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State v. Hauser

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 30, 2019



          James R. Lestage District Attorney Richard A. Morton Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Jill Pasquarella Kristin Wenstrom Hannah Van De Car Louisiana Center for Children's Rights COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Aaron G. Hauser

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Candyce G. Perret, Judges.


         Defendant, Aaron Hauser, was indicted on July 19, 1983, for the July 4, 1983 first degree murders of his stepmother, Joan Hauser, and her son, John Leidig, violations of La.R.S. 14:30. He pled guilty to both counts without capital punishment and was sentenced to two concurrent life terms without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence on April 26, 1984. He now seeks review of the trial court's denial of his motion to correct his illegal sentences pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, __U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016). For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court judgment upon finding that Defendant has provided sufficient evidence to show he is not irreparably corrupt and is entitled to resentencing to two concurrent life sentences with the possibility of parole.[1]


         Defendant committed the first degree murders of his stepmother and her son on July 4, 1983, with the help of an accomplice, William Kinkade. Defendant was born on October 13, 1965, making him seventeen years, eight months, and twenty-one days old at the time of the murders.

         Defendant's parents separated in 1977 when he was around twelve years old and his sister Robin was fourteen. Custody was granted to Defendant's father, George Hauser.[3] Defendant testified he went to live with his mother, Frances Hauser, to get away from his father. The next year, Defendant's parents agreed to transfer his custody to Frances. George testified he saw no future for Defendant in his home.

         As an agricultural worker, George worked "from daylight to dark and sometimes more." Frances was the children's primary caretaker before the separation. When the children were little, George read books to them. As they got older, they would watch television together. The children grew up "just like any typical farm kids[, ]" sometimes going fishing and performing "a few minor chores[.]" Although George was "not a lovey-dovey man," he "had appreciation for kids[, ]" and most children liked him. The children played and visited with their cousins who lived nearby and participated in "school parties, Four-H Club activities." Defendant "was just a normal kid" who spent his time with George or Frances, his cousins or "some other kids in the neighborhood." Every two years the family visited Frances's family in Maryland; in the other years, the family vacationed at various places around the country.

         The Hausers' divorce became final on January 4, 1979. In August of 1979, the Hausers agreed to transfer custody of Defendant's sister Robin to Frances. Defendant said Robin asked to live with Frances because George did not want her anymore. He said George put all of Robin's things "in garbage bags and put them out on the attorney's parking lot." Defendant and Frances rented a trailer and brought Robin and her things back to Kerrville, Texas.

         George described Defendant as "the average kid" in relation to his performance in school. George did not whip the children, but he disciplined them with lectures. He did not consider Defendant to be a troublesome child. He thought Defendant wanted to live with Frances after the divorce because she babied him. George did not think the children ever feared him.

         George had limited contact with his children once they moved to Texas with their mother. They saw each other only when George would "go get them," and he "didn't have funds to run to Texas." Still, he testified he saw them about every two weeks. However, Defendant testified George never called or wrote to the children after they went to live with their mother. Defendant disagreed with George's testimony that he saw them every other week and took them out to eat. He said George never initiated any contact with them. When asked whether Defendant and Joan had a loving relationship after he and Joan were married, George replied, "If you was [sic] a little kid and a strange woman moved in, would you have a loving relationship? You may have a respect, but you wouldn't have a loving relationship."

         Defendant dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but he obtained his GED and wanted to further his education. He thought about going to Sowela Technical Community College to learn welding. When he told his father, George said Sowela cost $25 per month, so he would give him $25 a month but no more. Defendant looked at other options, but they were too expensive, so he enlisted in the Navy at age seventeen with his mother's consent. He "felt like that was the only way out to have a better life."

         According to Defendant's testimony at the resentencing hearing, after he enlisted, he was beaten and sexually assaulted in boot camp. Mr. Kinkade was Frances's next-door neighbor, and he had also been in the Navy. Frances told Mr. Kinkade about what happened to Defendant, and he and Mr. Kinkade became good friends.

