge.
THE COURT: All right. Bring the jury in.

         The State then asked the following:

Q. Detective, before we broke you mentioned that one of the items that you ...

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