Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for
the Parish of Webster, Louisiana Trial Court No. 92595
Honorable Robert L. Pittard, Judge
LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT Counsel for Appellant By: Peggy
SCHUYLER MARVIN Counsel for Appellee District Attorney
A. HOLLAND, JR. JOHN M. LAWRENCE Assistant District Attorneys
WILLIAMS, GARRETT, and STEPHENS, JJ.
defendant, Lee Vester Crow, Jr., was charged by bill of
indictment with second degree murder, in violation of La.
R.S. 14:30.1. Following a jury trial, he was found guilty of
the responsive verdict of manslaughter, La. R.S. 14:31. He
was sentenced to serve 26 years in prison at hard labor. For
the following reasons we affirm.
August 30, 2017, at approximately 4:00 a.m., James Morgan was
driving down a rural road in Shongaloo, Louisiana, when he
saw the tail lights of a vehicle off the road near a line of
trees. Morgan recognized the vehicle as the one usually
driven by his neighbor's teenage daughter, MiKaylah, who
he suspected had been involved in an automobile accident.
Morgan turned his vehicle around and called 911. Following
the instructions of the 911 operator, Morgan approached the
vehicle and called out to its occupant; the person in the
vehicle did not respond. As Morgan moved closer to the
vehicle, he noticed a hole in the back window on the
driver's side and a woman slumped over in the seat. After
calling out again and receiving no response, Morgan went to
the home where MiKaylah lived with her mother, Kameka
Brantley, and the defendant, Lee Vester Crow, Jr.
(Kameka's husband of approximately three years). Morgan
knocked and MiKaylah eventually answered the door. At that
point, Morgan suspected that the woman in the vehicle was
Kameka. He took MiKaylah to her grandmother's house
located nearby and returned to the vehicle to wait for law
enforcement officers to arrive.
Scott Tucker, of the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office, was
the first detective to arrive on the scene. The deceased
female in the vehicle was identified as Kameka Brantley.
After interviewing MiKaylah, the deputies quickly developed
the defendant as a suspect in the shooting death of Kameka.
warrant was obtained for the defendant's arrest. Soon
after the warrant was issued, the deputies learned that the
defendant had been arrested that morning in Claiborne Parish
for driving while intoxicated ("DWI"). The officers
traveled to Claiborne Parish, where the defendant had just
been processed for the DWI offense. The deputies transported
the defendant and his vehicle back to Webster
Parish. The defendant was advised of his rights
and executed a waiver of rights form. Thereafter, he gave a
statement to the deputies, during which he initially denied
killing Kameka and denied shooting a firearm that morning.
However, later during the interview, the defendant admitted
that he fired the gun toward Kameka's car, stating,
"I didn't say sh*t to her. I just popped off the
rounds. *** Evidently I wasn't thinking worth a
f**k." The defendant also stated that he needed to go to
Haynesville because that was where he had disposed of the
gun. Subsequently, Det. Tucker, accompanied by another
deputy, drove the defendant to Haynesville and retrieved the
October 23, 2017, the Webster Parish Grand Jury returned an
indictment charging the defendant with second degree murder,
in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. On March 13, 2018, the
defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made
to the law enforcement officers. Following a hearing, the
trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress.
defendant's trial commenced on September 19, 2018. James
Morgan, the neighbor who discovered Kameka's body in the
vehicle, testified with regard to the events of that morning.
Jennifer Forsyth, the pathologist who performed the autopsy
of Kameka, also testified at the defendant's trial. Dr.
Forsyth testified as follows: the autopsy revealed that
Kameka sustained three gunshot wounds; the first gunshot
wound entered the left side of her back and penetrated her
heart and both of her lungs; the first wound caused a large
amount of internal bleeding and caused the injuries that led
to Kameka's death; the bullet from the first gunshot
wound did not exit the body and was recovered and sent to the
Webster Parish Sheriff's Office; the second gunshot wound
came from a bullet traveling in the same direction as the
first; the second bullet entered and exited Kameka's left
breast and did not strike any organs; and the third gunshot
wound was a superficial "graze" wound on the back
of her right arm.
