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State v. Littleton

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 4, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
ADAM LITTLETON

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 16-2908, DIVISION "P" HONORABLE LEE V. FAULKNER, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, STATE OF LOUISIANA Paul D. Connick, Jr. Terry M. Boudreaux Andrea F. Long Kellie M. Rish Megan L. Gorman

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, ADAM LITTLETON Paul J. Barker Kristen Legendre

          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Marc E. Johnson, and John J. Molaison, Jr.

          FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE.

         This is an appeal of the conviction of defendant, Adam Littleton, for second-degree murder after a jury trial on July 28, 2017. On November 9, 2017, defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Defendant also appeals the trial court's admission of expert testimony in the field of human trafficking and evidence of other acts of the defendant's involvement in human trafficking under Louisiana Code of Evidence art. 404(b). As the trial court previously denied defendant's motions for new trial based on alleged sequestration violations by a State witness and Brady violations by the State, he appeals the denial of those motions.

         For the reasons set forth below, we find no merit to the allegations and affirm the decisions of the trial court.

         FACTS

         On June 10, 2015, at 4:57 a.m., emergency operators were alerted to an object, possibly a human body, lying in the center lane of westbound Interstate 10. Louisiana State Police and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office (JPSO) found a trail of blood, body parts, sandals, a cellular phone, clothing, a hair piece, and a watch from the Veterans on-ramp to the Power exit. After analyzing the victim's fingerprints and cellular phone, the police identified the body as nineteen-year-old Jasilas Wright. After speaking to the victim's friends and family members and searching the home of the victim's mother, Nedra Wright, defendant, Adam Littleton, was identified as a suspect.

         Testimony at trial revealed that the victim had known defendant for less than a month. Defendant had traveled to New Orleans from Texas on May 14, 2015, with Quinicsha Johnson, a prostitute. While staying at the Monteleone Hotel, defendant met the victim through her work as a dancer at Stiletto's, a Bourbon Street strip club.[1] Within a few days, the victim left New Orleans with defendant, telling family members that she was going to dance in Texas with some girls from her work. Defendant and the victim thereafter stayed in hotels in Ft. Worth, Dallas, Austin, and Grand Prairie, Texas. In the beginning of June, the victim and defendant drove back to New Orleans in a gray Camry belonging to defendant's brother, Michael Adams.

         Upon their return to New Orleans, the victim and defendant stayed with the victim's mother, Ms. Wright, at her home located at 3009 Live Oak Street. The victim's family believed defendant was the victim's boyfriend. According to her family, when she returned home, the victim appeared to have lost weight; she told her grandmother, Carole Bernard, that she was not going to leave New Orleans or her nine-month-old son again. After returning to New Orleans, the victim resumed working at Stiletto's. Defendant drove the victim to and from work, and spent time with Ms. Wright while the victim worked.

         On the night of June 6, 2015, the victim went out with her friend from high school, Demonyan Cooper, and spent the night with another man. Two days later on June 8, 2015, the victim and defendant went to Walmart's Woodforest bank where defendant opened a bank account and deposited ten dollars.[2] On the evening of June 9, 2015, the victim went to work. While she worked, defendant met Journae King, a former dancer, on Bourbon Street, and they exchanged text messages until 2:40 a.m. the following morning of June 10, 2015. Defendant's cell phone records revealed that he was in downtown New Orleans at 4:20 a.m., thereafter near Loyola Drive in Kenner from 5:00 a.m. to 5:05 a.m.

