STATE v. SHEEHANNo. CR87-356.
515 So.2d 670 (1987)
STATE of Louisiana
John Anthony SHEEHAN.
John Anthony SHEEHAN.
Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit.
November 4, 1987.
Rehearing Denied December 9, 1987.
Writ Denied February 5, 1988.
Lewis O. Unglesby, Unglesby & Heck, Baton Rouge, for defendant-appellant. Jerold E. Knoll, Dist. Atty., David Lafargue, Asst. Dist. Atty., Marksville, for plaintiff-appellee.
Before GUIDRY, FORET and YELVERTON, JJ.
On August 5, 1986, defendant, John Anthony Sheehan, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1, in connection with the shooting death of his wife. At the
Assignment of error number four was not briefed on appeal and is considered abandoned. State v. Dewey,
Defendant-appellant, John Anthony Sheehan, and the victim, Monica Jeansonne Sheehan, were married in Louisiana in May 1984, upon Monica's graduation from high school. Following their marriage, the couple moved to Florida where the defendant was stationed with the U.S. Air Force. During the first year or so of their marriage, the couple had marital problems which resulted in bruises to Monica on several occasions and a hospital visit once. On one occasion, appellant allegedly said he hated her so much he could just kill her and slammed her against the wall. The couple received marriage counseling at the suggestion of John's superiors and, according to defendant, they resolved their marital problems. Subsequently, on September 3, 1985, Monica gave birth to a son with the assistance of the appellant in the hospital as her "Lamaze Coach".
The record reflects that in June 1984, a John Hancock agent solicited and sold defendant a $25,000.00 insurance policy on the life of Monica Sheehan. On April 17, 1986, the defendant sought additional insurance on the life of Monica Sheehan from the same agent, allegedly for the purpose of equalizing coverage for both spouses in light of his military insurance coverage. A policy of variable insurance with $50,000.00 coverage was taken insuring the life of Monica. Mrs. Sheehan was present during the negotiations and in the application stated no other insurance was pending or contemplated. Coverage was immediate through the execution of a military pay allotment form executed by the defendant. The following week, on April 23, 1986, defendant contacted a State Farm life insurance agent about obtaining additional insurance. At the State Farm office, appellant completed an application for a variable
The victim and defendant traveled to Zachary, Louisiana, on April 29, 1986, where they spent the night at the victim's mother's house enroute to a wedding of one of Monica's friends. The next morning they drove to Plaucheville, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, to the defendant's grandparents' home to visit. Sometime after their arrival, the defendant allegedly began to clean his grandfather's shotgun, by wiping the exterior with an oily rag. The victim was seated, cross-legged, on the den floor playing a game when the shotgun discharged. She was struck in the upper left chest area with the pellets traveling in a sixty to seventy degree angle and exiting the middle of her back. The defendant's grandmother, who was in the kitchen (the kitchen and den were separated by a bar rather than a wall) sent John to find his grandfather and telephoned for help. Mrs. Marks, the grandmother, was present when the ambulance arrived, but John did not return until afterwards.
The two nurses who responded to the call testified that they found the victim dead on the floor with two green unspent shotgun shells on the floor next to the body and a red spent shell several feet away. Detective Robert Venable of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Deparment, who arrived at the scene sometime later, testified that he removed one spent red shell and one unspent red shell from the pump action shotgun. He found no spent shell on the floor, only the two green unspent shells. At trial, Mrs. Marks testified that there were four unspent green shotgun shells on the bar when the couple arrived and that the baby had played with two of them on the floor. She could not account for the whereabouts of the other two shells.
Detective Venable testified that, following Monica's death, some members of her family contacted him to express suspicion of foul play and to relate the Sheehans' history of marital discord. He stated that he also received a call from one of the non-commissioned officers who worked with the defendant at Eglin expressing concern that a person like John, who was very familiar with firearms, could be involved in such an accident. These expressions of suspicion and concern prompted further investigation by Venable. He testified that, during that investigation, he contacted the O.S.I. at Eglin Air Force Base where he spoke with Larry Brown and Agent Jerry Adams to request their cooperation. The O.S.I. agents agreed to cooperate and apparently began their own independent investigation in cooperation with the civilian authorities.