Tucker testified as follows: the vehicle in which Kameka was
discovered had to be covered by a tarp to be processed
because it was raining heavily; he was able to partially
process the vehicle at the scene; the vehicle was transported
to a secure area, out of the rain, where the officers could
complete the processing of the vehicle; due to the wetness of
the ground, he was able to clearly see how the vehicle
traveled before it came to rest in the area near the trees;
he observed tire tracks from Kameka's yard to the road,
approximately 150 to 200 yards from the home Kameka shared
with the defendant; it appeared that the vehicle "left
the yard, came up and just went right back down"; there
was "very minor, minor" damage to the front of the
vehicle, as it appeared the car "was just rolling";
he did not see any other tire tracks in the yard, and there
was no indication that the vehicle went back and forth, or
was spinning in the yard; while he was in Kameka's yard,
a car pulled up with MiKaylah inside; after talking to
MiKaylah, the defendant was developed as a suspect and a
warrant was issued for his arrest; while processing
Kameka's vehicle, the officers recovered two bullets; one
bullet appeared to have entered the driver's side window,
hit the console, and entered the passenger seat; the other
bullet entered the back driver's side window, struck
something metal in the back seat and lodged there; the second
bullet did not strike Kameka; later that morning, he learned
that the defendant had been arrested in Claiborne Parish; at
approximately 1:30 p.m., he and another detective transported
the defendant and his vehicle back to Webster Parish; and he
searched the defendant's vehicle prior to interrogating
cross-examination, Det. Tucker testified that the bullet
lodged in the back seat of Kameka's vehicle was recovered
before he interviewed the defendant. During Det. Tucker's
testimony, the jury was shown the video of the
defendant's statement wherein he initially denied any
knowledge of Kameka's homicide, boasted about his
proficiency in shooting a firearm, and initially denied
having fired a gun that day. The video also showed that the
defendant became emotional and told the officers that they
needed to go to Haynesville, which is where he threw the gun
out of his vehicle, and that shooting his wife was an
accident. Det. Tucker testified that following the interview,
the defendant directed police officers to the area where he
had discarded the gun and that the gun was quickly
his testimony on cross-examination, Det. Tucker testified
that he had confirmed that the defendant's blood-alcohol
concentration ("BAC") was .143 when he was arrested
earlier that day in Claiborne Parish. However, the detective
stated that the defendant did not show any signs of
intoxication when he was interviewed that afternoon. Det.
Tucker also testified that during the interview, he and the
other officers were attempting to ascertain what had occurred
between the defendant and Kameka when the defendant finally
stated that he had fired the gun and that the shooting was an
sister, Essence Brantley, testified with regard to the
contentious relationship between the defendant and Kameka.
More specifically, Essence testified about a previous
incident between Kameka and the defendant, after which she
observed that Kameka had a "busted" lip.
Parish Sheriff Deputy Terry Brown also testified at trial. He
informed the jury of a separate incident of violence
involving the defendant and Kameka. He stated that he was
able to use his body camera to copy a recording from
Kameka's phone, which had captured the incident.
According to Deputy Brown, the defendant was subsequently
arrested and charged with aggravated assault and domestic
abuse battery for allegedly pulling a knife on Kameka.
mother, Minnie Brantley, also testified. She described the
emotional impact Kameka's death has had on her family,
particularly MiKaylah. Minnie testified that the defendant
and Kameka were "high school sweethearts," who went
their separate ways and later reconnected. She stated that
the defendant and Kameka had been married for approximately
three years when the shooting occurred. On cross-examination,
Minnie described the relationship between Kameka and the
defendant as "stormy."
Shawn Baker, a narcotics supervisor for the Webster Parish
Sheriff's Office, was called to testify as a witness for
the defense. He testified that he had known the defendant
more than 40 years. He also testified regarding a prior
incident involving the defendant and Kameka. He stated that
several months before Kameka's death, he went to a store
in Shongaloo, driving his personal vehicle, and the defendant
pulled up next to him and asked for his help. According to
Lt. Baker, the defendant explained that Kameka had called him
stating that her vehicle had broken down on Wiley Road, an
isolated area about five miles away. He stated that the
defendant expressed some apprehension about going to this
location alone, particularly because Kameka's car was
"fairly new and it should not be breaking down."