         On June 10, 2015, Ms. Wright realized that her daughter had not come home from work, although both her and defendant's bags were still in the house. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Journae King called Ms. Wright asking if she had seen her daughter. After speaking with Ms. King, Ms. Wright called Ms. Bernard, her mother and the victim's grandmother. Meanwhile, defendant made phone calls to Ms. Johnson, Ms. Cooper, Ms. King, as well as his brother and sister, crying and telling them that the victim had jumped out of his car on the highway. Ms. Cooper went to Ms. Bernard's house and put all phone calls from defendant on speakerphone in the presence of Ms. Bernard and officers from New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).[3]

         Cell phone records show defendant continued to drive west to Dallas, Texas arriving there between 9:45 and 10:15 p.m. at the apartment of Stephanie Walker, his brother, Michael Adams' girlfriend. After hearing defendant's story, Ms. Walker confirmed the details on the internet and called the Louisiana State Police from her workplace. On June 12, 2015, Ms. Walker spoke with Trooper First Class Gus Bethea at which point she reported to the trooper that she had overheard defendant telling Mr. Adams that he could not call the police because he was scared that he was responsible. According to Ms. Walker, defendant said he had forced the victim into the car and told her the only way she was going to get out was if she jumped. Ms. Walker also overheard defendant say that he saw, in his rearview mirror, two cars run over the victim and that he stopped at the next exit to throw her belongings out of the car. Louisiana State Police and JPSO deputies arrived in Dallas, searched the Camry, and interviewed Mr. Adams and Ms. Walker. The search of the vehicle revealed defendant's bank statements from Bank of America and paperwork from victim's visit to Texas Health Resources center on May 23, 2015 at 2:00 a.m. for a cervical sprain.

         The coroner, Dr. Marianne Eserman, determined that the cause of the victim's death was multiple blunt force injuries, and based on law enforcement reports, the manner of death was homicide.[4] Louisiana State Police obtained two arrest warrants for defendant: one for second degree kidnapping in Orleans Parish and another for second degree murder in Jefferson Parish. Defendant turned himself in to the police in Shreveport, and he was escorted to Orleans Parish.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY/STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         On May 12, 2016, defendant was charged with second degree murder in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. On November 21, 2016, the State filed a Notice of Intent to Introduce Evidence of Other Acts under La. Code of Evidence art. 404(b). The State sought to introduce evidence of nine other acts proving that defendant was engaging in a prostitution enterprise to provide insight into the victim's relationship with defendant. These acts were discovered by law enforcement after speaking to the victim's family and friends and searching the victim and defendant's phone records, Instagram accounts, email accounts, and bank records. The State argued that the evidence was relevant to the essential element that the victim was not a willing occupant of the defendant's vehicle. After a hearing of the contested motion on January 11, 2017, the trial court granted the introduction of evidence over defense objection.

         On May 30, 2017, the State filed a Notice of Intent to offer Lieutenant William Hare, the Commander of JPSO vice unit, as an expert in the field of human trafficking. On July 18, 2017, the State filed a motion for a pre-trial hearing to qualify Lieutenant (Lt.) Hare as an expert, which defense counsel opposed. At the July 24, 2017 hearing was held on, and the trial court found that based on his training, education, and experience in the field, Lt. Hare was qualified testify as an expert, specifically in the culture, language, advertising, and arranging of prostitution; transportation and locale of prostitution; and recruiting and control methods of pimps.

         The case thereafter proceeded to trial before a twelve-person jury on July 24, 2017. At the trial, as a result of the admission of Other Acts evidence, the jury heard testimony from Trooper Bethea that provocative photographs of the victim, as well as the phone numbers of the victim and defendant, were posted on a classified website called "Backpage.com" with a section for advertisements for sexual services. The account associated with the postings was registered to defendant's email address, "rolathegreat@gmail.com." During the same dates as the postings, email confirmations from travel websites were sent to defendant's email account for hotel reservations in corresponding cities.[5] Defendant's Instagram account "Chulonamesip" and "Dakota3457" included posts boasting about being a pimp.[6]

         Detective Lincoln testified that records from Backpage.com contained postings of the victim and Ms. Johnson, using their own and generic photographs. After reviewing the victim's phone records, investigators discovered text messages between the victim and defendant relating to fees, locations, hotel rooms, and condoms. There were also texts between them fighting and declaring their love for one another. Defendant apologized to the victim for "the Texas trip." The victim received texts from other people wanting to recruit her in which she related that she had "a daddy."

