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State v. Ladell

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

September 25, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA Appellee
v.
ROBERT LADELL Appellant

          Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 341, 935 Honorable Katherine Dorroh, Judge.

          FRANK E. BROWN, JR. Counsel for Appellant

          JAMES E. STEWART, SR. District Attorney RICHARD S. FEINBERG RON C. STAMPS BRITNEY A. GREEN Assistant District Attorneys Counsel for Appellee

          Before GARRETT, McCALLUM, and THOMPSON, JJ.

          THOMPSON, J.

         This criminal appeal of convictions for First Degree Rape[1] and Third Degree Rape[2] arises from the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo, the Honorable Katherine Dorroh presiding. The defendant, Robert Ladell (hereinafter "Ladell"), was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on the charge of first degree rape and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence for the conviction for third degree rape. The sentences were ordered to be served concurrently. Defendant now appeals. For the following reasons, we hereby affirm both sentences.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ladell was indicted for the first degree rape of S.T., a victim under the age of 13, in violation of La. R.S. 14:42(A)(4), and for the first degree rape of J.S., a victim under the age of 13, in violation of La. R.S. 14:42(A)(4). A jury trial commenced on November 5, 2018.

         S.T. testified that she was 18 years old at the time of trial and that she would have been nine years old when Ladell began to abuse her. At that time, she lived with her mother at her grandmother's house. S.T. stated that she also had a relationship with her father. S.T. testified that, after school, she would go to her great-grandmother's house. She would often go to her aunt, Diane O'Kray's (hereinafter "O'Kray"), house to eat after arriving at her great-grandmother's. O'Kray confirmed that the bus would drop S.T. off at her house after school. Catherine Johnson (hereinafter "Johnson"), another aunt, and S.T.'s cousin, Ladell, also lived at O'Kray's house. S.T. testified that Ladell would sometimes be at O'Kray's house when she was there after school.

         S.T. testified that she would often watch TV in Johnson's bedroom. S.T. testified that, at one point, Ladell entered the bedroom and shut the door, then sat on the bed with her and touched her private area. S.T. stated that she voiced her objection and tried to resist Ladell. S.T. testified that Ladell also pulled his penis out of the zipper of his pants and forced her to touch it. Ladell then forced S.T. to put his penis in her mouth. S.T. testified that this occurred on three different occasions while she was at O'Kray's house. In 2016, S.T. disclosed the details of the abuse to her mother after a family meeting at which Ladell apologized to her for his inappropriate conduct.

         Chisa Taylor (hereinafter "Taylor"), S.T.'s mother, testified that Ladell was her first cousin. Taylor testified that, in May 2016, S.T. disclosed to her that Ladell had touched her "butt and private area" when she was eight or nine years old. Taylor testified that Ladell apologized for "touching her" in front of the family. S.T. later told Taylor that the touching happened when her mother was at work or at school and the incidents had occurred at her grandmother's house. O'Kray testified that Ladell apologized in front of family members for slapping S.T. "on the butt one time." However, O'Kray disputed S.T.'s account of sexual abuse, testifying that Ladell was never alone with S.T, but she couldn't be positive about what occurred or not when all the kids were at the house at the same time. Johnson testified that she never saw Ladell in her bedroom with S.T. LaMiracle Taylor (hereinafter "LaMiracle"), S.T.'s aunt and Ladell's cousin, testified that she lived in O'Kray's house for a period of time, but never saw Ladell and S.T. alone together.

         Sherman Bradley (hereinafter "Bradley"), S.T.'s father, testified that, in May 2016, S.T. disclosed to him that Ladell had been forcing himself upon her since she was nine years old. Bradley stated that, after learning about the incidents from S.T., he called the police. S.T.'s stepmother, Jamela Bradley (hereinafter "Jamela"), corroborated Bradley's testimony. Jamela testified that S.T. was crying and "very distraught" when she disclosed the abuse. Jamela confirmed that S.T. reported Ladell's apology to the family.

         S.T. identified the defendant in open court. She recalled making a recorded statement at the Gingerbread House. A video of that statement was admitted as State's Exhibit 1 and was played for the jury. S.T. testified that she was not examined by a physician after any of the incidents or after telling her family about the incidents.

         J.S. testified that she was 15 years old at the time of trial, and that she would have been 10 years old when Ladell began to abuse her in 2013. At that time, she lived with her mother, who was dating Robert Ladell. J.S. testified that Ladell occasionally spent the night at their house. Samantha Smith (hereinafter "Smith"), J.S.'s mother, testified that Ladell would sometimes spend the night three or four nights per week. Ladell slept in a room with Smith, while J.S.'s 16-year-old brother, Jeremiah, slept in the den, and J.S.'s 11-year-old brother, Emanuel, shared a room with her. Smith did not have a vehicle, so Ladell often provided transportation for the family.

