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Story Archives: Part 2 -- Louisiana Third Circuit Affirms Connor Wood Conviction in Murders
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|Part 2 -- Louisiana Third Circuit Affirms Connor Wood Conviction in Murders|
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER ONE
Defendant contends that the evidence presented by the State was insufficient to convict him of the three murders. Specifically, he contends that there was insufficient evidence presented to prove that he possessed the requisite intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm on his parents. Further, he contends that he was justified in killing Matthew to protect his own life.
Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:30.1 defines second degree murder as "the killing of a human being . . . [w]hen the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm."
"When the issue of sufficiency of evidence is raised on appeal, the critical inquiry of the reviewing court 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 proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); State ex rel. Graffagnino v. King, 436 So.2d 559 (La.1983); State v. Duncan, 420 So.2d 1105 (La.1982); State v. Moody, 393 So.2d 1212 (La.1981). It is the role of the fact finder to weigh the respective credibility of the witness. Therefore, the appellate court should not second-guess the credibility determination of the trier of fact beyond the sufficiency evaluations under the Jackson standard of review. See King, 436 So.2d 559, citing State v. Richardson, 425 So.2d 1228 (La.1983).
State v. Lambert, 97-64, pp. 4-5 (La.App. 3 Cir. 9/30/98), 720 So.2d 724, 726-27.
"Specific criminal intent is that state of mind which exists when the circumstances indicate that the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences to follow his act or failure to act." La.R.S. 14:10(1). "Specific intent may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the offense and the conduct of the defendant." State v. Draughn, 05-1825, pp. 7-8 (La.1/17/07), 950 So.2d 583, 592-93, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 537 (2007).
Defendant claims that the State failed to prove he killed his parents while possessing the requisite intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. He contends that the statement he gave to Investigator Hedrick on March 14, 2007, shows that he withdrew from the conspiracy to kill his parents and that Matthew acted alone in killing them. He argues that by withdrawing from the conspiracy, he no longer possessed the requisite intent to support his murder convictions. He contends that the physical evidence at the scene supports the veracity of this statement because Matthew was the only one wearing gloves and there were no fingerprints found on the guns or shell casings.
Within the context of his sufficiency argument, Defendant notes that at the time he made the second statement, he was incarcerated and charged with three murders. He claims that, considering his young age and the recent loss of his parents, he was in no frame of mind to make a statement without the advice of counsel. He claims that Hedrick should have recognized this and insisted on counsel being present. Defendant does not specifically challenge the admissibility of his statements. (Defendant filed a pretrial writ application contending his March 14, 2007 and March 17, 2007 confessions should be suppressed. This court found no error in the trial court's ruling denying the motion to suppress. See State v. Wood, an unpublished writ bearing docket number 08-421.) (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/11/08). We interpret these statements as challenging the weight of the evidence, which is a matter strictly for the jury. Lambert, 720 So.2d 724.
We conclude that the evidence presented by the State was sufficient to prove that Defendant possessed the requisite intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm on his parents. In Defendant's second recorded statement to Hedrick, he admitted to shooting his parents. The jury apparently chose to believe this statement over the previous statement in which Defendant labeled Matthew as the gunman, and this court will not second-guess the credibility determinations made by the jury. Id. The victims were shot numerous times, with multiple gunshot wounds to the upper portions of their bodies. Some of the gunshot wounds inflicted on Mrs. Wood were at very close range. Under these circumstances, the State clearly proved that
Defendant possessed the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm on his parents. Additionally, our interpretation of the March 14, 2007 statement does not support counsel's contention that Defendant withdrew from the conspiracy. We interpret the relevant portion of the March 14, 2007 statement to mean that Defendant did not want to do the actual shooting but that he was still an active participant in the plan for Matthew to shoot his parents, which would also support a finding of him being a principal to second degree murder. (Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:24 states, "All persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether present or absent, and whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense, aid and abet in its commission, or directly or indirectly counsel or procure another to commit the crime, are principals.")
