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State v. Rainey

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

October 9, 2019


          APPEAL FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 528-085, SECTION "0" Honorable Dennis J. Waldron, Judge



          Ahmad R. Rainey #734329 C.P.D.C. PRO SE

          (Court composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Paula A. Brown, Judge Tiffany G. Chase)


         This is a criminal appeal. On February 4, 2016, co-defendants, Ahmad Rainey (Defendant) and Gilda Woodridge (Ms. Woodridge) were indicted by a grand jury in a single bill. Defendant was charged, in counts one and two, with second-degree murder of Vernon Lewis and Daniel Millon (La. R.S. 14:30.1) and, in count five, with obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence (La. R.S. 14:130.1). Ms. Woodridge was charged, in counts three and four, with manslaughter of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon (La. R.S. 14:30.1), and, in count five, with obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence (La. R.S. 14:130.1). On April 9, 2018, the day before jury selection began, the State filed a motion to invoke firearm sentencing provision ("motion to invoke"), pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. arts. 893.1-893.3, as to Defendant's sentences to be imposed on the charges of second degree murder based on Defendant's use of a firearm. On April 10, 2018, a jury trial commenced, and that morning, the State severed Ms. Woodridge's trial.[1]After a two-day jury trial, Defendant was found, on count one, guilty to the responsive verdict of manslaughter of Mr. Lewis; on count two, not guilty of second-degree murder of Mr. Millon; and on count five, guilty of obstruction of justice by a ten to two verdict. Following denial of Defendant's motion for new trial, a sentencing hearing was held, and Defendant was sentenced to twenty-eight (28) years imprisonment, at hard labor, for manslaughter and twenty (20) years imprisonment, at hard labor, for obstruction of justice, with the sentences to run concurrently.

         Defendant filed a notice of appeal in the district court which was granted. This appeal follows wherein Defendant seeks review of his convictions and sentences and assigns three errors:[2]

1.The State committed prosecutorial misconduct by severing co-defendant on the morning of trial, depriving Defendant of due process and a fair trial;
2.The district court erred in sentencing Defendant for manslaughter under the firearm sentencing enhancement provisions of La. C.Cr.P. art. 893.3 because the State "filed the required notice too late"; and
3.Defendant's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the lack of a unanimous jury verdict on the conviction of obstruction of justice.
For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Defendant's convictions and vacate his sentences and remand to the district court for resentencing consistent with this opinion.


         Pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art. 920, we have reviewed the record for errors patent and find an error patent, which will be discussed infra, in connection with assignment of error number two.[3]


         At trial, Defendant admitted that he shot and killed the victims, Vernon Lewis and Daniel Millon, at Hidden Lake Apartment Complex in New Orleans East, and after he left the scene, he disposed of the firearm that he used. Defendant urged he was acting in self-defense.

         Relevant testimony at trial, which included Defendant, Darneka Williams, a forensic pathologist from the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) homicide detective Jana Thompson, and stipulations by the defense, forms the basis of the statement of facts. Manslaughter

         Defendant and Ms. Woodridge were in a romantic relationship for ten years and had four children together; the couple were engaged to be married. Defendant and Ms. Woodridge lived in a downstairs apartment at the Hidden Lake Apartment Complex in New Orleans East. Ms. Williams, along with her mom, sister, and her children, resided in the apartment above Defendant and Ms. Woodridge. At trial, Defendant described the apartment complex as "very dangerous."

         On the afternoon of December 28, 2017, Defendant and Ms. Woodridge, as well as their children, went to the closing for the purchase of their new home and then, went to celebrate the occasion. After returning to the apartment complex that evening, they discovered two motorcycles parked in front of their apartment door; one of the motorcycles was blocking entry into the apartment and the other was near the stairway that led to the second floor of the apartment complex.[4]Defendant and Ms. Woodridge knew the motorcycles belonged to guests of their upstairs neighbor, Ms. Williams, because this had occurred on a previous occasion. Mr. Lewis, Ms. Williams' boyfriend, and two of their friends, Mr. Millon and Tynicka Jones[5] along with Ms. Jones' child, were visiting Ms. Williams that night. Ms. Woodridge ascended upstairs, and knocked on Ms. Williams' door to ask that her guests relocate their motorcycles. Ms. Williams agreed, and Mr. Lewis, Mr. Millon, along with Ms. Williams, Ms. Jones, and two children, proceeded downstairs.

         Ms. Williams testified that when she arrived downstairs, she observed Ms. Woodridge go into her apartment, and Defendant standing in the doorway. Mr. Lewis, Mr. Millon, and Defendant talked for a moment. Ms. Williams stated that Defendant told Mr. Lewis he did not have to move his motorcycle which was parked underneath the stairway. In addition, Ms. Williams recalled that Mr. Millon began the process of moving his motorcycle. She stated she observed Mr. Millon walk towards the parking lot and use his cell phone. Ms. Williams stated that "[a]fter that, [Defendant] asked him [Mr. Millon] if he was calling somebody, and that was the end of it . . . . he went in the doorway and grabbed something and came back out." She explained that Defendant grabbed his gun. Ms. Williams recalled that when she saw an expression on Defendant's face, she thought something may happen so she grasped her child and started upstairs. Ms. Jones and her child followed soon after. While running up the stairs, Ms. Williams heard gunshots, and when she returned to her apartment, she called 911. Ms. Williams testified Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon were not armed.

         The defense stipulated that Ms. Williams identified Defendant as the person in the doorway of the apartment that picked up a "big gun."