         The State called Quinichsa Johnson who testified that she had met defendant in Dallas in April 2015. She first became involved in prostitution in 2013.[7] Her friend "Cash" had taught her how to post ads on Backpage.com. Ms. Johnson testified that after meeting defendant, he "casually" took part in "making sure everything was okay." At her request, defendant would obtain hotel rooms for her since Ms. Johnson was only twenty years old. Defendant would put her money in his bank account because she "didn't like walking around with cash." She felt that it was "more of a bodyguard situation." While they were together, they lived in hotels in Texas, and also traveled to Denver for festivals and Kansas City to see her sick godfather. They went to Louisiana for "the Bourbon Street life." Ms. Johnson testified that defendant met the victim in New Orleans, and the two of them left in defendant's two-seater car. She took the bus and met up with them in Texas. Ms. Johnson started posting ads with the victim on Backpage.com "some days later." Ms. Johnson testified that the victim wanted to leave Texas to see her child, and the victim and defendant would sometimes argue. Ms. Johnson started to get jealous of victim's and defendant's relationship, and left them while in Austin in June 2015. She blocked defendant's number and he then sent her threatening text messages.[8] When he called her several times on the morning of June 10, 2015, she answered the phone. While crying and hysterical, defendant told her that the victim had jumped out of the car due to an argument.

         Officer Matthew Cole Holton with the Addison Police Department in Texas testified that he was dispatched to a theft call at the Holiday Inn in Addison, north of Dallas, where the victim was staying with defendant and Ms. Johnson, on the evening of May 23, 2015, where he spoke to the victim who was upset, telling him defendant stole $200 out of her bag. Officer Holton testified he escorted the victim to her hotel room after she related that another female named "Star" would not let her inside the room, but the hotel room was empty.[9]

         After this incident, Ms. Bernard received a phone call from the victim who told her grandmother she wanted to go home because "they" took all her money and left her. On May 23, 2015 at approximately 11:00 p.m., Ms. Bernard contacted a family friend in Houston, Deshon Johnson. Deshon Johnson spoke to the victim at the hotel, and purchased a ticket for her on a bus scheduled to leave Dallas for Houston on May 24, 2015 at 7:15 a.m. The victim did not respond to further calls and texts, but the hotel clerk told Deshon Johnson that the victim had left with "Michael."

         Demonyan Cooper, the victim's friend from high school, testified that she had spoken to the victim while she was in Texas. Ms. Cooper testified that she saw bruising on the victim when they were getting dressed after the victim's return to New Orleans. When Ms. Cooper asked her, the victim attributed the bruising to dancing on a pole. The defense moved for a mistrial, arguing that the State never provided disclosure about the victim's bruising or its source prior to trial. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial.

         Journae King next testified that she had met defendant on Bourbon Street outside of a club on June 9, 2015. As a former dancer, she believed that he had the "vibe" of being a pimp. They spoke over text message and he admitted to her that he was in "that lifestyle," but wanted to leave it and have a relationship with her. When she next spoke to defendant at 12:41 p.m. on June 10, 2015, he told her the victim had jumped out of the vehicle but he was afraid to stop because the victim had put a warrant out for him in Texas. Ms. King asked for victim's family's phone number to ascertain if the victim had made it home. Defendant told her not to tell the family that he was headed to Texas. She thereafter turned their text messages over to law enforcement.

         Stephanie Walker also testified that defendant had previously come to her and Mr. Adams' apartment with a female he identified as his prostitute. In May 2015, he had returned to the apartment with two females and borrowed Mr. Adams's vehicle in order to have room for both women.[10] Defendant failed to return the car and Mr. Adams had to call their father to get defendant to agree to return the car on June 6, 2018.