On August 5, 1986, defendant, John Sheehan, was indicted by a grand jury. On Thursday, August 14, 1986, he was arraigned in Marksville, Louisiana, and upon joint motion of the defense and the State, was granted permission to return to active duty at Eglin pending trial. That very same day, unknown to Sheehan, O.S.I. Special Agent Joseph H. Walker, U.S.A.F., contacted Detective Venable to inquire if the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office would have any objection to his administering a polygraph examination to Sheehan. Detective Venable informed Agent Walker that neither he nor his department objected to such an examination. Testifying at the motion to suppress, Detective Venable denied that any agreement was reached that the results of the examination or any statement secured by Agent Walker would be turned over to the civilian authorities, but Detective Venable did travel to Eglin Air Force Base on Monday, August 18, 1986, and was present in the O.S.I. building when
Airman First Class Sheehan was first summoned to the O.S.I. office at approximately 9:00 a.m., Monday, August 18, 1986, under the guise that, because of his indictment in Louisiana, his security clearance was in danger of being revoked. Agent Walker described his first meeting with Sheehan as follows:
Sheehan was unable to reach his attorney, Mike Johnson, at that time. He was told to keep trying and report back to Agent Walker at 11:00 a.m. Upon reporting back, Sheehan had been unable to reach his attorney and it was requested that further efforts be made. Shortly after 11:00 a.m., defendant finally reached his attorney, spoke with him, and then, pursuant to his attorney's request, handed the telephone to Agent Walker. The record reflects the following colloquy between Agent Walker and defense counsel at the hearing on the motion to suppress:
Following their conversation, and based upon the assurance of Agent Walker that his client's subjection to a polygraph examination was solely for military purposes and that nothing obtained as a result of the test would be turned over to the civil authorities, defendant's counsel advised his client to proceed with the examination. At that point, Sheehan was given his rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which are similar to Miranda rights.
Agent Walker testified as follows concerning three questions he asked the defendant during the polygraph examination:
At the conclusion of the polygraph examination, a conversation ensued between Agent Walker and Sheehan, which Agent Walker described as follows:
Defendant was given his Miranda rights before the written statement was taken.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 1
Defendant claims that the statements he made to Air Force Special Agent Joseph Walker, O.S.I., which were admitted in evidence over objection, were involuntary in that they were made in reliance on false
"... [C]ourts are constitutionally bound to assure that those accused before our courts are tried in accordance with law and to reverse, where substantial error of law is committed." State v. Butler,
Clearly in the instant case, defendant's statements were made based upon inducements and promises to both defendant and his attorney that "nothing" would be turned over to the civilian authorities. The record reflects that Agent Walker, as a member of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, was working in concert with Detective Venable of the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office. In our view, any misconduct on his part is akin to misconduct by any civilian law enforcement officer. It is logical to assume, based upon the record evidence, that if Agent Walker had revealed to defendant's counsel that he and other agents of the O.S.I. were cooperating with the civilian authorities in the investigation of Monica Sheehan's death and that, at that very moment a deputy from Avoyelles Parish was waiting for any evidence the examination would provide, defense counsel would have advised his client not to take the polygraph and not to make any statements. We conclude that Agent Walker's and Detective Venable's actions clearly deprived the defendant of his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. For these reasons, we find that the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress and in admitting, over objection, the inculpatory statements made by defendant to Agent Walker.
We next consider whether this error requires reversal of defendant's conviction. To determine whether or not the error committed herein substantially affected the outcome of defendant's trial or was harmless, we look to Chapman v. California,
The record reveals that the guilty verdict was a 10 to 2 decision. Our review of the entire record does not enable us to determine what persuaded the jurors one way or another. The testimony at trial of Agent Walker covered approximately 20 pages of transcript and gave the appearance that the statements made by the defendant to him were freely and voluntarily given. The statements were inculpatory in that defendant allegedly admitted to Agent Walker that he knew there were shells in the gun while it was being cleaned and that while cleaning the gun, he pointed it at Monica, not to shoot her with it, but to line the shotgun up with her as she sat on the floor in front of him. We are unable to conclude that the testimony by Agent
Accordingly, for the reasons stated, the defendant's conviction is reversed, his sentence is vacated and the case is remanded to the district court for a new trial excluding the oral and written statements given by Sheehan to Agent Walker and any testimony by Agent Walker concerning said statements or the events which took place August 18, 1986, at Eglin Air Force Base.
REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Leagle.com reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.
- No Cases Found