         Defendant testified that when Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon came downstairs, he was standing in the doorway of his apartment. As Ms. Woodridge walked toward their apartment, he thought Mr. Millon was going to attack Ms. Woodridge from behind which prompted him to locate his firearm, an AR15, inside near his apartment door in preparation for a potential confrontation. According to

         Defendant, after exchanging words and realizing that Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon were not going to move their motorcycles, he requested that Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon leave several times; they refused.

         Defendant testified that during his interaction with Mr. Lewis and Mr. Millon, Mr. Millon called someone. Defendant believed that Mr. Millon was summoning others to get their guns and come to the apartment complex.

         Defendant stated that he observed Mr. Millon "clutching" his weapon on his waist and "circling around," and Mr. Lewis reached under his sweatshirt. Defendant testified Mr. Lewis usually carried a gun. Defendant noticed Ms. Williams and Ms. Jones "creeping" up the stairway. Defendant interpreted these actions as possible threats. Defendant testified when Mr. Millon stepped toward him, he shot Mr. Millon. In addition, Defendant testified that initially Mr. Lewis attempted to grab Defendant's gun. Being unsuccessful, Mr. Lewis tried to "break away" from Defendant, and Defendant shot Mr. Lewis because he thought Mr. Lewis was going for a gun underneath his sweatshirt. Defendant testified he did not want to kill the men, and he did not know why they wanted to kill him.

         At trial, the forensic pathologist employed by the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office, who performed the autopsies of the two victims, testified Mr. Millon suffered four gunshot wounds, and Mr. Lewis suffered five gunshot wounds. The pathologist concluded the gunshot wounds suffered by Mr. Millon and Mr. Lewis resulted in their death.

         Detective Thompson[6] testified that she was assigned to investigate the double homicide. During the course of her investigation, she learned that all of the bullet casings collected from the scene were of the same caliber-5.56-generally used in AR15s and the bullet casings had all been fired from the same firearm. Detective Thompson did not locate the weapon. In addition, Detective Thompson testified that "there was no evidence that suggested other guns were involved."

         Detective Thompson executed a search warrant of Defendant's apartment. During the search, two boxes of the same type of ammunition that had been fired at the scene were discovered.

         The defense stipulated that the casings found at the scene came from the same type of bullets from the two boxes of ammunition seized by police at Defendant's apartment. Obstruction of Justice

         Defendant testified because he believed there was a possibility that Mr. Millon, via phone, had summoned others to get their guns and come to the apartment complex, he entered his vehicle and fled the scene with his family. During his flight, Defendant threw the firearm out of the vehicle's window. Defendant testified he discarded the weapon because he did not want to further frighten Ms. Woodridge and his children. Subsequently, Defendant and Ms. Woodridge made plans for the care of their children, hired attorneys, and turned themselves into law enforcement.


         Assignment of Error No. 1: Prosecutorial misconduct

         Defendant asserts the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by severing Ms. Woodridge's trial the morning of trial, depriving Defendant of due process and a fair trial.

         Defendant and Ms. Woodridge were set to be tried jointly. The day before trial began, April 9, 2019, Defendant filed a motion in limine, pursuant to U.S. v. Bruton, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620 (1968). In Bruton, the defendant was implicated in a robbery by the confession of his codefendant which was introduced into evidence. The codefendant did not testify at the joint trial. The United States Supreme Court held that the admission of the codefendant's statement had deprived the defendant of his rights under the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment. Based on Bruton, Defendant moved that the State be barred from introducing the statement of Ms. Woodridge that allegedly incriminated Defendant.[7] The district court denied Defendant's motion.

         In turn, on that same day, the State severed Ms. Woodridge from the trial. The defense objected on the grounds severance of Ms. Woodridge would "eliminate" the only defense witness they had and preparations for Defendant's trial were based on a joint trial. The district court overruled the objection. In addition, Defendant requested a continuance of the trial which the district court denied.

         At trial when Ms. Woodridge was called as a witness for the defense, she refused to testify by invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

         Post-conviction, Defendant asserted the State's severance of Ms. Woodridge as a ground for a new trial, and a hearing was held. In denying this claim, the district court concluded that Ms. Woodridge's decision not to testify at Defendant's trial or at her separate trial because of her pending charges did not prejudice Defendant. The district court opined that "this case lacks a supposition of injustice born by the defendant . . . when the trial was severed." We agree.

         The district attorney controls the administration of criminal prosecutions. La. Const. art. 5, § 26(B). In addition, La. C.Cr.P. art. 61 states that "[s]ubject to the supervision of the attorney general, as provided in Article 62, the district attorney has entire charge and control of every criminal prosecution instituted or pending in his district, and determines whom, when, and how he shall prosecute." Louisiana Code Criminal Procedure Article 704 pertinently provides that "[j]ointly indicted defendants shall be tried jointly unless. . . .the State elects to try them separately. . . ." There is no qualification or condition upon which the State must base its decision to sever jointly indicted defendants. Thus, the election to sever Ms. Woodridge was within the discretion of the State.

         In State v. Walland,555 So.2d 478, 480 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1989)(citations omitted), this Court recognized that "[w]hen the District Attorney's authority under La.C.Cr.P. art. 61 does not interfere with a defendant's constitutional guarantees, his actions will not be disturbed by the judicial branch," but cautioned that "[t]he District Attorney's statutory authority to control the prosecution cannot supersede the defendant's ...

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