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State v. Curry

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 27, 2019



          Ricky Babin District Attorney Donaldsonville, Louisiana Attorneys for Appellee State of Louisiana

          Donald D. Candell Lindsey Manda Assistant District Attorneys Gonzales, Louisiana, Jane L. Beebe New Orleans, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/Appellant Nathan Curry


          McDonald, J.

         The defendant, Nathan Curry, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. He pled not guilty. After a trial by jury, he was found guilty as charged. The trial court denied a motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and two motions for new trial filed by the defendant. The trial court sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. The defendant now appeals, assigning error based on the sufficiency of the evidence, prosecutorial statements during closing arguments, and the non-unanimous jury verdict. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction and sentence.


         On the night of March 10, 2012, a group of individuals, mostly from Donaldsonville, Louisiana, travelled in at least four separate vehicles to Geismar and Gonzales, Louisiana, to attend social gatherings. In Geismar, they went to the Geismar Community Center, but left abruptly, when a fight broke out and police arrived. Upon leaving, some in the group headed back to Donaldsonville while others travelled to a Gonzales neighborhood where one member of the group, Davonne Solomon (the victim herein), was shot in the chest.

         According to Sparkle Bell, Ariel Dunn, Jardell Pleasant, and Robert Gibson (the driver), four Donaldsonville individuals who rode together to Gonzales with the victim, when they turned off Darla Avenue to Amber Street (a dead end street), they saw a group of people standing outside. As they exited their vehicle, shots were fired. At that time, Ariel, who did not see who was shooting, was shot in the arm and in the side. Robert witnessed someone yell, "Back up, back up, back up ... police, police, " and saw Davonne stepping back just as "the dude" fired gunshots. Robert did not know the person who shot Davonne, nor did he get a good look at him, but he noticed that the shooter was wearing a camouflage jacket and had dreadlocks. Jardell similarly stated that he saw a person with a gun in his hand say, "Y'all back the f-k up." Jardell backed up and turned around, and the shots were fired as he ran. Jardell noted that the person with the gun was wearing a "camouflage jacket with the dreads in his head." Jardell did not see Davonne get shot, as he was not looking toward Davonne at the time of the gunfire.[1]

         Sparkle, however, maintained that she saw Davonne being shot. According to Sparkle, after they exited their vehicle, the defendant, who she knew before that night, approached Davonne, pointed a gun at his chest, and shot him. Sparkle was approximately five feet from the defendant at the time. Sparkle noted that the defendant had dreadlocks at the time of the shooting. Sparkle identified the defendant as Davonne's shooter in a photographic lineup, and again in court at trial.


         In assignment of error number one, the defendant argues that the State failed to meet its burden of proving all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and his motion for new trial on that basis. Noting that the only question in this case was the identity of the shooter, the defendant contends that there was no physical evidence to connect him to the shooting. The defendant concedes that, before the trial, two witnesses identified him as the shooter. However, he contends that, at trial, one of the witnesses, Max Batiste, testified that he did not see the defendant shoot anyone. Regarding the other witness, Sparkle, the defendant contends that she was inconsistent as to whether she was outside or in the civic center restroom when the fight began between the Gonzales and Donaldsonville males. The defendant further contends that, at trial, Sparkle had to be confronted with her pretrial police statement before admitting that she believed two shooters were involved. He claims that Sparkle's account of the shooting contradicted the State's theory that there was only one shooter with one gun. Further, the defendant notes the lack of physical evidence or a ballistic expert to support the State's theory. The defendant argues that the trial court, in denying the post-trial motions, failed to see the flaws in the evidence to prove identity.

         The standard of review for the sufficiency of the evidence to uphold a conviction is whether, 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 beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, 573 (1979). See also La. C.Cr.P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 2006-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660. The Jackson standard of review, incorporated in Article 821, is an objective standard for testing the overall evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for reasonable doubt. State v. Patorno, 2001-2585 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 141, 144.

         When analyzing circumstantial evidence, La. R.S. 15:438 provides that the factfinder, in order to convict, must be satisfied the overall evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. When a case involves circumstantial evidence and the trier of fact reasonably rejects the hypothesis of innocence presented by the defense, that hypothesis falls, and the defendant is guilty unless there is another hypothesis that raises a reasonable doubt. State v. Dyson, 2016-1571 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/2/17), 222 So.3d 220, 228, writ denied, 2017-1399 (La. 6/15/18), 257 So.3d 685.

         Second degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. La. R.S. 14:30.1(A)(1). Specific criminal intent is that state of mind that exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act. La. R.S. 14:10(1). Though intent is a question of fact, it need not be proven as a fact. It may be inferred from the circumstances of the transaction. Thus, specific intent may be proven by direct evidence, such as statements by a defendant, or by inference from circumstantial evidence, such as a defendant's actions or facts depicting the circumstances. Specific intent is an ultimate legal conclusion to be resolved by the factfinder. State v. Coleman, 2017-1045 (La.App. 1st Cir. 4/13/18), 249 So.3d 872, 877, writ denied, 2018-0830 (La. 2/18/19), 263 So.3d 1155. Specific intent to kill may be inferred from a defendant's act of pointing a gun and firing at a person. See State v. Maten, 2004-1718 (La.App. 1st Cir. 3/24/05), 899 So.2d 711, 717, writ denied, 2005-1570 (La. 1/27/06), 922 So.2d 544; State v. Henderson, 99-1945 (La.App. 1st Cir. 6/23/00), 762 So.2d 747, 751, writ denied, 2000-2223 (La. 6/15/01), 793 So.2d 1235.

         The State bears the burden of proving the elements of the charged offense, as well as the identity of the defendant as the perpetrator. SeeState v. Draughn, 2005-1825 (La. 1/17/07), 950 So.2d 583, 593, cert, denied,552 U.S. 1012, 128 S.Ct. 537, 169 L.Ed.2d 377 (2007). When the key issue is the defendant's identity as the perpetrator, rather than whether the crime was committed, the State is required to negate any reasonable probability of misidentification. A positive identification by only one witness is sufficient to support a ...

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