Next, Defendant claims that he was justified in shooting Matthew because it was done in self-defense immediately after Matthew shot his parents and while Matthew was still armed with a handgun. Defendant's March 17, 2007 statement reveals that he shot Matthew out of anger, not in self-defense. Further, only one gunshot wound was inflicted while Matthew was facing Defendant. The remaining eight gunshots traveled through Matthew's body from back to front, some while he was bending over. Under these facts, there is nothing to suggest that the killing of Matthew was in self-defense. For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's three convictions are affirmed.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NUMBER TWO
Defendant contends that the mandatory life sentences imposed upon him are grossly disproportionate to the crimes committed and represent nothing more than needless pain and suffering. Defendant further contends that the imposition of consecutive sentences added to the needless imposition of pain and suffering. He notes that although La.Code Crim.P. art. 883 allows a judge to impose consecutive sentences for two or more offenses based on the same act or transaction, or constituting parts of a common scheme or plan, in this case, the trial court cited no reason or basis for doing so.
At sentencing, the State requested imposition of consecutive sentences, while Defense argued they should be concurrent. The sentencing transcript reveals that on each count, the trial court imposed a mandatory life sentence at hard labor without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. On each, he ordered the term to be consecutive to any other sentence Defendant may be serving. No oral objection was raised concerning the sentence imposed by the trial court. The trial court allowed
Defendant twelve months from the date of sentencing, April 30, 2008, to file a motion to reconsider sentence. The record contains no indication that such a motion was ever filed.
In some instances when a motion to reconsider sentence is not filed, this court has held that the defendant is barred from raising an excessive sentence claim. State v. Bourque, 99-1625 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/21/00), 762 So.2d 1139, writ denied, 00-2234 (La. 6/1/01), 793 So.2d 181. However, this court has also reviewed claims of bare excessiveness in the interest of justice. State v. Davis, 06-922 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/29/06), 947 So.2d 201; State v. Runyon, 06-823 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/6/06), 944 So.2d 820, writ denied, 07-49 (La. 9/21/07), 964 So.2d 330; State v. Jeansonne, 06-263 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/31/06), 931 So.2d 1258; and State v. Graves, 01-156 (La.App.3 Cir. 10/3/01), 798 So.2d 1090, writ denied, 02-29 (La. 10/14/02), 827 So.2d 420.
In the interest of justice, we will proceed with a review of Defendant's sentences for constitutional excessiveness, including their consecutive nature. See State v. Baker, 08-54 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/7/08), 986 So.2d 682; Davis, 947 So.2d 201; and State v. Vollm, 04-837 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/10/04), 887 So.2d 664.
Defendant received three mandatory life sentences as required by La.R.S. 14:30.1. In State v. Ross, 03-564 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/17/03), 861 So.2d 888, writ denied, 04-376 (La. 6/25/04), 876 So.2d 829, the defendant argued that his mandatory life sentence was excessive. In finding no merit to the defendant's claim, this court stated:
In State v. Paddio, 02-0722, pp. 16-17 (La.App. 3 Cir. 12/11/02), 832 So.2d 1120, 1131, [writ denied, 03-402 (La. 2/13/04), 867 So.2d 682,] this court explained:
[A] sentence, although within the statutory limit, is considered to be excessive if "the penalty is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime or if it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering." State v. Kitchen, 94-0900, p. 3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/1/95), 649 So.2d 1227, 1229, writ denied, 95-0537 (La.6/23/95), 656 So.2d 1012 (quoting State v. Bonanno, 384 So.2d 355, 357 (La.1980)). A mandatory life sentence is not per se unconstitutional. Richardson v. La. Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections, 627 So.2d 635 (La.1993). However, a trial court has the authority to determine whether a mandatory minimum sentence is constitutionally excessive as applied to a particular defendant. State v. Dorthey, 623 So.2d 1276 (La.1993). Further, this review extends to all mandatory minimum sentences and not just those imposed under the habitual offender law. State v. Fobbs, 99-1024 (La.9/24/99), 744 So.2d 1274.