         Prior to Ms. Walker's testimony, the Assistant District Attorney disclosed to the trial court that Ms. Walker had seen media coverage of the trial. Ms. Walker testified that she had watched five to six minutes of the local news which reported "Adam hit his girlfriend with his car." She stated that before seeing the story she had not been previously instructed by the District Attorney's office to not watch the news. The defense requested that her testimony be barred for violating the sequestration order because her testimony was tainted by contact with all of the previous testimony in the case. The Court denied the motion to strike Ms. Walker's testimony.

         Finally, Lieutenant Hare testified as an expert to the subculture of pimps and prostitutes called "the game."[11] He explained to the jury the difference between prostitution, in which a female solicits customers for a sexual act, and human trafficking, which involves someone forcing or coercing a prostitute to perform or solicit. He explained terms that were used in the victim's and defendant's text messages, including "dates" (jobs), "in-call" (where the client comes to the prostitute), "out-call" (where the prostitute goes to the client's location), "doubles" (a job with two prostitutes), and "daddy" (pimp).[12] He discussed the control methods used by pimps, including the mind games of a "Romeo" pimp and the physical control of a "Gorilla" pimp. Lt. Hare discussed a five-part manipulation system used by pimps to recruit prostitutes for trafficking which includes: 1) the recruiting phase, during which a pimp uses flattery on a vulnerable person; 2) a seduction phase during which he cares for the person and buys her things as an investment; 3) an isolation phase during which the prostitute becomes emotionally and financially dependent on the pimp while he attempts to distance her from family and friends; 4) the coercion and violence phase, when the pimp manipulates the prostitute into thinking that she is responsible for making their "dream" come true through withholding affection or physically and mentally abusing the victim; and 5) the refraining stage when the pimp changes the prostitute's identity, including branding her with a tattoo as if she is his property.

         Lt. Hare testified that he reviewed the text messages, photographs, Instagram accounts, hotel receipts, and Backpage.com advertisements in this case. He related to the jury that defendant's Instagram account contained "pimp bragging" posts, and his user name "Chulonamesip" contains the Spanish word for pimp. He testified that defendant's texts relating to the amount of money and time spent on dates were consistent with human trafficking. With regard to the text conversation with Ms. King, Lt. Hare opined it contained seductive, recruiting language consistent with trafficking. In his experience interviewing victims, victims will often call pimps their "boyfriend" or "bodyguard" and minimize their behavior. He testified that defendant's bank account substantially increased in April and May, which is consistent with the pimp's goal of "all about the money."[13] He also testified that promises of a relationship, money, and love were coercive tactics. On redirect, Lt. Hare testified that although defendant was not a "sophisticated" pimp, his behavior was consistent with involvement in human trafficking.

         On July 28, 2017, the jury returned a guilty verdict to the charge of second degree murder. On September 12, 2017, defendant filed a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, that being outstanding arrest warrants for Ms. Walker at the time of trial, as well as on the trial court's failure to exclude Ms. Walker's testimony as a violation of the sequestration order, the State's failure to disclose to the defense before trial Ms. Cooper's testimony regarding the bruising, and the trial court's admission of the other acts evidence. The court heard the motion on October 27, 2017, and after taking the matter under advisement, denied the motion for new trial on November 9, 2017. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence on November 9, 2017. Defendant filed a timely motion for appeal alleging five assignments of error.

         Discussion

         Assignment of Error Number One

         In defendant's first assignment of error, he alleges that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of second degree murder since the evidence offered was insufficient to prove he committed the underlying felony of second degree kidnapping. He argues that the only evidence presented as to the kidnapping charge was Ms. Walker's testimony which he believes should have been excluded.

