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State v. Lewis

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 15, 2020


          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Webster, Louisiana Trial Court No. 93374 Honorable Mike Nerren, Judge

          LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT By: Holli Herrle-Castillo Counsel for Appellant

          J. SCHUYLER MARVIN District Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          JOHN M. LAWRENCE HUGO HOLLAND Assistant District Attorneys

          Before MOORE, GARRETT, and COX, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         The defendant, Joshua Darelle Lewis, was convicted by a unanimous jury of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison at hard labor, with the possibility of parole.[1] He appealed his conviction, claiming that the trial court erred in failing to grant the motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement officers. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction and sentence.


         On the evening of November 27, 2017, the 17-year-old victim in this case, Jaylen Thomas, was shot to death in the parking lot of the Harrison Chapel Baptist Church in Springhill, Louisiana. Thomas was shot eight times, predominantly on the left side of the body. There were two wounds to the upper arm; one entered the body cavity and exited. There were four wounds to the flank or back and one graze-wound to the upper left back. There was one wound to the right thigh, which entered the back. The bullets struck multiple structures, including the lungs, liver, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract, causing a large amount of internal bleeding. Any of the bullets which entered the body cavity could have resulted in Thomas's death. The angle of the wounds indicated that the shots were inflicted while Thomas was running away or lying on the ground. A toxicology report showed no drugs or alcohol in Thomas's system.

         A cell phone was found by Thomas's right shoulder. Law enforcement officers recovered 14 shell casings from a .45 caliber weapon and two unfired rounds. Evidence at trial showed that the bullets were fired from two different weapons. One of the weapons was "Glock-like." Two bullets were fired from one weapon and 12 were fired from the other.

         The investigation by law enforcement officers soon centered on Lewis as the perpetrator of Thomas's murder. At the time, Lewis was 17 years old. He turned 18 less than two months later. His date of birth is January 14, 2000. Lewis and Thomas were students at North Webster High School. Lewis's best friend was KJ, a 14-year-old boy who was very small.[2] KJ had a disagreement with another boy, Sayon Green, over a girl. It was decided that Lewis would fight Green on behalf of KJ. Green then enlisted Thomas as his surrogate in the fight. At some point on the afternoon of the murder, Thomas called Lewis about the fight.

         Thomas worked at the Sonic restaurant in Springhill. On the evening of the murder, while on a break from work at approximately 7:00 p.m., a coworker, Savannah Courtney, gave Thomas a ride to an apartment complex close to the scene of the murder. Thomas went there to talk to his girlfriend. Video from the apartment complex showed Thomas's arrival. Thomas was a member of the football team and was recovering from a broken leg sustained while playing football. As a result of the injury, he walked with a limp. He was seen talking with a female in the parking lot and then walking away.

         After dropping Thomas off at the apartment complex, Courtney went to get gas for her car. She is seen on video surveillance at the gas station. The video also shows a white Nissan car drive by the gas station. The car was later determined to be driven by Lewis. The car was also observed at about the same time on video from a school close to the scene of the murder. Courtney heard several gunshots, but did not think much of it at the time. When she did not hear from Thomas, who did not answer his cell phone or come to the pickup point, she returned to work. Courtney found out later that evening that Thomas had been killed and his body had been found in the church parking lot.

         A man who lived near the church stated that, on the night of the murder, he heard gunshots ring out. He was not sure of the time, but said that it was after dark. He looked out his window and saw a slender male getting into the driver's seat of a white car and leave. He did not call the police about the gunshots, but he went to check on his neighbor. When he returned to his house, a crowd was gathering and the road had been "taped" off.

         When Lewis was developed as a suspect in this case, on November 29, 2017, his mother was contacted by law enforcement officers. She was asked to bring Lewis to the sheriff's office in Minden, Louisiana. Lewis arrived with his mother and sister around noon. They claimed that law enforcement officers did not begin interviewing Lewis until 4:00 p.m. and they were not aware that he was a suspect.

