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State v. Daniels

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

June 11, 2019



          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA, Paul D. Connick, Jr., Terry M. Boudreaux, Gail D. Schlosser, Laura S. Schneidau, Lindsay L. Truhe


          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg


         Defendant, Furnell D. Daniels, [1] was found guilty of manslaughter in violation of La. R.S. 14:31 for the death of his fourteen-year-old son, J.D., and seeks the reversal of his conviction and sentence. Defendant assigns the following issues for review: 1) whether the trial court erred in denying the defense's Batson/ J.E.B. challenge to the State striking African-American prospective jurors; and 2) whether the trial court erred in imposing the maximum sentence for a first time offender with evidence of mitigation throughout the trial. We find that under the facts presented, the trial court neither erred in denying defendant's Batson/J.E.B. challenge nor in giving defendant the maximum sentence under the law. Accordingly, for the following reasons, we affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.


         On June 9, 2016, a Jefferson Parish Grand Jury indicted defendant with second-degree murder of fourteen-year-old J.D., [2] in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. Defendant pled not guilty at his June 29, 2016 arraignment, and subsequently filed motions to suppress evidence taken from his home[3] and statements he made to first responders and officers. His motions were denied on May 10, 2017, and on the same date, the trial court granted the State's motion to introduce other crimes evidence pursuant to La. C.E. art. 404(B). Defendant's trial commenced on November 14, 2017, before a twelve-person jury. At the trial's conclusion, the jury found defendant guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter in violation of La. R.S. 14:31. On November 27, 2017, defendant filed a motion for new trial making several arguments including that the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge during jury selection, the verdict is contrary to the law and evidence presented by the State, and the State violated the court ordered sequestration of the victim's brother, Nell, which the trial court denied on the same day. After a waiver of sentencing delays by defendant, the trial court sentenced defendant to forty years imprisonment with the Department of Corrections and credit for time served.[4] The trial court further recommended drug treatment and any self-help programs available to defendant through the Department of Corrections during his time of incarceration. On December 14, 2017, defendant filed a motion to reconsider sentence, which the trial court denied on December 22, 2017.

         On February 14, 2018, defendant filed a pro se motion for appeal, which the trial court granted as an out-of-time appeal the following day. Defendant now appeals, arguing the trial court erred in denying his Batson/J.E.B. challenge and in imposing a maximum forty-year sentence for a first time offender.


         At trial, Latonya Kelly, mother of the victim, J.D., and the victim's brother, Fernell, Jr. ("Nell"), testified that in February of 2016, J.D. and her son Nell were living with their father - defendant. Ms. Kelly stated that she was living in Baton Rouge at the time with her two eldest daughters Savari and Juresia. On February 6, 2016, Ms. Kelly's son Nell telephoned her at work to inform her that J.D. had "an accident" and was at the hospital. Upon arrival at the hospital, a doctor informed Ms. Kelly that J.D. was "dead upon arrival." However, J.D. remained on life support for approximately one week to ensure he was in fact "brain dead" until all life sustaining measures were ceased. Ms. Kelly testified that she did not speak to defendant about what happened upon her arrival at the hospital or since the incident.

         On February 6, 2016, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Captain Samuel Craigie and Larry Frederick, firefighters with the Live Oak Manor Volunteer Fire Company, responded to a call for service at 73 Clifford Court in Waggaman, Louisiana. It was reported to them that a fourteen-year-old male had fallen in the bathtub and hit his head rendering him unconscious. Upon arrival at the residence, Captain Craigie testified that their knocks went unanswered for a long period of time until Nell opened the door. Captain Craigie observed J.D. in the living room lying on the sofa in defendant's lap. He inquired of defendant as to what had happened at which time defendant informed him that he had attempted to discipline J.D. who ran away from him and slipped. Defendant later advised Firefighter Frederick that J.D. had fallen in the bathtub the night before and had awoken that morning appearing very "sluggish." Defendant further indicated that when he attempted to reprimand J.D., J.D. took off running and fell. Defendant told Firefighter Frederick that it had been approximately thirty minutes from the time J.D. had fallen to the time he called 9-1-1 because he wanted to see if J.D. could "sleep it off."