         Defendant told no one in a position of authority about the assault, but he called Frances a few days later "and tried to tell her some of what happened." Defendant denied the incident happened when questioned by Navy investigators. Their report of the attack indicates Defendant had a lump on his head and two fractured ribs when the investigators spoke to him. Defendant was discharged for medical reasons regarding his eyesight, and he returned to Kerrville.

         Defendant testified Frances spoke to George about the assault and insisted that Defendant himself tell George what happened. Finally, Defendant called his father. After about thirty seconds of conversation, George told Defendant he was not his responsibility anymore, and the conversation ended.

         George testified he never knew anything about Defendant being abused in the Navy. In fact, he believed Defendant "never was active or inducted or whatever. He was just wanting to." However, when asked about Defendant joining the Navy, George also testified Defendant had called one night and said whatever was going on "didn't suit him." George explained, "And he was wanting me to do something, but how could I do anything from here and this is up around the Great Lakes somewhere? And I told him, son, that's just part of it; you've got to learn to live, to take directions from somebody else."

         Defendant "wanted to do anything to strike back" at George. He felt George "was responsible for what happened to [him] in the Navy[.]" Defendant said, "I felt like everything bad in my life at that time was caused by him." He believed "if he would have been a father to me, at least sometime in my life when I really needed it, I wouldn't have been hurting like I was then." Defendant no longer felt that way, but he testified, "No 17-year-old boy that something like that happen to him is going to be able to think clearly and rationally."

         Defendant felt George had hurt his mother and his sister. Also, he felt if George "would have helped [him] get some kind of a more decent life, [he] wouldn't have enlisted in the Navy, [and the assault] wouldn't have happened." He wanted to get back at his father. Defendant "didn't have much of a relationship" with his stepmother Joan, and he had no ongoing relationship with his stepbrother John. George considered himself to have "somewhat of a loving relationship" with John.

         Mr. Kinkade gave a statement on the day of the murders in which he said Defendant had been upset about three weeks before when he had asked his father for money from a trust or other type of fund. George would not give him the money. Mr. Kinkade later agreed to go to Louisiana with Defendant to pick up some of his things. In Kerrville, they planned their trip to Beauregard Parish as a robbery. Defendant asked Mr. Kinkade to accompany him to take things his father had that belonged to him. He specifically mentioned education money that Defendant thought George had. They purchased surgical gloves so they would not leave fingerprints. Prior to the trip, Defendant paid for guns that Mr. Kinkade purchased in his name because Defendant was underage.

         The pair left Kerrville on a Sunday evening in Frances's pickup truck and arrived in Beauregard Parish around 3:00 a.m. Frances was out of town to attend a relative's funeral. They parked their vehicle in the woods and left the truck with Defendant and Mr. Kinkade carrying flashlights they had purchased in Kerrville. Defendant carried a .223 caliber "mini-14" semi-automatic rifle, and Mr. Kinkade carried a .357 revolver. They waited in a shed near the house until daylight. Defendant took the mini-14 and led Mr. Kinkade under a fence and through a barn until they got close to the house. They saw a man leave the house, and Defendant went inside. While Mr. Kinkade waited outside for Defendant, he heard gunfire and a woman's scream from inside. He fled the scene to a nearby house and reported a shooting to the Beauregard Parish Sheriff's Department.

         Defendant testified he did not see Joan's car at the house, and he thought no one was home. He wanted to retrieve a rock collection George would not let him have and a small coin collection. However, Defendant said the main reason was "to let him know that - you know, that I hurt and that I felt like he hurt me a lot when I was a little kid." Defendant opened a door on the side of the house, still armed with the mini-14, and saw Joan there. He said he "just was overcome with emotion," and he went in the house and shot her. He then walked down the hall to his former bedroom and saw John in his bed. Defendant felt that was still his bedroom, and he was upset to see John there. He shot John in the face and the right arm. John's body was found in his bed with the covers pulled up over it. No blood was found on the outer covers, suggesting Defendant covered John after he shot him.

         A cellmate of Defendant gave a statement saying Defendant told him about shooting Joan and John and robbing the house. Defendant told the cellmate he then found a pitcher of Kool-Aid in the refrigerator and drank it. Defendant admitted to his cellmate that he originally said Mr. Kinkade had murdered the victims.

