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State v. Thomas

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 26, 2019



          PER CURIAM.

         Defendant Darrell Toubya Thomas was unequivocally identified by both Traavis and Stephan Harris as the person who exited a black SUV and commenced firing at them. The shooting took place near the Take-a-Bag store on Milam Street in Shreveport on December 13, 2010. Traavis's right leg was amputated because of the shooting.

         Defendant was not a stranger to the Harris brothers, and he left town after the shooting. Defendant, his girlfriend Ronisha Taylor, and her mother Rhonda Taylor admitted at trial that they were present during the shooting in a black SUV belonging to defendant's mother. All three said they heard gunshots, they denied seeing the shooter, and they denied that anyone else was in the SUV with them. The jury who heard this testimony found defendant guilty of attempted first degree murder, and the district court sentenced him as a second-felony offender to serve 55 years imprisonment at hard labor without parole eligibility.

         Just over one month after trial, defendant through new counsel filed a motion for new trial claiming that Cordarly Chapple arrived with defendant and the Taylors in the SUV, and that Chapple was the real shooter. According to defendant, Rhonisha and Rhonda would have identified Chapple if trial counsel had asked them. Defendant also provided the district court with an affidavit by Chapple in which he claimed he was the shooter and that defendant was innocent.

         After the district court denied the motion for new trial, the court of appeal affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Thomas, 48, 530 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/4/13), 131 So.3d 84. The court of appeal found that a new trial was not warranted by newly discovered evidence:

The claim that Rhonda and Rhonisha knew who the shooter was and would have testified that it was Chapple if only defense counsel had asked them shows that the evidence upon which the motion for a new trial is based is not newly discovered evidence. If Chapple was in the vehicle with the defendant and the Taylors, then they all would have known that he was the shooter. However, no one mentioned Chapple at trial or even that someone else was with them in the SUV. Moreover, a review of the trial transcript shows, contrary to what has been asserted by Mr. Keene in support of the motion for a new trial, that the Taylors had the opportunity when questioned by trial counsel for the defense to identify the shooter as Chapple.
The above testimony from trial shows that trial counsel, Mr. Scarborough, directly questioned the Taylors about whether they could identify the shooter. Both women testified under oath that they could not. The Taylors had the opportunity to identify Chapple as the shooter and did not do so. The purported new evidence could have easily been discovered prior to or during trial if the Taylors had gone to the police with the information they apparently now claim to have had about the shooter or if they had testified differently at trial.

Thomas, 48, 530, pp. 10-11, 131 So.3d 90. The court of appeal also commented unfavorably on defendant's claim that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in investigating the case:

Here, defendant claims that trial counsel did not properly investigate the case to discover the real perpetrator of the crime, allegedly Chapple. As previously addressed, trial counsel directly questioned the Taylors at trial about whether they could identify the shooter, and both testified that they could not. None of the defendant's witnesses, including the defendant himself, identified any other person as the shooter when questioned by trial counsel. The jury heard and rejected the testimony that the defendant was not the shooter. This case turned on the credibility of the witnesses, and the jury chose to accept the testimony of the Harris brothers, who identified the defendant as the shooter within hours of the incident, over the testimony of the defendant and his witnesses, who simply claimed that the defendant did not do it.

Thomas, 48, 530, p. 13, 131 So.3d at 91-92. Nonetheless, the court of appeal relegated this claim to future collateral review where additional evidentiary development could occur:

Nevertheless, the defendant did not have the opportunity in the trial court to produce evidence to show that trial counsel was ineffective in investigating the matter and failing to discover that Chapple was, allegedly, the actual perpetrator. Though we note from the record that trial counsel did question the defense witnesses about the actual shooter during their testimony, the record does not contain sufficient evidence to allow this court to otherwise evaluate an ineffective assistance of counsel claim as it otherwise relates to the Chapple affidavit. Therefore, we pretermit any ruling on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, which is preserved for the defendant to raise, if he so chooses, by application for post-conviction relief.

Thomas, 48, 530, pp. 13-14, 131 So.3d at 92.

         That evidentiary development followed albeit without the benefit of trial counsel's testimony because he was by then deceased. Chapple also invoked his Fifth Amendment right against ...

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