         The firefighters performed an assessment, at which time they found that J.D.'s pulse was high, his respirations were shallow, and his pupils were fixed. Captain Craigie testified that large fixed pupils are often associated with head trauma or a drug-related overdose; thus, he asked defendant whether there were any medications in the house that J.D. might have "gotten into." Defendant responded that he did not think there were but then retrieved a full bottle of pills, stating, "it could have been this." J.D.'s condition quickly began to deteriorate and firefighters initiated CPR until EMS arrived. Firefighter Frederick recalled that J.D. had three abrasions that were scabbed over on his forehead, swelling above one eye, and a number of bruises on his abdomen and one of his arms.

         West Jefferson Hospital Paramedic Matthew Perkins arrived on the scene and took over from the fire department personnel administering CPR and advanced care to J.D. who at this time did not have a pulse. In addition to administering epinephrine, which was successful in regaining J.D.'s pulse, Paramedic Perkins administered Narcan for any possible drug overdose. Paramedic Perkins explained that there are no negative effects of administering Narcan to a patient who has not ingested any drugs. He further testified that he also observed bruising and swelling on J.D.'s body in various stages of healing.

         Detective Nicholas Sanderson of the Jefferson Parish Sherriff's Office also responded to the 9-1-1 call initiated by defendant on February 6, 2016. Upon his arrival, he spoke with defendant who stated that J.D. had fallen the previous day and that he was fine until he went unresponsive. After relocating to the hospital, Detective Sanderson spoke to defendant who informed him that he was angry with Nell and J.D. for their poor school grades so he "paddled" them with a thin piece of wood. He further explained that J.D. was "squirming" around which caused him to be struck in both the front and back approximately three to five times before defendant moved on to Nell. After defendant finished with Nell, he went back to J.D. who attempted to run away from defendant and tripped near a coffee table in the living room where a chair fell on top of him. Defendant stated that he then chased J.D. into the bedroom at which time J.D. slipped and fell for a second time, hitting his head on the bed's box spring. J.D. relayed to defendant that his head hurt, but defendant indicated that he did not take his son's complaint seriously because J.D. often exaggerated his symptoms to escape further punishment. Defendant further told Detective Sanderson that later that night he heard a loud "thud" coming from the bathroom where he witnessed J.D. slumped over the bathtub. He admitted to Officer Sanderson that he had observed the bruising on J.D.'s body, including those on his legs and shoulders, and defendant conceded that he caused some of these by paddling J.D. Defendant then stated that he moved J.D. from the bathroom into his bedroom, wrapped his shoulder, gave him some pain medication, and kept him awake for a while in case of a concussion.

         Defendant told Detective Sanderson that the following morning, around 7:00 or 8:00 a.m., J.D. woke up complaining of head pain and began vomiting. Defendant informed Detective Sanderson that later on J.D. started making gurgling noises and became unresponsive. Detective Sanderson also observed J.D.'s injuries while at the hospital and spoke to the treating physician, Dr. Roxanne Thompson, who stated that J.D.'s injuries were indicative of physical abuse.[5]

         Dr. Roxanne Thompson was the pediatric emergency room physician who treated J.D. She testified that he was unresponsive when he arrived at the hospital and presented with abrasions around his forehead and face and bruises and abrasions on his extremities. Dr. Thompson explained that J.D. had suffered an epidural hemorrhage with death due to brain injury. Dr. Thompson also performed a skeletal examination reporting the presence of fractures in various locations of J.D.'s body including on his forearm near his wrist, and his right kneecap. Dr. Thompson testified that she spoke with the neurosurgeon who had been consulted on J.D.'s case and felt that J.D.'s condition had progressed so far that removing the blood on his brain to try to relieve the pressure would not help him. The neurosurgeon then relayed to Dr. Thompson his belief that had J.D. been brought to the hospital sooner, he would have been able to save his life. Based on the totality of the injuries sustained by J.D., Dr. Thompson did not believe them to be consistent with a single fall, noting that a great deal of force would have had to be employed to cause an epidural hematoma and a fractured kneecap.

         Dr. Thompson also had the opportunity to speak with defendant who informed her that J.D. was a "problem child" and that he had reprimanded him the night before for receiving bad grades in school. He also told Dr. Thompson that because J.D. had tried to run from him, he chased him around their home so he was unsure which parts of J.D.'s body had been hit with the "board" he was using. He also mentioned to Dr. Thompson that J.D. had fallen at least once and that J.D. had complained of a headache and pain.

         Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Homicide Detective Gabriel Faucetta testified that he obtained a search warrant for defendant's home based upon the information Officer Sanderson, the hospital staff, and J.D.'s older brother Nell provided him. During the search of the home, detectives seized a crib rail which was identified as the weapon defendant used on J.D. Detectives also found and photographed damage to sheetrock in the home, which they concluded was caused by the same crib rail. Detective Faucetta also obtained and executed a search warrant on defendant's cellular phone. A forensic examination of defendant's phone revealed that immediately before defendant called 9-1-1, at 12:22 p.m., he called his wife, Terri Daniel. Additionally, a text message sent a few hours after 9-1-1 was called, at approximately 4:13 p.m., read "[m]aybe I'm me trying to chastise him. Just don't know. It could be drugs." After the autopsy was performed, defendant was arrested for second-degree murder.[6]

         Detective Faucetta further testified that on February 15, 2016, Ericka Dupepe of the Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) interviewed Nell and his two younger siblings, Gabriella Daniel and Jasiah[7] Simmons, who also lived with their father-defendant. As a result of the children's interviews, Jefferson Parish Sherriff's Office obtained and executed a second search warrant for defendant's home during which officers seized metal tent poles which the children identified as items used by defendant as past weapons during beatings.

         Dr. Neha Mehta, medical director of the Audrey Hepburn Care Center at Children's Hospital and expert in general pediatrics and child abuse pediatrics, testified that she interviewed and evaluated Nell on March 3, 2016. At the time of her examination she observed no physical injuries on Nell despite him having informed her that he himself also sustained injuries on the same date as J.D. However, Dr. Mehta testified that she did not expect to see any injuries or marks on Nell at the time of her examination based on the remoteness of the February 5-6, 2016 event.

         Additionally, Dr. Mehta explained that the history Nell provided to her regarding the events that occurred on the date in question was in her opinion consistent with child physical abuse. She further recalled that when providing his medical history, Nell relayed to her that defendant would strike him and J.D. with a wooden crib rail approximately three feet in length and two inches in width, and a metal tent pole. Dr. Mehta also learned that J.D. had been treated on a previous occasion at Children's Hospital on December 11, 2009, having reportedly been disciplined by defendant who struck him in the face with a belt when he tried to escape punishment.[8] Dr. Mehta reported that she examined photographs from the December 2009 incident which also appeared consistent with child abuse.

         Dr. Mehta further testified that she reviewed the medical records from the February 2016 incident and concluded that J.D.'s injuries were not consistent with a single fall in a bathtub or a fall on a carpeted floor. Rather, she believed J.D.'s injuries to be consistent with the account of the events relayed by Nell of the physical child abuse suffered at the hands of defendant. Dr. Mehta confirmed that J.D. would have been in significant pain as a result of his injuries and that it would have been very difficult for him to bear weight on his leg where he sustained a fractured kneecap. She further concluded that had defendant and his wife sought medical care for J.D. after his symptoms appeared, medical intervention would have changed his chance for survival.

         Dr. Susan Garcia, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on J.D. on February 11, 2016, testified that J.D. was pronounced brain dead on February 8, 2016. Based on her examination, she found J.D. died of an epidural hemorrhage due to a skull fracture, measuring a little over two inches, from blunt force trauma. Contusions on J.D.'s head indicated that he sustained three blows to the head. In addition, Dr. Garcia stated that multiple areas of his body were also subjected to blunt force trauma including his torso, upper body, and lower extremities. On the back of J.D.'s left arm beneath his elbow were also some small contusions. Dr. Garcia explained that the location of the contusions were consistent with a defensive injury. She further opined that the injuries J.D. sustained were not the result of a fall, and based on her observations, she determined the manner of death as a homicide.

         Marie Kerrin was a child protection investigator with DCFS at the time of J.D.'s death. On February 6, 2016, Ms. Kerrin's on-call supervisor- Lashonda Dorcey- notified her of J.D.'s hospitalization. As part of her investigation, she went to the hospital and spoke with medical personnel and had the opportunity to observe J.D.'s injuries. Ms. Kerrin also spoke with defendant after his arrest who informed her that he was disciplining his two sons because of their school grades and J.D. would not remain still to "take the discipline, which was 15 hits with paddles." He explained to Ms. Kerrin that J.D. was running away from him and that he chased him and continued to strike him. He admitted that he caused J.D. to sustain bruising and was aware of a "knot on his knee and his shoulder." Defendant further told Ms. Kerrin that he was "concerned at various times," and told J.D. "if this gets too bad let me know, but you need to suck it up." Defendant also relayed that J.D. fell in the bathtub and had to be carried back to his bedroom, acknowledging that he was aware his son was injured.