Nevertheless, a court may depart from a minimum sentence only if it finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that rebuts the presumption of constitutionality. State v. Lindsey, 99-3256, 99-3302 (La.10/17/00), 770 So.2d 339, cert. denied, 532 U.S. 1010, 121 S.Ct. 1739 (2001). To rebut the presumption, a defendant must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that, "because of unusual circumstances this defendant is a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that are meaningfully tailored to the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstances of the case."
State v. Johnson, 97-1906, p. 8 (La.3/4/98), 709 So.2d 672, 676 (quoting from Judge Plotkin's concurrence in State v. Young, 94-1636, pp. 5-6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/26/95), 663 So.2d 525, 531, writ denied, 95-3010 (La.3/22/96), 669 So.2d 1223). (citations omitted).
In State v. Johnson, 97-1906, p. 9 (La.3/4/98), 709 So.2d 672, 677, the supreme court explained:
We emphasize to sentencing judges that departures downward from the minimum sentence . . . should occur only in rare situations. As Chief Justice Calogero noted in a prior case:
The substantive power to define crimes and prescribe [sic] punishments lies in the legislative branch of government. [citation omitted]. Our decision in State v. Dorthey, 623 So.2d 1276 (La.1993), did not purport to grant a district court the power to usurp that legislative prerogative or to impose what the court believes is the most appropriate sentence for a particular offender in a particular case. Dorthey gives the district court the authority to depart from the mandatory minimum sentences provided by the legislature only in those relatively rare cases in which the punishment provided violates the prohibition of La. Const. art. I, § 20 against excessive sentences. (citations omitted).
In this case, the Defendant has failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence unusual circumstances that demonstrate that this defendant is a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that are meaningfully tailored to the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstances of the case. Furthermore, the
Defendant failed to prove any unusual circumstances warranting a departure from the mandatory minimum sentence provided by the legislature. Consequently, this court finds that the sentence imposed upon the Defendant is not constitutionally excessive. Id. at 897-98 (first alteration added).
Here, Defendant failed to meet his burden of proving that the sentences imposed upon him are constitutionally excessive. Given the senselessness of the three murders, we cannot say that the imposition of three consecutive life sentences at hard labor without benefits is grossly disproportionate to the offenses committed by Defendant. Accordingly, this portion of Defendant's argument has no merit. Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 883 provides: "If the defendant is convicted of two or more offenses based on the same act or transaction, or constituting parts of a common scheme or plan, the terms of imprisonment shall be served concurrently unless the court expressly directs that some or all be served consecutively." In State v. Pierre, 02-277 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/11/03), 854 So.2d 945, writ denied, 03-2042 (La. 1/16/04), 864 So.2d 626, the defendant shot her estranged husband and child before turning the gun on herself. She and her husband survived; their son died. The defendant was convicted of second degree murder, for which she was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, and attempted second degree murder, for which she received a hard labor sentence of ten years. At the sentencing hearing, the defendant raised the issue of whether her sentences should be served concurrently or consecutively; a written motion to reconsider sentence was not filed. (In the original appeal, this court vacated the defendant's convictions and sentences, finding she did not knowingly and intelligently waive her right to a jury trial. The supreme court reversed, reinstated the defendant's conviction and sentence, and remanded the case to this court for consideration of the defendant's remaining claims. State v. Pierre, 02-2665 (La. 3/28/03), 842 So.2d 321.)
This court considered whether the trial court erred in imposing consecutive sentences for offenses arising from a single course of conduct and found no merit to the defendant's claim. We stated:
This court has held that when the trial court has no discretion to deviate from a legislatively mandated sentence, failure to articulate reasons as generally required by La.Code Crim.P. art. 894.1 is not an error since it would be futile to do so at sentencing, unless the sentences are constitutionally excessive. State v. Williams, 445 So.2d 1264 (La.App. 3 Cir.), writ denied, 449 So.2d 1346 (La.1984) and State v. Dorthey, 623 So.2d 1276 (La.1993). See also, State v. Armstrong, 32,279 (La.App. 2 Cir. 9/22/99); 743 So.2d 284, writ denied, 99-3151 (La.4/7/00), 759 So.2d 92.
