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State v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

August 14, 2019


          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 348882 Honorable Katherine Clark Dorroh, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Peggy J. Sullivan Counsel for Appellant


          JAMES EDWARD STEWART, SR. District Attorney Counsel for Appellee


          Before COX, McCALLUM, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          McCALLUM, J.

         Raymond Johnson appeals his conviction of second degree murder for the stabbing death of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Yolanda Moore.[1]We affirm his conviction and sentence.


         At approximately 5:44 a.m. on April 29, 2017, Raymond Johnson placed a 911 call from his cell phone to report that a female friend had cut him as well as herself at his home in Shreveport. He requested medical attention and told the 911 operator that his friend "was laying out on the floor."

         Shreveport Fire Department ("SFD") and Shreveport Police Department ("SPD") personnel arrived at Johnson's home at 5:52 a.m. Three minutes later, paramedics confirmed that Moore was dead. Moore was 44 years old at the time.

         The emergency responders immediately encountered the bloody aftermath of a violent episode. Moore, wearing only unzipped jeans which were not completely pulled up, was on her back atop a sheet on the dining room floor. Many wounds were visible on her body, and a fan was positioned to blow on it. Furniture was overturned in the dining room, the adjoining living room, and a bedroom.[2] Blood, whether in the form of a drop, pool, or smear, was present throughout the house, as well as on a neighbor's porch and on the interior and exterior of Johnson's car, which was parked in his driveway. A bloody knife was recovered from the front yard of Johnson's home. When the emergency responders arrived they found Moore's lifeless body, Johnson, and no other individuals present.

         Subsequently, Johnson was indicted for the second degree murder of Moore in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. The State filed multiple notices of its intent to use other crimes evidence against Johnson. These prior incidents involved domestic abuse against Moore and another former girlfriend, as well as violence against a friend of Moore's. The trial court found the majority of this evidence to be admissible.

         Johnson filed a motion to suppress statements made to detectives during custodial interrogation. Johnson contended that the detectives continued with his interrogation despite his request for a lawyer. The motion was denied and the matter proceeded to trial by jury.


         Cassandra Pipkins, who lived next door to Johnson, testified that she was awakened early on the morning of April 29 by knocking on her door. Johnson, who was naked, asked Pipkins for a sheet. Pipkins did not consider Johnson's request unusual because he often had female companions at his home, and she surmised that one had run him out of the house. Pipkins was unsure of the time when Johnson came to her door, but knew she had gone to sleep at 2:20 a.m. Johnson ran back to his house after she gave him the sheet.

         The State introduced a record of Johnson's cell phone calls which revealed that a call had been made from Johnson's phone to Moore's phone at 7:29 p.m. on April 28. A call was made from Johnson's phone to a "Sir Dar. Pete" at 5:33 a.m. on April 29. This call lasted six seconds. At 5:35 a.m., a call was made from Johnson's phone to a "Ronnie." This called lasted six minutes and 31 seconds. The 911 call followed at 5:44 a.m.

         Answering the 911 operator's instructions, Johnson checked Moore for breathing and responded that he heard wheezing, which he described as like a "snoring" sound. He reported cuts to her chest caused by her falling onto a glass table. He then told the operator that he believed Moore was breathing.

         SPD Corporals Rodney Medlin and Michael Schulz were the first emergency responders to enter Johnson's home. Schulz found Johnson straddling Moore with his hands around her shoulders. Moore's body was located in the dining room, approximately 15 feet from the home's front door. Moore was on a sheet that Pipkins recognized as the one she had given to clothe Johnson. Medlin recalled that Moore was nonresponsive and cool to the touch and felt it was immediately apparent that she was dead.

         Medlin described the condition of several rooms as indicating that a struggle had taken place. In the living room, two couches were flipped over, a glass-topped table had been turned over, and what looked to be blood splatter was on the walls. Dressers were turned over in the master bedroom, and there appeared to be blood on the mattress, floor, and walls in that bedroom. Medlin also observed what he thought was blood on the mattress, floors, and in the hallway of a second bedroom.

         Once the police officers could ensure their safety, paramedics entered the home. Chris Henry is a fire engineer with SFD. Examining Moore for signs of life, Henry found that she was cool to the touch and that her body was showing signs of rigor mortis and dependent lividity.

         Henry noted a pool of what appeared to be blood on the porch, and that some of it was wet. Henry thought it was peculiar that while furniture was overturned in the living room, electronic equipment was untouched. Henry also thought it was strange that Moore's head was on a pillow and that she had a fan at her feet.

         Captain Jackie Hutchinson of SFD arrived on the scene with Henry. She found Moore to be without respiration or a pulse. Hutchinson noted that Moore was cold to the touch and had several injuries to her chest that were incompatible with life. Hutchinson, who was a paramedic for 21 years and an emergency room nurse for 13 years, explained to the jury that rigor mortis is the sign of a death that had occurred more than one to two hours earlier. She also explained that dependent lividity takes one to two hours after death, if not longer, to occur. Hutchinson thought this case was different from most other calls that she had responded to because Johnson was walking around bleeding, Moore's wounds had stopped bleeding, and there was blood outside.

         After Johnson was handcuffed, Schulz walked Johnson to his patrol vehicle for questioning and to read the Miranda rights to him. Schulz recalled that Johnson stated that he and Moore began arguing that morning because Johnson had to go to work. When Moore began throwing things, a struggle started and they fell through a glass table. Schulz testified that while Johnson was being treated by paramedics, he changed his story to say only Moore fell through the table. Schulz noticed a coffee table with a glass top in the living room, but the glass was cracked and not shattered.

