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White v. Vannoy

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

May 16, 2019






         Jimmy White (“Petitioner”) was charged with manslaughter in connection with the hit and run death of a young man who was trying to help a stranded motorist. A Caddo Parish jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. Petitioner was adjudicated a fourth felony offender and sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. White, 57 So.3d 1078 (La.App. 2d Cir. 2011), writ denied, 71 So.3d 310 (La.). Petitioner also pursued a post-conviction application in state court. He now seeks federal habeas corpus relief on several grounds. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that his petition be denied.

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         A. Relevant Evidence

          Linda Swinney was driving home around 10:00 p.m. on December 28, 2007 when her car stalled at the intersection of Linwood Avenue and Corbitt Street in Shreveport. Ms. Swinney activated her hazard lights and got out to try to push the car out of the street. A group of young buys, including 15 year-old Adam Klingensmith, stopped to help.

         The boys were attempting to push the car out of the road when another car approached from behind at a high rate of speed. One of the boys tried to flag down the approaching car, then yelled for everyone to get out of the way. The car crashed into Swinney's car and kept going.

         The boys first thought everyone had gotten out of the way, but they could not find Adam. His shoes were found at the scene. Another citizen later called police to an area a little over a mile away from the accident, where they found Adam's body lying face down in the road.

         Ms. Swinney never saw the other car, and the boys could not identify the car or driver. Police asked the public for information about the incident. Rashida Chitman lived near the intersection of Linwood and Corbitt. Ruthie Vailes, with whom Petitioner had a relationship, was visiting Chitman at about 10:30 p.m. the night of the incident. Petitioner arrived, nervous and upset, and told Vailes that he had been in a wreck on Linwood. Petitioner went to his house, which was just around the corner.

         Ms. Chitman heard a news broadcast the next morning that asked for information about the accident. She walked to the home shared by Ms. Vailes and Petitioner to tell them what she heard on the news. She saw that Petitioner's car was parked in the back of the house, which was not its ordinary spot, and she called the police.

         Police found Petitioner's car in the backyard with severe damage to the front, especially the grill, hood, and windshield. A pathologist testified that the head and chest injuries that caused Adam's death were consistent with impact from an automobile. Adam's blood was tested for DNA, and it was consistent with blood found in the passenger seat of Petitioner's car. Petitioner had on a pair of overalls that night, and he took them off before he went to bed. Police found them beside his bed with the key to Petitioner's damaged car in the pocket and Adam's blood on the outside.

         B. State Court Decision

         Petitioner was charged with manslaughter, which was defined in La. R.S. 14:31(A)(2)(a), which states, in relevant part: “Manslaughter is. . .[a] homicide committed, without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm. . . [w]hen the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony not enumerated in Article 30 or 30.1, or of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person. . . .” The State relied on felony hit-and-run as the underlying crime to support the manslaughter charge. Louisiana R.S. 14:100 states: “Hit-and-run driving is the intentional failure of the driver of a vehicle involved in or causing any accident, to stop such vehicle at the scene of the accident, to give his identity, and to render reasonable aid.”

         Petitioner was appointed counsel on appeal. He also filed a pro se brief and raised the issue of sufficiency of the evidence. Petitioner argued that the State could not show that he committed a homicide when “engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony” because the hit and run was not completed until after the victim was struck.

         In evaluating the sufficiency of evidence to support a conviction “the relevant question 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 beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789 (1979). The state appellate court recited the correct Jackson standard and reviewed the evidence before it. That evidence showed that Petitioner failed to stop after causing the accident, did not give his identity, and did not render reasonable aid. Medical evidence proved that the homicide was committed when the victim was struck by Petitioner's vehicle and killed as a result. The court disagreed with Petitioner's argument that the State could not rely on hit and run as the underlying offense because the hit and run did not occur until after the death of the victim. State v. White, 57 So.3d at 1082-83.

         C. ...

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