Lt. Baker testified that the defendant asked him to go with
him to the location, and he agreed to accompany the
defendant. Lt. Baker further testified that when they
arrived, he reached into Kameka's car, turned the
ignition, and the vehicle started immediately.
cross-examination Lt. Baker testified that this incident
occurred approximately seven months before the homicide. He
also stated that he followed Kameka and the defendant home,
and he did not observe any verbal argument between them.
defendant also testified at his trial. He testified as
follows: he and Kameka were together "on and off"
for a number of years; in the last year, their relationship
began to become "problematic"; their arguments
would sometimes "turn physical," but they did not
usually call law enforcement to intervene; he could not
recall the prior incident where Kameka had a busted lip; he
could not recall the incident Kameka captured on her
cellphone; he was "pretty intoxicated" when he was
arrested for the incident captured on Kameka's cellphone,
to the point where he could hardly stand up; during a prior,
unrelated incident, Kameka had threatened him with a sword by
swinging the weapon at him and, in return, he grabbed his
sawed-off shotgun to get her to stop; at the time, he
believed Kameka was going to hurt him; when he picked up the
shotgun, Kameka turned around and tripped over some shoes
next to the bed and fell, hitting a small refrigerator; and
he and Kameka were arguing about his girlfriend, who lived in
regard to the morning of Kameka's death, the defendant
testified as follows: he and Kameka were arguing about his
girlfriend; the day before the shooting, Kameka had driven
his truck to work and received a note on it from another
woman; the note was about the due date of the woman's
baby; he was in bed when Kameka returned home from work;
Kameka woke him because she was upset about the note the
woman had written; he and Kameka argued 20-25 minutes; he
told Kameka that he was going to Haynesville the next morning
to tell the woman to leave his wife alone; when he awakened
the next morning to go to Haynesville, he noticed that all
the lights in the house were on and the television volume was
"very loud," which was an unusual occurrence in his
household at 3:00 a.m.; he noticed that Kameka was not in the
house; he questioned MiKaylah regarding Kameka's
whereabouts, but she stated that she did not know; as he was
leaving the house, he grabbed his gun and went to his truck,
which was parked in the driveway; as he was about to leave,
he noticed Kameka sitting in MiKaylah's car, blocking his
path; he exited his truck and went to the driver's side
of Kameka's car to talk to her; Kameka was still angry
and did not want him to go to see the woman in Haynesville;
he and Kameka argued approximately 10-15 minutes; he
attempted to return to his truck; Kameka "came at"
him fast with the car; she passed him and then put the car in
reverse, heading in his direction; Kameka told him that she
was going to "drag [him] to the crossroad"; Kameka
tried to run over him again and he hit his hand on the
driver's mirror; he pulled out his gun to get her to
stop; as he was falling back, he fired two "quick"
shots and then a third "out of reflex"; the
incident happened so fast that he did not have time to think;
he fell to the ground after he fired the shots; when he
looked up, he saw that the car was "down into the
woods"; and he "jumped in [his] truck and
defendant further testified as follows: after he left the
scene, he was scared, nervous and unable to believe what had
happened; he drove toward Cotton Valley, then down Hwy. 371
to Dixie Inn; he then drove onto the interstate and traveled
to Shreveport; he exited North Market Street in Shreveport
and drove down Hwy. 1; it began to rain, so he turned around
on Hwy. 1 and went to Haynesville; as he was driving, he was
drinking from a pint of vodka; he went to his daughter's
home in Haynesville, but she was not there; he threw the gun
out the passenger's side window of his truck in
Haynesville; he stopped and purchased more alcohol from a
liquor store "at the state line," then drove
aimlessly, driving toward Arkansas; while driving, he
ingested Lortab and OxyContin; he was arrested in Homer,
Louisiana (Claiborne Parish), and was there approximately
2½ hours before being transported to Minden (Webster
Parish); when he arrived in Minden, he was tired, sleepy,
"hung over," "a little intoxicated," and
upset; he had never been interrogated before, and he did not
really want to speak to the law enforcement officers because
he had been up "half the night"; the police
officers continued to "suggest things" and
scenarios regarding what had happened; and he "just told
them what they wanted to hear."
cross-examination, the defendant testified as follows: his
girlfriend was the subject of all of the arguments between
him and his wife; other than Lt. Baker, he could not think of
anyone who could corroborate any of his testimony; after he
fired three shots toward Kameka and saw her vehicle go
"into the woods," he did not approach the vehicle
to check on her or call 911; he did not call and ask
Kameka's mother to check on her; he did not check on
MiKaylah; he panicked and fled the scene; and he does not
know why he did not call and inform law enforcement that he
had shot his wife in self-defense. The defendant admitted
that during his interrogation, he stated that Kameka was not
trying to run over him with her car. Further, the defendant
admitted that he had bragged to the police officers about
being a "good shot," and that he had boasted about
his ability to use a pistol to "walk" gunshot
shells "along the ground."