In a case such as the instant case, where one of the sentences was a mandatory sentence and the other a mandatory minimum sentence, the Defendant has the burden to rebut the presumption that the sentences are unconstitutional by clear and convincing evidence, showing that:
[she] is exceptional, which in this context means that because of unusual circumstances this defendant is a victim of the legislature's failure to assign sentences that are meaningfully tailored to the culpability of the offender, the gravity of the offense, and the circumstance of the case. State v. Young, 94-1636, pp. 5-6 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/26/95), 663 So.2d 525, 531, writ denied, 95-3010 (La.3/22/96), 669 So.2d 1223.
Defendant has failed to meet her burden of showing how she is exceptional under the circumstances. Except for reciting the law regarding the general requirements for an adequate sentencing procedure, Defendant does not give any reason why her consecutive sentences are excessive.
Furthermore, even though the shootings of her husband and son arose out of the same act, it is not mandatory that the sentences be served concurrently. In State v. Bibb, 626 So.2d 913 (La.App. 5 Cir.1993), writ denied, 93-3127 (La.9/16/94), 642 So.2d 188, the defendant killed his two children. The court affirmed the two consecutive life sentences. The court noted:
Herein, the two murders, though occurring close in time and place, are separate and distinct acts that justify consecutive sentences. Further, even assuming that the murders were close enough in time and place to be considered "same act" crimes which arise from a single course of conduct, we find that the trial court did not err in imposing consecutive sentences. Article 883 permits the court to impose consecutive sentences if the court "expressly directs" such sentences.
Id. at 940.
Thus we find the trial court did not err when it ordered the sentences to be served consecutively. Id. at 954.
(In Bibb, the defendant was sentenced to serve two life sentences without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence following the jury's inability to reach a unanimous verdict as to the penalty for the two counts of first degree murder. Although not mentioned by this court in Pierre, the court in Bibb noted that the sentencing judge stated that the murders were the most heinous crimes he had ever seen. The fifth circuit, in holding that consecutive sentences were not excessive, noted that the crimes were particularly heinous because they involved two young children and because of the manner in which they were killed.
We conclude, as we previously did in Pierre, that it was not improper for the trial court to impose consecutive sentences. Furthermore, in State v. Dunbar, 94-1492 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/31/95), 657 So.2d 429, this court noted that any error committed by the trial court in imposing consecutive sentences to a defendant sentenced to life imprisonment without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence was harmless. Thus, even if the trial court did err in imposing consecutive sentences, pursuant to Dunbar, the error would be harmless.
Finally, Defendant claims that the trial court did not cite any reasons or basis for ordering consecutive sentences. In State v. Robinson, 07-1424, p. 11 (La.App. 3 Cir. 4/30/08), 981 So.2d 867, 875, writ denied, 08-1314 (La. 2/13/09), 999 So.2d 1144, this court held:
Defendant argues that the trial court erred by failing to articulate the factors it used in formulating the sentence, and in determining the sentences should run consecutively.
This court observes that Defendant did not object to the sentences and did not file a motion to reconsider sentence. Although he cites jurisprudence regarding excessive sentences, he does not argue that his sentences are excessive in length. Therefore, his claim regarding La.Code Crim.P. art. 894.1 has not been preserved for review. La.Code Crim.P. art. 881.1.
Defendant also argues that the trial court erred by failing to sufficiently explain why it ordered that the sentences run consecutively. However, this court finds this argument should not be considered, for the reasons noted in the previous paragraph.
As in Robinson, Defendant did not object to his sentences nor file a motion to reconsider sentence. Accordingly, this portion of Defendant's claim will not be considered.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's convictions and sentences are affirmed.
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