         Another cellmate gave a statement saying Defendant told him he wanted to "get back at his step mother and step brother for what they had done to him when he was little." Defendant described the shootings to him and told him how he found some money and took it, drank some Kool-Aid, took the car, and left. The cellmate said Defendant laughed the entire time he told his story.[4]

         After the murders, Defendant looked around the house for his collections, focused on wanting his things. Texas authorities arrested Defendant in Kerrville later in the day in the vehicle he and Mr. Kinkade had taken to DeRidder. They seized gold and silver coins, a mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, ammunition, a pair of surgical gloves, and other items. When George later went through the house, he said gold and silver coins, paper money, savings bonds in his name, and a savings passbook were missing.

         Joan's autopsy report indicated she sustained two gunshot wounds, either of which could have been fatal. One wound was to the right cheek below the right eye, and the second wound was to the right posterior chest. John's autopsy report indicated he also sustained two gunshot wounds. The wound to his head, just below the right eye, caused his death. A second wound was to his right forearm.

         Mr. Kinkade was also charged with two counts of first degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary for his part in these events. State v. Kinkade, 470 So.2d 442 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1985). He pled guilty to attempted aggravated burglary in exchange for dismissal of those charges. This court affirmed his sentence of fifteen years at hard labor, enhanced with an additional mandatory two-year term to be served consecutively and without benefit of parole, probation, suspension of sentence, or credit for good time pursuant to La.R.S. 14:95.2 because his crime involved the use of a firearm.

         George believed the State should pursue the death penalty for Defendant's crimes. However, he was advised that a jury would probably not do that, and he believed Defendant would spend his life in prison without parole. George's stepchildren (Joan's surviving children) agreed to life sentences without parole. George believed Defendant would "never be a productive citizen." He had not communicated with Defendant since the murders because he had no "interest in associating with somebody with that frame of mind." Although Defendant wrote to George a few times during his first year or two at Angola, he "never asked for forgiveness or apologized or anything." George preferred that Defendant "stays locked up." If Defendant were released, George would "like for the Court to have him stay out of Beauregard Parish . . . ."

          Of Joan's four children, two were adults, and one was in college. Only John lived in George's home. John told his father he would rather live with George in the country than with his father in town. George considered that "somewhat of a loving relationship."

         George testified he was a Christian who believed in the hereafter. At first, he said he believed people could change. However, George stood by his belief that, even in spite of evidence, Defendant has not changed since the murders. He felt Defendant had the opportunity for a relationship as he was growing up in George's home, but instead, he chose "to go out and kill two people."

         Dr. Raymond Leidig, a veterinarian who was Joan's first husband, testified the District Attorney's office had advised him and his children "on what to accept" as Defendant's plea. Dr. Leidig understood Defendant "had pleaded guilty and would take life imprisonment without parole." He believed Defendant "should stay, serve his sentence" for the rest of his life. When asked if he believed people could be rehabilitated, Dr. Leidig responded, "I believe people can be saved and forgiven by God."

         About ten years after the murders, Dr. Leidig received a letter from Defendant in which Defendant asked for Dr. Leidig's forgiveness. Dr. Leidig told Defendant he had forgiven him, "but the two people on this earth that needed to forgive him were in the grave and that the only forgiveness he could seek further than that would be forgiveness from the Lord God and I wished that he would." Defendant wrote Dr. Leidig again to say "he had found God in a prison church service[, ]" and he thanked Dr. Leidig for responding to his letter.

         Dr. Leidig said Defendant wrote him again about a month later. He "just about called every name that any person could call anybody; and some of them wasn't [sic] too nice. And low-rated me for not writing him back after the second letter." Dr. Leidig described Defendant's words as "[p]rofanity and anything else you want to think of." Dr. Leidig told the trial court, "when the Supreme Court made this ruling, they were unable to make a ruling that would raise my son and his mother from the grave. Since they've got to stay there, my personal feeling is that the man that put them there should have to stay where he is." When asked about his beliefs of convicted felons, he explained, if you serve your time that is set, put upon you by the courts, you have the right to be released." Dr. Leidig could not say whether Defendant had been changed with rehabilitation, but he would be glad if that were true.