         During the interview, which lasted one hour and 41 minutes, Lewis eventually confessed to shooting Thomas. The entire interview was recorded on video. The interview was conducted by Springhill Chief of Police Will Lynd, Detective Charlie Frazier of the Springhill Police Department, and State Trooper Rod Johnson. It was determined that Lewis was in the 12th grade, was able to read and write, was not under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and was not pressured to make a statement. He denied having any mental conditions or disorders. The officers read the Miranda rights to Lewis, who said he understood his rights and was willing to waive them and answer questions. The rights form was executed by Lewis in the presence of Trooper Johnson and Detective Frazier.

         Lewis detailed the plan that he and Thomas would fight each other representing KJ and Green. He stated that Thomas called him on the afternoon of the murder about the fight. Lewis, who lived in Cotton Valley, Louisiana, initially denied being in Springhill on the night of the murder. Lewis gave his cell phone to the officers, gave them the code to unlock it, and they read a text message from KJ, after the murder, expressing concern about whether there were video surveillance cameras in the church parking lot. Lewis had replied, "They would have come and got us already." Lewis then stated that he got bullets and gave them to KJ. At one point, Lewis said that he got a gun from a man in Sarepta, Louisiana. He said that KJ also had a gun. Lewis thought that both of the guns were Glocks. He later admitted that he and KJ were in Springhill on the night of the murder and were in the church parking lot. He said he heard Thomas, so he got out of his car, which was parked by the cemetery fence. Lewis said that Thomas said something to them and reached for his cell phone. Lewis thought that Thomas was calling for others to come and jump them. Lewis said he shot at Thomas once and KJ fired at the victim twice. Later, Lewis said that KJ fired five or six times. During the shooting, Thomas was ducking, dodging, and running before he fell to the ground. When Thomas fell, Lewis fired the remainder of his bullets into the victim. Lewis stated that the gun jammed once during the shooting. Lewis and KJ then got into the car, put on some music, and drove back to Cotton Valley. When asked why he fired all of his bullets into the victim, Lewis said, "I heard that attempted murder was worse than actually killing somebody because they would think that you are going to come back and do something else like that. You're going to do something to somebody else." When asked why he did not initially admit the killing, Lewis responded, "Because I felt like we were going to get away with it." He said, "Because I ain't thinking about no cameras or nothing."[3] Lewis also said he emptied the bullets into the victim to get rid of the bullets. Lewis did not know whether Thomas was armed. After the shooting, Lewis said that he gave his gun to a man named "Ty." The weapon was never recovered.

         On January 22, 2018, Lewis was charged by grand jury indictment with the second degree murder of Thomas. He filed a motion to suppress his confession, arguing that he was 17 years old at the time of the interview and was interrogated without the presence of a family member. He claimed that his sister's request that he be allowed to consult with a lawyer before answering questions was denied, he was not initially told that he was a suspect, he was held for three or four hours before the interrogation, and was questioned for an extended period of time before making incriminating statements. Lewis also argued he was told that the detectives would talk to the district attorney to try to secure a more lenient sentence if he cooperated.

         After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. The trial court found that, because Lewis was 17 years old, under the law, he was treated as an adult and was not entitled to have a family member present during questioning. The trial court found that Lewis had to personally invoke his right to counsel, which he did not do, and no undue promises were made to induce a confession. Lewis filed an application for supervisory writs to this court. On November 15, 2018, the writ application was denied on the showing made.[4]

         Lewis was tried in January 2019. He was found guilty as charged by a unanimous jury. Motions for new trial and post verdict judgment of acquittal were denied by the trial court. On April 8, 2019, Lewis was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor, with eligibility for parole. Lewis appealed.


         On appeal, Lewis argues only that the trial court erred in failing to grant his motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement officers. He contends that the state failed to prove that the confession was free and voluntary, and the trial court failed to consider Lewis's age as a factor in reviewing the totality ...

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