         Schulz noted that Johnson had lacerations on his forehead and a couple of them on his neck, and that some of the wounds were actively bleeding. Schulz testified that Johnson never told him that Moore cut him with a knife or another object.

         Jarvis Johnson, a fire engineer with SFD, arrived at the scene in an ambulance. He placed the defendant in the ambulance to examine him. Johnson discovered that the defendant had some lacerations to his arm and one to his forehead; most of these were superficial and were fresh, and the defendant's skin was still moist in the area of the lacerations. Johnson explained that the defendant's lacerations had not hardened, which is a process that usually begins 20-30 minutes after lacerations occur. Johnson transported the defendant to the hospital for treatment.

         On the afternoon of April 29, Johnson was brought from the hospital to the office of SPD's violent crimes unit to be questioned by Detectives Logan McDonald and Adam McEntee. They met with Johnson at 2:45 p.m. A recording of the interrogation was played for the jury.[3]

         Johnson was dressed in scrubs from the hospital and his head was bandaged. He was also handcuffed. McDonald did not have Johnson sign an acknowledgment card after being read his Miranda rights because his hands were bloody and because the interview was being recorded.

         Johnson expressed shock when the detectives told him that Moore had died. He later uttered during the questioning that he thought a "corporal" at the hospital was joking when this officer told him that Moore was dead. However, McEntee reminded Johnson that he was the one who informed Johnson at the hospital of Moore's death. McEntee testified that when he told Johnson at the hospital of Moore's death, Johnson did not have much of a reaction other than to show a little surprise.

         Johnson told the detectives that he was getting ready for work that morning when Moore, who had been drinking, started a fight with him.[4]Johnson asserted that Moore had a history of becoming violent when she drank alcohol. According to Johnson, Moore began wrecking his house by knocking over furniture. He asserted that she cut him as she chased him through his house, and that he bled as he ran. Johnson continued that as he tried to leave the house, Moore grabbed him by the testicles, so he pushed her off and picked up a sheet before leaving the house.

         Johnson recounted to the detectives that as he spoke with his neighbor, Moore came onto Johnson's porch and sat on a chair. When the neighbor remarked that Moore had fallen down, Johnson ran back to his home, picked Moore up, and brought her into the house. Johnson insisted throughout the questioning that he did not know how Moore sustained her injuries. He contended that he only saw abrasions on her front when he picked her up off the porch after Johnson had fallen face first. Johnson attempted to explain to the detectives that the reason he told the officers earlier that Moore had been cut by glass from the table was because he had pushed her in that direction.

         Early in the interrogation, Johnson told the detectives that he did not know what Moore used to cut him. However, later during the interview, he stated that she had used a knife. Johnson also explained that he called a friend to tell him that Moore had passed out, and the friend recommended that Johnson call 911.

         Corporal Marcus Mitchell is with SPD's crime scene investigations unit. Mitchell described the living room and the master bedroom in Johnson's home as looking like a tornado had gone through them. He noted that the master bedroom was in a state of disarray, and he described the mattress there as being heavily stained with blood.

         Mitchell testified that Johnson had a wound to the top of his forehead, several injuries to his right shoulder, and an injury to his arm. He further stated that Johnson's hands appeared to be stained with blood. Mitchell did not note any injuries to Johnson's groin area or recall any significant injuries to his feet.

         The bloody kitchen knife, found in the yard, had a three-inch blade. The knife was measured, from the tip of its blade to the tip of its handle, as being approximately eight inches in length.

         Dr. Jessica Esparza, the DNA technical leader at the North Louisiana Crime Lab, testified about the results of DNA testing on samples taken from blood evidence at the crime scene. Johnson's DNA sample was consistent with the DNA collected in swabs taken from blood atop a hard drive and from blood on the kitchen floor, the kitchen sink, the bathroom wall, and a beer can in the refrigerator in Johnson's home. His DNA sample was also consistent with the DNA taken from blood found on Perkins's porch.

         Moore's DNA sample was consistent with the swabs of DNA taken from blood on the mattress in the guest bedroom, the hallway wall adjacent to the master bedroom, the cracked television screen in the master bedroom, and the passenger seat armrest of Johnson's sedan.

         Swabs of DNA taken from blood on the handle of the knife found in Johnson's yard, the door handle of the refrigerator in Johnson's kitchen, a beer can atop the refrigerator, and from the A-frame on the passenger side of Johnson's car were consistent with the DNA samples from both Johnson and Moore.

         A swab of DNA collected from a drop of blood on the fireplace mantel in the living room of Johnson's home was consistent with Johnson's DNA. A swab of DNA collected from another blood spot on the same mantel was a mixture of DNA from two people. Moore and Johnson could not be excluded as donors.

         Blood found on Johnson's bathroom sink, on the mattress in his master bedroom, and on the blade of the knife found in his yard contained a mixture of DNA from two people. Johnson and Moore could not be excluded as donors of that DNA.

         Dr. James Traylor, a forensic pathologist, performed the autopsy on Moore. He counted 21 stab wounds, three of which, individually or collectively, could have caused her death.[5] Dr. Traylor testified that the stab wounds were caused by a single-edge knife.

         Dr. Traylor explained that one fatal wound was on the upper left chest just below the collarbone, with the blade cutting the left subclavian artery. A second fatal wound was on the right side of the upper chest near the midline, with the blade puncturing the upper lobe of the right lung. The third fatal wound was on the left chest wall, with the blade puncturing the lower lobe of the left lung. Dr. Traylor explained that the wounds were fatal not ...

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