         Donna Kay Leidig Kelly, John's sister, testified she had been in favor of the death penalty for Defendant, but "[a]s long as he was going to stay" in prison, she "was good with that. Because [she] would not have to deal with this again, ever." Ms. Kelly opposed Defendant having parole eligibility. She worked in the medical field, and she had "seen what the outcome of some supposedly rehabilitated people have done."

         Ms. Kelly testified she was never aware of any conflict that had arisen between Joan and Defendant or John and Defendant. She knew of nothing that may have provoked Defendant. Ms. Kelly heard the testimony insinuating Defendant lacked attention from and had a tough life living with George. She noted her mother and brother contributed nothing to that, but they were the ones he killed. She said John enjoyed his life on the farm, liked being outdoors, and never complained about George, who she said she had never seen get mad. Her mother likewise never complained about George being abusive or mean. Ms. Kelly described George as "a wonderful man" who was very good to her mother and her brother. She has had no contact with or from Defendant since the murders.

         David Leidig, Joan's son and John's brother, testified he had no bad feelings toward Defendant. However, he felt Defendant "should stay in prison to serve his sentence which was agreed to at that time." He did not think Defendant should have parole eligibility. Neither Joan nor John ever told Mr. Leidig of any conflict with Defendant or of anything that might have provoked him. Mr. Leidig did not recall ever meeting Defendant, and he had never had any contact with him. He considered Defendant's acts to be those "of a cold-blooded killer." He thought those acts "elevate[] this crime to a different level[.]" He also felt Defendant "chose life without parole, not 35 years then parole."


         On March 19, 2013, Defendant filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal and invalid sentence based on Miller. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing on March 22, 2013, finding Defendant was an adult over the age of eighteen and not a juvenile, as his motion alleged.[5] This court denied Defendant's writ application on the grounds that Miller, 567 U.S. 460, did not apply retroactively. State v. Hauser, 13-391 (La.App. 3 Cir. 8/5/13) (unpublished opinion). The Louisiana Supreme Court denied his writ application. State ex rel. Hauser v. State, 13-2028 (La. 7/31/14), 146 So.3d 202.

         Defendant filed a motion to have counsel appointed to represent him on August 7, 2013. The trial court denied that motion because Defendant was represented by counsel at the time he was sentenced and because Miller did not apply retroactively.

         On September 4, 2014, Defendant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. While Defendant's habeas writ was pending, the State filed a motion to implement the new rule of law set out in Miller and Montgomery on April 13, 2016. The motion explained that legislation pending at the time would incorporate those decisions into Louisiana law; once that legislation was enacted, Defendant would be entitled to the hearing he requested in his motion to correct his illegal and invalid sentence. Thus, the State asked the trial court to reconsider Defendant's motion in light of Miller and Montgomery. The trial court issued an order on April 13, 2016, for a hearing to be set within sixty days of the effective date of the anticipated new legislation implementing Miller and Montgomery.

         The State filed another motion to reconsider Defendant's sentence on June 23, 2016. That motion sought a sentencing hearing pursuant to La.Code Crim.P. art. 878.1 in effect at the time even though the legislature had failed to enact the expected legislation. The State noted Defendant would be entitled to a hearing on his parole eligibility according to Miller and Montgomery even without new legislation. In response, the trial court appointed counsel for Defendant and scheduled a status conference to discuss pre-hearing issues.

         On July 13, 2016, Defendant filed another motion to correct an illegal sentence and set a date for the Miller hearing. He also asked the trial court to appoint counsel and to provide funding for experts for his defense team. Specifically, Defendant's motion sought a defense team of two lawyers with specialized experience, a fact investigator, and a mitigation investigator. The trial court denied the motion as moot and "[a]lready addressed."

