FROM THE TWELFTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF AVOYELLES,
NO. 203701-B HONORABLE WILLIAM J. BENNETT, DISTRICT JUDGE.
K. Bauman Louisiana Appellate Project COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Jason Wright.
Anthony F. Salario Assistant District Attorney 12th Judicial
District COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana.
composed of John D. Saunders, Shannon J. Gremillion, and John
E. Conery, Judges.
E. CONERY JUDGE.
November 8, 2017, Defendant, Jason Wright, was charged by
bill of information with three counts of attempted first
degree murder in violation of La.R.S. 14:27 and 14:30. The
victim in each count was accurately described as "a
peace officer engaged in the performance of his lawful
December 29, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to enter dual
pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity and
requested a sanity commission be appointed. On March 15,
2018, the trial court appointed a sanity commission. Both
doctors found Defendant was sane and competent to proceed to
January 16, 2019, a jury found Defendant guilty of the
attempted second degree murder of Detective Mike Simmons, as
well as the attempted manslaughter of Captain Jeremiah Honea
and Detective Casey Threeton. All three convictions were 10-2
February 11, 2019, Defendant filed a "Motion for Post
Verdict Judgment of Acquittal with Incorporated Memorandum of
Law." On February 12, 2019, the motion was denied,
Defendant waived sentencing delays, and was sentenced to
forty years at hard labor without benefit of probation,
parole, or suspension of sentence for the attempted murder
conviction, and twenty years at hard labor for each count of
attempted manslaughter, with all three sentences to run
concurrently. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider sentence
on February 13, 2019, alleging generally "that the
sentence imposed upon him is excessive." The trial court
denied Defendant's motion to reconsider sentence on
February 14, 2019.
now appeals his convictions and sentences, alleging four
assignments of error: (1) the State failed to prove specific
intent to kill Detective Simmons and failed to prove that
Defendant's actions were not justified and not committed
in self-defense; (2) the State failed to prove Defendant had
specific intent to kill Captain Honea or Detective Threeton;
(3) the trial court erred in denying a requested jury charge
regarding justification; and (4) his sentences are excessive.
of Defendant's assignments of error concern the
sufficiency of the State's evidence with regard to
specific intent, we will highlight the testimony presented at
trial. The State's first witness was Detective Mike
Simmons of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office, the
victim in count one of the bill of information. Detective
Simmons stated he spent sixteen years with the St. Tammany
Sheriff's Department before spending the next fourteen
years with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department.
Simmons testified that on September 13, 2017, he was pursuing
a Mr. Shawn Morris in connection with several burglary and
theft cases he was investigating. After failing to locate Mr.
Morris at his grandmother's house, Detective Simmons and
a number of other detectives and patrol officers went to the
residence of James and Maria Gaspard based on knowledge that
Mr. Morris frequented the residence. Detective Simmons
testified that he "had recovered stolen property from
that residence in the past involving Shawn Morris as well as
the occupants or residents." He indicated he was wearing
a criminal investigations uniform, which consisted of a tan
shirt with a sheriff's officer logo, dress slacks, and a
duty belt with his weapon. Although the detectives were in
unmarked vehicles, Detective Simmons stated they had marked
patrol vehicles with them and the deputies driving those
vehicles were in standard uniforms.
Simmons testified that when he, Captain Jeremiah Honea, and
Detective Casey Threeton knocked on the door, there was
initially no answer although people could be heard moving
around inside. At that point, he stated they loudly announced
that it was the sheriff's office. Detective Simmons
stated they announced themselves several times "because
it took awhile for anyone to come and answer the door."
Detective Simmons testified he subsequently spoke with Mr.
James Gaspard, the owner of the residence, who granted him
permission to enter and look for Shawn Morris. Upon entry,
Detective Simmons observed there were three or four people in
the living room.
Simmons testified that he entered the residence with Captain
Honea directly behind him and Detective Threeton bringing up
the rear. Detective Simmons stated he followed Mr. Gaspard
down a hallway because he was moving "in a very hasty
manner." He testified that partway down the hall, he
came to a slightly ajar door and pushed the door open while
keeping his body out of the doorway. He then testified:
So[, ] as I pushed the door open[, ] I saw a subject sitting
there with a shotgun. And as the door came all the way open[,
] I saw the shotgun level down towards me with the barrel, it
wasn't pointed to the left or to the right, it was
pointed right at me. And I saw the barrel come down you know
pointed right at me.