deliberating, the jury found the defendant guilty of the
responsive verdict of manslaughter. On December 10, 2018, the
defendant was sentenced to 26 years' imprisonment at hard
labor. Following sentencing, counsel for the defendant made
an oral motion to reconsider, arguing that a sentence for a
first offender of more than half of the maximum sentence was
excessive. The trial court denied the motion to reconsider
defendant now appeals.
defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to support
his conviction for manslaughter. He argues that the state
failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was not
acting in self-defense when he fired the gunshots into
Kameka's vehicle. The defendant maintains that he fired
the shots after Kameka had driven her vehicle toward him,
then backed up in another effort to strike him with her car.
He argues that he feared for his life, and he pulled his gun
in an attempt to convince Kameka to stop the vehicle.
issues are raised on appeal both as to the sufficiency of the
evidence and as to one or more trial errors, the reviewing
court should first determine the sufficiency of the evidence.
State v. Hearold, 603 So.2d 731 (La. 1992);
State v. Robinson, 51, 830 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/28/18),
246 So.3d 725, writ denied, 2018-0573 (La. 2/11/19),
263 So.3d 897. The reason for reviewing sufficiency first is
that the accused may be entitled to an acquittal under
Hudson v. Louisiana, 450 U.S. 40, 101 S.Ct. 970, 67
L.Ed.2d 30 (1981), if a rational trier of fact, viewing the
evidence in accordance with Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), in the light
most favorable to the prosecution, could not reasonably
conclude that all of the essential elements of the offense
have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. State v.
standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the
evidence claim is whether, after viewing the case in a 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,
supra; State v. Tate, 2001-1658 (La.
5/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905,
124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v.
Robinson, 50, 643 (La.App. 2 Cir. 6/22/16), 197 So.3d
717, writ denied, 2016-1479 (La. 5/19/17), 221 So.3d
78. This standard, now legislatively embodied in La.C.Cr.P.
art. 821, does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle
to substitute its own appreciation of the evidence for that
of the fact finder. State v. Pigford, 2005-0477 (La.
2/22/06), 922 So.2d 517; State v. Robinson,
appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses
or reweigh evidence. State v. Smith, 1994-3116
(La.10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442; State v. Johnson, 41,
428 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/27/06), 940 So.2d 711, writ
denied, 2006-2615 (La. 5/18/07), 957 So.2d 150. Where
there is conflicting testimony about factual matters, the
resolution of which depends upon a determination of the
credibility of the witnesses, the matter is one of the weight
of the evidence, not its sufficiency. State v.
Crossley, 48, 149 (La.App. 2 Cir. 6/26/13), 117 So.3d
585, writ denied, 2013-1798 (La. 2/14/14), 132 So.3d
410; State v. Speed, 43, 786 (La.App. 2 Cir.
1/14/09), 2 So.3d 582, writ denied, 2009-0372 (La.
11/6/09), 21 So.3d 299. A reviewing court affords great
deference to a jury's decision to accept or reject the
testimony of a witness in whole or in part. State v.
Mitchell, 50, 188 (La.App. 2 Cir. 11/18/15), 181 So.3d
800, writ denied, 2015-2356 (La. 1/9/17), 214 So.3d
863; State v. Eason, 43, 788 (La.App. 2 Cir.
2/25/09), 3 So.3d 685, writ denied,
2009-0725 (La. 12/11/09), 23 So.3d 913, cert.
denied, 561 U.S. 1013, 130 S.Ct. 3472, 177 L.Ed.2d 1068
R.S. 14:31 provides, in pertinent part:
A. Manslaughter is:
(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; or
(2) A homicide committed, without any intent to cause death
or great bodily harm.
instant case, the evidence presented shows, and the defendant
admitted, that he shot his wife three times after a heated
argument about the defendant's relationship with another
woman. Thus, we are satisfied that there was sufficient
evidence to support the defendant's conviction for
manslaughter. Consequently, we must consider whether the
state met its burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt,
that the homicide was not committed in self-defense.
R.S. 14:20 provides, in pertinent part:
A. A homicide is justifiable:
(1)When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably
believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or
receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is ...