         Defendant made an oral motion to recuse both judges of the Thirty-Sixth Judicial District Court on July 26, 2016, followed by a written motion filed on September 9, 2016. Judge Vernon B. Clark of the Thirtieth Judicial District Court was appointed to hear the motion. On November 17, 2016, Judge Clark rendered a written judgment granting the motion to recuse as to Judge Martha Ann O'Neal but finding no factual basis to recuse Judge C. Kerry Anderson. The judgment designated Judge Anderson as the presiding judge for all future proceedings in the matter.

         After numerous filings (indicated on the federal court's docket sheet), on September 2, 2016, the federal court granted Defendant's petition for habeas corpus and remanded his case to the trial court for resentencing. Defendant filed a motion for a "reliable sentencing hearing" consistent with Miller and for a funding source for mitigation specialists on April 28, 2017. The trial court responded by setting a pre-trial conference to discuss scheduling and pre-trial issues and to set a scheduling order.

         On September 19, 2017, the State filed its notice of intent to seek sentences of life without the possibility of parole ("LWOP") pursuant to La.Code Crim.P. art. 878.1 and 2017 La. Acts No. 277. On September 27, 2017, the State filed an opposition to Defendant's motion for a reliable sentencing hearing. It also filed procedural objections to Defendant's claim of a right to resentencing pursuant to Miller and Montgomery on December 12, 2017.

         The trial court issued an order on January 24, 2018, setting a Miller/Montgomery hearing. On January 31, 2018, the trial court issued another order denying Defendant's request to provide funds for a mitigation specialist. The order also denied Defendant's request to require the State to prove aggravating factors at the Miller/Montgomery hearing. The trial court filed written reasons for its rulings.

         On March 23, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to preclude a life sentence without parole because of the State's failure to provide funding for the resentencing hearing. Defendant also filed a motion for funding for a psychologist or psychiatrist and other expert witnesses in anticipation of the resentencing hearing on April 25, 2018.[6] The hearing of that motion and for resentencing began on April 26, 2018. The trial court issued an order on May 30, 2018, which stated:

[T]he Court hereby DENIED the motion for Funding to be provided by the Criminal Court Fund and DENIED that defendant proved the necessity of expert testimony but hereby ORDERS the Office of the Public Defender for the 36th Judicial District or the Louisiana Public Defender Board to pay the appointed or designated psychiatric/psychological examination or any other expert deemed desirable by defense at a cap of $3500 upon receipt of an itemized bill for services rendered.

         The resentencing hearing reconvened on July 6, 2018, to accept exhibits from both parties, hear testimony from witnesses, and establish a post-hearing briefing schedule. Prior to the close of the hearing, the trial court ascertained that Defendant had been given the opportunity to present all the evidence he wanted. Defendant filed his memorandum in support of his resentencing on August 14, 2018, and the State filed its memorandum on August 30, 2018.

         On December 20, 2018, the trial court issued its ruling and ordered Defendant to "continue to serve his existing sentences of life imprisonment without parole eligibility on each of the two counts of First Degree Murder." Defendant now appeals that ruling.

         On appeal, Defendant raises the following assignments of error:

1. The Trial Court Violated Clearly Established Law in Ruling that Miller v. Alabama Does Not Apply to this Case.
2. The Trial Court Failed to Vacate the Previously Imposed Unconstitutional Sentence.
3. Because the Trial Court Ruled that Miller did not Apply, it Failed to Undertake the Analysis Required By the Eighth Amendment.
4. The Trial Court Erred in Concluding that Aaron Hauser's Crime was not the Result of Transient Immaturity.
5. The Trial Court Failed to Conduct an Analysis as to whether Aaron Hauser is Irreparably Corrupt, resulting in an Unconstitutional Sentence.
6. The Sentencing Judge's Improper Focus on the Nature of the Crime Further Rendered Him Unable to Undertake the Analysis Required by the Eighth Amendment.
7. The State Failed to Meet its Burden in Establishing that Aaron Hauser is the "Worst Offender" with the "Worst Case."
8. The Trial Court Erred in Failing to Apply a Presumption Against Sentencing a Juvenile to Life Without the Possibility of Parole.
9. The State Failed to Rebut the Presumption that Aaron Hauser Should be Eligible for Parole When it Failed to Prove that he is the Rare ...

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