         Ms. Kerrin also testified that defendant had been investigated by DCFS on prior occasions for child abuse, resulting in two valid findings of abuse in 2009.

         Nineteen-year-old Juresia Daniel, J.D.'s sister, testified that she lived with her mother in Baton Rouge. She stated that she did not live with defendant prior to 2016, however, she would occasionally visit defendant at his home. She recalled a time when J.D. was approximately six or seven years old, and she witnessed defendant "whipping" J.D., who tried to run away but was caught by defendant. Juresia stated that J.D. was lying on his stomach when defendant put his foot on his back and "whipped" him with a belt. Juresia also testified regarding incidents of abuse that she had suffered at the hands of defendant. She discussed an incident when defendant hit her with a hanger multiple times on her legs and struck her giving her a black eye when she was in middle school.[9] Juresia testified that she stopped visiting her father because she "didn't like catching all the whippings and all the rules," and because she was scared of him.

         Twenty-two-year-old Savaria Kelly testified similarly to Juresia, explaining that she lived with her mother but occasionally visited her father. She also testified regarding an incident involving her father when she was seven or eight years old and her sister Juresia was five or six. She recalled that Juresia left the bread tie off the bread bag and also lied about having ironed her clothes, so defendant chased her around "whipping" her with a belt. Savaria decided when she was twelve or thirteen that she would not visit defendant again.

         Sixteen-year-old Nell testified that on February 5, 2016, defendant picked him up from school after having spoken to his teacher regarding his grades. Nell recalled that on the way to the car they began to argue at which time defendant "jabbed" him. Defendant was angry with Nell about his poor grades and told him "I'll deal with you when I get home." After they arrived home, at around 3:00 p.m., J.D. was also getting home from school. Nell recalled that when J.D. arrived, defendant was yelling and told them to "turn over" as punishment for their bad grades. Defendant told them that they would each get fifteen "licks" in increments of five with a stick taken from his sister's crib. Nell went first, and after he had taken his first five "licks," it was J.D.'s turn. Nell testified that defendant struck J.D. who kept moving away, which caused another "lick" to be added. After Nell's second round, J.D. was hit two more times before he started to move away again because he did "not want to take his five," stating that he was hurt and asking defendant to stop. Nell recalled that after his last five "licks," J.D. was in a chair saying, "I'm hurting. I'm hurting"; however, defendant went over and started hitting him. J.D. tried to run away, but defendant chased him, striking him while he ran. Nell tried to intervene but was unsuccessful.

         At one point when J.D. ran away, Nell could hear screaming and chairs falling. Nell eventually saw J.D. on the ground in his room crying and unable to get up. Nell attempted to help his brother up, but defendant stopped him; a few minutes later Nell observed J.D. stand up, after defendant denied him help, but Nell noticed that J.D. was not walking normally as if something was wrong with his knee. Nell testified that he also observed "scrapes" on J.D.'s legs, a scar above his eye, "marks" on his collar bone, his shoulder, and his neck, and that his wrist was swollen. Both defendant and Nell put ice on J.D.'s wrist and collar bone. Nell testified that J.D. repeatedly stated that he was hurting.

         Nell further testified that later that evening, he and defendant heard a "thump" coming from the bathroom. When they went to check on the noise, J.D. had fallen and they tried to help him up. Defendant then assisted J.D. to his room and Nell subsequently assisted J.D. to a couch in the living room. Nell recalled that his father then left the house to pick up his wife, Nell's step-mother, Terri. Nell testified that it was at that time that he really saw the extent of J.D.'s injuries, and that J.D. informed him "I think I hit my head."

         When defendant and Terri arrived back home they brought with them a heating pad and medicine. According to Nell, Terri was "acting terrified" after checking on J.D. and asked defendant if he was sure he did not need to go to the doctor. J.D. refused to eat that evening and defendant assisted him to his bedroom at approximately 10:00 p.m. At approximately 5:00 a.m., J.D. woke Nell complaining of neck pain and feeling hot. He also asked Nell to get defendant for him. When defendant entered the room, J.D. urinated on himself and vomited. Terri also came into the room at that time and stated that J.D. should be brought to the doctor, to which defendant replied, "if he gets anymore worse, we're going to bring him to the doctor." Terri and defendant then got into a "disagreement," after which she went back to their bedroom. Nell went back to sleep and awoke at 9:00 a.m. to find J.D. on the couch saying his head hurt, while holding his collar bone. Nell believed that J.D. looked worse than the day before. Nell further recalled that he, J.D., and defendant were praying, and that around noon that day defendant called 9-1-1 when J.D. became unresponsive.