         J.S. testified that, just before she turned 11, Ladell began talking to her in a way that made her feel out of place and uncomfortable, and that "he would say things like hey sexy and, you know, you so cute and stuff like that." J.S. began having Emanuel sleep in the bottom bunk bed with her so that Ladell would not try to touch her at night. J.S. further testified that Ladell still tried to touch her while in the bed, but she would pretend to be asleep.

         J.S. stated that she was almost 11 years old when Ladell first touched her inappropriately. Ladell had two (2) daiquiris that night, but J.S. testified that he did not seem intoxicated. J.S. testified that Ladell touched both of her breasts, and she hit him to try and fend off his advances. Her mother and two brothers were present in the house, but not in the same room, at the time of the incident. J.S. testified that the sexual misconduct continued for approximately a year and a half. During this time, J.S. testified that Ladell would fondle, penetrate, and make her perform oral sex on him. She had intercourse with Ladell two or three times, and Ladell performed anal sex on her. J.S. testified that Jeremiah was home most of the time when Ladell abused her, but was not in the room. J.S. stated that Ladell would take his frustrations out on her mother by hitting her if J.S. refused to perform sexual acts on him. However, J.S. stated that she never saw Ladell hit her mother, but just assumed that he did. J.S. testified that Ladell choked her mother on one occasion, and she knew this because her mother told her.

         J.S. testified that Derrick Critton (hereinafter "Critton"), a neighbor, was the first person that she told about the events with Ladell. Critton testified that he lived across the street from J.S.'s family and was friendly with them. He testified that, on June 30, 2015, J.S. came to his house to talk to him. Critton described J.S. as "real choked up" when she told him that Ladell had been molesting her since she was 11 years old. Critton testified that J.S. described vaginal, anal, and oral sex with Ladell. J.S. told Critton that she wanted to go to a slumber party, but that Ladell told her that "if she wanted to go then she had to suck on it, " prompting her to disclose. Critton testified that he was very angry, but that J.S. stopped him from attempting to harm Ladell.

         J.S. agreed to tell her mother about the abuse, and Critton called the police. Smith testified that she "just lost it" when J.S. told her that Ladell had been raping her for years. J.S.'s mother admitted that there were times when Ladell had been alone with J.S. J.S.'s mother testified that J.S. would sometimes be in the vehicle with her when she picked up Ladell from his janitorial job and that J.S. sometimes went inside to use the bathroom while her mother waited in the truck. J.S.'s mother stated that J.S. told her that Ladell tried to get J.S. to have sex with him in the bathroom while her mother waited outside in the truck.

         J.S. identified the defendant in open court. She recalled making a recorded statement at the Gingerbread House. A video of that statement was admitted as State's Exhibit 2 and was played for the jury. J.S. testified that, after her interview at the Gingerbread House, she underwent a physical examination, but too much time had passed for any evidence to be recovered.

         Detective Michael Jones (hereinafter "Det. Jones"), of the Shreveport Police Department, testified that he investigated the two cases involving Ladell. Det. Jones testified that the disclosures made by J.S. and S.T. were very similar, in that they both described vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Det. Jones testified that there was no relationship between J.S. and S.T. J.S. was the daughter of Ladell's girlfriend, while S.T. was Ladell's cousin.

         Det. Jones testified that he took a voluntary, recorded statement from Ladell on June 25, 2016, after advising Ladell of his Miranda rights. A copy of Ladell's statement was admitted as State's Exhibit 4 and was played for the jury. During Ladell's interview, he indicated to Det. Jones that he was a teenager and attended J.S. Clark, a junior high school, at the time of the alleged abuse. Det. Jones testified that Ladell's birthday was October 31, 1989, actually making him 23-25 years old at the time the abuse of J.S. and 19-25 at the time of the abuse of S.T. Det. Jones testified that Ladell admitted to "hunching" or humping S.T.

         Alex Person (hereinafter "Person"), a forensic interviewer and education coordinator at the Gingerbread House, was admitted as an expert in the field of forensic interviewing. Person testified that she conducted interviews of both victims in this case. She stated that J.S. was able to provide great detail about her abuse and was "ready to talk about what had happened to her." Person testified that J.S. described vaginal, anal, and oral sex with Ladell. Person stated that S.T. was more reluctant to discuss the abuse and was less forthcoming with details. Person testified that S.T. did describe oral sex with Ladell.

         Person testified that delayed reporting of sexual abuse is very common in child victims. She stated that 90% of the abusers are known to the victim, so the child will have to gather their thoughts and select a trusted person to whom to disclose. Person further testified that a delay in reporting often happens due to fear, being threatened, or processing what has happened. She explained that, because most abusers are known to the victim, the child will often worry about causing a rift or trouble in their family by disclosing.

