FROM CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT ORLEANS PARISH NO. 528-085,
SECTION "0" Honorable Dennis J. Waldron, Judge
Cannizzaro DISTRICT ATTORNEY ORLEANS PARISH Donna Andrieu
Kyle Daly DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE ORLEANS PARISH
COUNSEL FOR STATE
Constance Hanes LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT P. O. Box 4015
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT
R. Rainey #734329 C.P.D.C. PRO SE
composed of Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Paula A. Brown,
Judge Tiffany G. Chase)
A. BROWN JUDGE
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.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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.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 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.
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.
defense stipulated that Ms. Williams identified Defendant as
the person in the doorway of the apartment that picked up a
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Thompson 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."
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.
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
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.
of Error No. 1: Prosecutorial misconduct
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.
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. The district court denied Defendant's
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.
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.
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.
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
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