         The constitutional standard for testing the sufficiency of the evidence, as enunciated in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), 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 beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Ortiz, 96-1609 (La. 10/21/97), 701 So.2d 922, 930, cert. denied, 524 U.S. 943, 118 S.Ct. 2352, 141 L.Ed.2d 722 (1998). A reviewing court is required to consider the entire record and determine whether a rational trier of fact would have found the State proved the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Price, 00-1883 (La.App. 5 Cir. 7/30/01), 792 So.2d 180, 184. When circumstantial evidence is involved, the reviewing court must evaluate the evidence in a light most favorable to the State and determine whether a possible alternative hypothesis is sufficiently reasonable for a rational juror to not have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Mitchell, 99-3342 (La. 10/17/00), 772 So.2d 78, 83. The reviewing court must defer "rational credibility calls, evidence weighing and inference drawing" to the trier of fact, and not re-evaluate the credibility of witnesses or re-weigh the evidence. State v. Caffrey, 08-717 (La.App. 5 Cir. 5/12/09), 15 So.3d 198, 202, writ denied, 09-1305 (La. 2/5/10), 27 So.3d 297.

         Under the felony murder theory of second degree murder, defined by La. R.S. 14:30.1(A)(2), the State was required to prove the killing of a human being when the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an enumerated felony, even though he has no intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. State v. Lewis, 05-170 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/29/05), 917 So.2d 583, 589-90, writ denied, 06-0757 (La. 12/15/06), 944 So.2d 1277. Second degree kidnapping, defined by La. R.S. 14:44.1, is one of the enumerated felonies, and requires the physical injury of a victim during either: "(1) the forcible seizing and carrying of any person from one place to another; or (2) the enticing or persuading of any person to go from one place to another; or (3) the imprisoning or forcible secreting of any person."

         In our examination of the essential elements necessary to support the conviction of second degree murder while engaged in second degree kidnapping, we find the State presented sufficient evidence of all elements. For the element necessary to prove the kidnapping, the State presented evidence of all three theories of kidnapping.

         The State presented evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer that the victim was forced into defendant's vehicle. Ms. Walker testified that defendant said he had to "rough her up" to get the victim in the vehicle. Ms. King and Ms. Johnson testified that defendant admitted that he and the victim were having an argument in the vehicle. Evidence was presented to prove that defendant intended to drive to Texas where his brother was expecting the return of his vehicle. Furthermore, even if the victim voluntarily entered defendant's vehicle for a ride to her home, her consent ceased at the point when he refused to stop the vehicle at her request. State v. Gray, 41, 732 (La.App. 2 Cir. 1/10/07), 948 So.2d 335, 340-41. Ms. Walker testified that defendant told the victim the only way she could leave the vehicle was to jump out. In State v. Davies, the victims consensually and voluntarily got into the defendant's vehicle. Davies, 35, 783 (La.App. 2 Cir. 4/5/02), 813 So.2d 1262, 1263-67, writ denied, 02-1564 (La. 5/9/03), 843 So.2d 389. In that case, the victims repeatedly asked the defendant to take them home, but he passed the exit closest to the girls' homes and continued to drive along the interstate. Both girls eventually jumped from the defendant's vehicle, and only one survived. The Louisiana Second Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant of two counts of second degree kidnapping and one count of second-degree murder.[14]

         Alternatively, kidnapping can be proven when the victim is enticed or persuaded. Following the testimony that defendant usually brought the victim home to New Orleans after work on Bourbon Street, it would be reasonable to infer that defendant enticed the victim to get in his vehicle to bring her home. Ms. Wright testified that the victim's belongings were still at her house and she had borrowed her mother's make up, indicating that the victim believed she would be coming home after work. As the vehicle passed numerous interstate exits after the most direct exit to her home from downtown New Orleans, the jury could find that the victim was not expecting to continue on the I-10 towards Kenner and Texas.

         The third alternative element of kidnapping by imprisonment was also supported by the evidence that the victim jumped out of defendant's moving vehicle on the interstate. A reasonable juror could infer from this desperate act that the victim was held against her will in defendant's vehicle. As discussed in more detail in defendant's third assignment of error, the evidence of defendant's other acts during the weeks preceding June 10, 2015, support the conclusion that the victim would be unwilling to return to Texas to engage in further acts of prostitution for the defendant. The State called many witnesses and presented substantial evidence as to the defendant's other acts in coercing, or at least aiding, the victim in prostitution, to show why the victim would not be ...


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