         Det. Jones testified that, by the time he was made aware of the allegations, it was well outside of the time frame to collect physical evidence from the victims or the crime scenes. Furthermore, Ladell had stayed in the both residences, so his fingerprints and DNA would be expected to be present in those locations. Person confirmed that delayed reporting often caused a lack of physical evidence.

         The defense witnesses consisted of character witnesses who testified as to Ladell's good character in the community. Rashima Owens, a co-worker of Ladell, testified that Ladell had a good reputation, but admitted that she did not have a relationship with him outside of work. Takia Norris, another co-worker, testified that she had occasionally socialized with Ladell outside of work and that she knew him to have a good reputation. Renita Lanier, Ladell's supervisor at work, testified that he was a conscientious and honest employee. Alford Ladell, Sr., Ladell's uncle, testified that Ladell had a good reputation in the community. De Quandren Ladell, Ladell's cousin, testified that he considered Ladell to be honest and to be a person of integrity.

         On November 7, 2018, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of the third degree rape of S.T and guilty of the first degree rape of J.S. On November 14, 2018, Ladell was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment at hard labor, without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on the conviction for third degree rape, and to life imprisonment at hard labor, without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on the conviction for first degree rape. This appeal followed.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         Though incorrectly numbered, Defendant has assigned the following four (4) errors:

(1) The evidence presented by the State was insufficient to support the conviction of defendant for First Degree Rape, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the State.
(2) The trial court erred in denying defendant's challenges for cause of prospective jurors and granting the State's challenges for cause.
(3) The trial court erred by releasing a juror sua sponte prior to deliberations with no "just legal cause" being shown.
(5) There are errors patent on the face of the record without examining the pleadings or proceedings.

         DISCUSSION

         Assignment of Error No. 1

         On review, the defendant argues that no rational jury would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based upon the evidence presented by the State. He asserts that the State presented an entirely circumstantial case, and that there was no physical or forensic evidence presented by the State to corroborate the testimony of the two victims. Ladell also asserts that the victims' testimony was inconsistent.

         In response, the State asserts that the victims did not know each other, but that they corroborated each other's testimony, that Ladell gave an apology to the family of S.T., and that the lack of physical or forensic evidence was explained by the victims' delay in reporting the assaults. The State argues that the testimony of a sexual assault victim alone is sufficient to establish the elements of the crime, and that the jury viewed the totality of the facts presented in this case and found the testimony of the victims credible.

         Applicable Law

         The standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim 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 proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); State v. Tate, 01-1658 (La. 05/20/03), 851 So.2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905, 124 S.Ct. 1604, 158 L.Ed.2d 248 (2004); State v. Bass, 51, 411 (La.App. 2 Cir. 06/21/17), 223 So.3d 1242, writ not cons., 18-0296 (La. 04/16/18), 239 So.3d 830. 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, 05-0477 (La. 02/22/06), 922 So.2d 517; State v. Dotie, 43, 819 (La.App. 2 Cir. 01/14/09), 1 So.3d 833, writ denied, 09-0310 (La. 11/06/09), 21 So.3d 297, 12-0717 (La. 09/12/12), 98 So.3d 305.

         The trier of fact makes credibility determinations and may accept or reject the testimony of any witness. State v. Casey, 99-0023 (La. 01/26/00), 775 So.2d 1022, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 840, 121 S.Ct. 104, 148 L.Ed.2d 62 (2000). In the absence of internal contradiction or irreconcilable conflict with physical evidence, one witness's testimony, if believed by the trier of fact, is sufficient support for a requisite factual conclusion. State v. Robinson, 50, 643 (La.App. 2 Cir. 06/22/16), 197 So.3d 717, writ denied, 16-1479 (La. 05/19/17), 221 So.3d 78; State v. Gullette, 43, 032 (La.App. 2 Cir. 02/13/08), 975 So.2d 753. The appellate court does not assess credibility or reweigh the evidence. State v. Smith, 94-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So.2d 442; State v. Green, 49, 741 (La.App. 2 Cir. 04/15/15), 164 So.3d 331.

         Direct evidence provides proof of the existence of a fact, for example, a witness's testimony that he saw or heard something. State v. Lilly, 468 So.2d 1154 (La. 1985). Circumstantial evidence provides proof of collateral facts and circumstances, from which the existence of the main fact may be inferred according to reason and common experience. Id. When the state relies on circumstantial evidence to establish the existence of an essential element of a crime, the court must assume every fact that the evidence tends to prove and the circumstantial evidence must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. La. R.S. 15:438; State v. Lilly, supra; State v. Green, supra.

         The trier of fact is charged with weighing the credibility of this evidence and, on review, the same standard as in Jackson v. Virginia is applied, giving great deference to the fact finder's conclusions. State v. Green, supra. When the trier of fact reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence advanced by a defendant, the hypothesis fails, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis which raises a reasonable ...


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