Simmons clarified the shotgun was initially upright, that he
and Defendant saw each other at the same time, then Defendant
lowered the shotgun at him. Detective Simmons yelled
"gun" to warn Captain Honea and Detective Threeton
and drew his weapon, firing two shots as he backed away. At
about the same time, the shotgun was discharged and went
through the wall inches from where Detective Simmons had been
standing. Detective Simmons testified that they then cleared
the residence, with only himself and Captain Honea remaining
in the living room. They eventually exited the house when
Defendant would not surrender himself, although he had
surrendered the shotgun by throwing it into the hallway.
Detective Simmons testified his involvement with the
Defendant ended then.
Simmons stated he had never encountered Defendant prior to
September 13, 2017. He said the residence was known for drug
activity and moving stolen property. Detective Simmons stated
he did not announce the Sheriff's Department's
presence once they entered the house, although it had been
announced loudly and repeatedly prior to their entrance into
the home. He indicated there was about fifteen to twenty
seconds between entering the home and the shooting.
State then called James Gaspard. He testified that his kids
woke him up and told him the "cops" were present,
so he went to answer the door. Mr. Gaspard was unsure how
many people were in the living room of the home but believed
there were five. Mr. Gaspard testified that Defendant was
living in the second bedroom in the home and stated he had
previously told Defendant he could not have guns in the
residence because Mr. Gaspard is a convicted felon. He
testified he had never before seen the shotgun Defendant
fired at law enforcement. He testified he and Detective
Simmons were walking together when Detective Simmons opened
Jason's door and shoved Mr. Gaspard as shots began to be
fired, at which time he ran to his bedroom in the back of the
home. He stated he did not know Defendant before one of his
kids introduced them and Defendant asked if he could stay
with Mr. Gaspard. Mr. Gaspard indicated that Defendant had
been living in the trailer awhile before the shooting
State then called Temica Littleton, Defendant's former
fiancé. Ms. Littleton testified that on the morning of
the shooting, she was in bed with Defendant. While in bed,
she heard knocking, looked out the window and saw uniformed
deputies and sheriff's department vehicles at the scene.
She testified she tried waking Defendant, but he would not
wake up initially. She testified she told him the police were
there. Ms. Littleton testified she did not see the shotgun
until Defendant grabbed it and fired toward the door where
Detective Simmons was located. She testified Defendant
grabbed the shotgun "as the detective was like coming
towards the bedroom door there."
Littleton stated she did not know Defendant to use or abuse
any type of drugs. She testified that when Defendant picked
up the gun she yelled "no" because she thought he
was going to harm himself, as he had previously told her
"he wasn't going back to jail." She stated it
was at that time the shots occurred between Defendant and
Detective Simmons. Ms. Littleton testified she was right next
to Defendant on the bed when she yelled and said Detective
Simmons shot first. She also stated that Defendant did not
typically grab a shotgun as soon as he woke up and heard
people in the hallway.
State's next witness was Ms. Morgan Murray, a booking
officer with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department.
On September 14, 2017, she encountered Defendant during his
72-hour hearing. She testified that when Defendant was
informed that he was charged with three counts of attempted
first degree murder, he responded that he "only tried to
kill one." Ms. Murray testified that her mother, Crystal
Brown, was also present and heard Defendant's statement.
She acknowledged that the 72-hour hearings were not recorded.
Crystal Brown testified that she works for the Avoyelles
Parish Sheriff's Department and that 72-hour hearings are
held over Skype in her office. Mrs. Brown confirmed that when
informed he was facing three counts of attempted murder;
Defendant made a statement that he "only tried to shoot
and kill one of them."
State then called Detective Randolph Norred, who stated he
had been with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Department
for five years and a detective for two years. His involvement
in the investigation of the September 13, 2017 officer
involved shooting was to photograph the crime scene and log
in the evidence. Detective Norred discussed the photographs
previously entered into evidence in conjunction with the
testimony of Detective Simmons. More particularly, he
identified in the photographs the area where the shooting
took place and noted the evidence of a shotgun blast which
went "through and through" the door directly across
from the bedroom door where Defendant was located when he
fired the shotgun.
Norred further testified in response to a question about
whether "the closeness of the range" tells you
anything as follows:
Due to the closeness of the range you can tell that he shot
at close range the bullet hadn't had time to expand. In a
shotgun the father away you shoot the larger the pattern is
going to be being that that's ...