         The State rested and the defense called defendant to the stand. Defendant, father of seven, testified that he was an associate minister and that he tried to run his household in accordance with the dictates of the Bible. He further explained that J.D. and Nell were both struggling in school. On Friday, February 5, 2016, after defendant received J.D.'s and Nell's school progress reports, he told the boys that they would each get fifteen "licks" for their poor grades. Defendant explained that he grabbed the "paddle" and that J.D. was trying to talk him out of receiving his punishment and then took off running so defendant moved on to Nell.

         After Nell had received five "licks," defendant went back to J.D. who kept "defying" him, but defendant reassured J.D. that he was going to "get this whipping one way or the other." Defendant stated that he was trying to hit him along the "lower extremities ... to make sure I didn't hit him in his head," but J.D. kept moving and fighting him. He recalled that J.D. then got up, ran into the hallway and tried to grab the stick from defendant after "lick" number four. According to defendant, it was at that time that J.D. hit the wall, damaging the sheetrock, to which defendant responded, "man, you're going to pay ... you're going to get it ... you're going to get these licks today." Defendant was able to then go back to Nell and finish giving him his "licks" before going back to J.D. who was still resisting. Defendant recalled that he and J.D. were fighting over the stick but that defendant was able to stand up and hit J.D. on the shoulder. He "refused to let him get away," and by the fourth "lick" out of nine, defendant told J.D. to "just hold still and take the licking." According to defendant, J.D. then got up and ran into the bedroom, fell, and hit his head on the bed and the dresser. Defendant testified that he was out of breath at that point and decided to go back into the living room when he heard J.D. say he was hurt and needed help.

         When Nell asked defendant if he was going to go help J.D., defendant testified that he replied, "no, boy. [J.D.'s] just faking. You know I didn't hit him in the room." He also told Nell not to go into the bedroom because J.D. was "just performing" and that he did not need any help. Defendant testified that J.D. eventually came into the living room, walking with a limp and complaining of shoulder pain. Defendant admitted that he was responsible for the injuries J.D. sustained to his shoulder, wrist, and knee, realizing the mistake he had made. He further explained that he examined J.D.'s injuries and asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital but that J.D. said "no, I think I'm straight." Defendant further explained that he and Nell put ice on J.D. and then defendant left to pick up his wife from work. When he returned, he had Epsom salt and some medicine because he was "concerned" about J.D.'s shoulder.

         Later that evening, defendant testified that he heard a "thump" coming from the bathroom and went in to find J.D. on the floor in the shower. According to defendant, J.D. informed him that he had slipped and fallen while attempting to take a shower. Defendant stated that he then waited for J.D. to finish taking his shower before helping him to his room. Defendant further testified that when he asked J.D. if he needed to go to the hospital, J.D. responded that he was "good."

         The next morning, around 5:00 a.m., defendant testified that he was awoken by Nell who informed him that J.D. needed him. When he checked on J.D., J.D. told him that he was hot and that his head was hurting. He also observed that J.D. had urinated in the bed, so he told him that he was "too big" for that, to which J.D. informed him that he could not make it to the bathroom. Defendant explained that he lifted J.D. up to bring him to the living room so he could keep an eye on him, when J.D. vomited. Defendant admonished J.D., stating, "I told you you should have ate something ... I shouldn't have given you that medicine on no empty stomach." Defendant testified that it was at that time that defendant realized there was something wrong but did not know what. He further explained that his wife Terri was "freaking" wanting J.D. to go to the hospital, so defendant asked J.D. if he needed to go to the hospital and he said "no dad." Defendant testified that he realized now that it was a mistake and that he should have taken him to the hospital from the very beginning. He further told the jury that he should not have been using a "paddle" but that at the time he believed that if he "spared the rod" he would "spoil the child." He accepted responsibility for causing J.D.'s death but explained that it was never his intention to kill him.

         ASSIGNMENTS ...

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