Stephen Rosiere, a police officer, was found guilty of second degree murder, La. R.S. 14:30.1, following a bench trial. After denial of motions for a post-verdict judgment of acquittal or alternatively for modification of the verdict and a new trial, Rosiere was sentenced to the mandatory life imprisonment at hard labor.
Rosiere's appeal hinges on two arguments.
Shortly after midnight on August 31, 1983 Rosiere was riding in a police car driven by Officer Fred McFarland when they noticed two people on a speeding motorcycle. The siren and blue light were turned on and a chase began which covered 2-3 miles at estimated speeds up to 95 m.p.h. As the motorcycle started up the Palmetto St. overpass the police car was about two car lengths behind and Rosiere fired one shot. The passenger, Gerard Glover, was hit and later died. No gun was found on Glover or at the scene. McFarland and Rosiere later planted a gun on the escape route taken by the motorcycle driver, Rene Brooks, who surrendered the next day.
After an on-scene investigation Rosiere and McFarland reported to the Homicide Division that gunfire came from the motorcycle and Rosiere shot back. According to a written statement by McFarland on September 1st, during the chase he saw a flash from the motorcycle and heard a loud pop which sounded like a gun. At the base of the overpass he heard a second loud pop and observed another flash and Rosiere shot back.
On September 6, 1983 McFarland was called back to Homicide to explain discrepancies in his September 1st statement.
In the September 6th statement McFarland first mentioned finding a gun, but claimed he was not aware Rosiere had planted the weapon.
At trial McFarland was granted immunity and his prior versions of the facts changed again. He testified no shots were fired at them, no motorcycle backfire occurred, and Rosiere fired without justification. McFarland claimed that as the motorcycle approached the overpass Rosiere said "I'm going to shoot" and fired one shot. Unexplainably, he saw "[b]oth flashes." He stated Rosiere's reaction was "I missed", but after Glover fell off the motorcycle Rosiere said "Oh, fuck, I hit him." McFarland testified a "108" (officer needs assistance) was radioed in after Rosiere fired, but admitted saying in prior statements the "108" was called before Rosiere fired when they believed they were shot at. McFarland said he pretended to chase the motorcycle driver but allowed him to escape. However, on the dispatcher's tape he claimed while pursuing the motorcycle he was shot at and finally lost it. McFarland admitted he lied to the dispatcher and lied throughout the investigation.
Rosiere made a statement on September 2nd to the Office of Municipal Investigations. He heard a pop and saw a flash before the fleeing motorcycle got to the Palmetto overpass; then as the motorcycle went up the overpass he saw a muzzle flash, heard a pop and saw a hand.
Delores Carter, who lived near the bottom of the overpass, testified she heard two shots.
An expert motorcycle mechanic, Herman Netzhammer, (hired by O.M.I.) test drove Brooks' motorcycle at 55 mph. He said when he rode over the bump or dip at the base of the overpass his thumb accidentally hit the kill switch and when he turned the ignition back on it caused a backfire or "pop" which could have caused a flash at night. During a second test run he deliberately hit the kill switch and the engine backfired again.
In order to convict on second degree murder
Rosiere's defense is based on justification in that he acted while under the reasonable apprehension that he and McFarland were being fired upon by fleeing suspects.
The statutory test to determine whether to grant Rosiere's motion for a post verdict judgment of acquittal or alternatively for a modified verdict under La.C.Cr.P. Art. 821
R.S. 15:438 emphasizes the need for careful observation of the usual standard and provides a methodology for its implementation. State v. Nealy, 450 So.2d 634 (La. 1984). In order for the trial court to grant a post verdict motion for acquittal or for an appellate court to reverse a conviction, the test is whether any rational trier of fact viewing the evidence, both direct and that inferred from the circumstances, in the light most favorable to the State could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of every essential element of the crime. State v. Captville, 448 So.2d 676 (La.1984). See also State v. Morris, 414 So.2d 320 (La.1982).
To carry its heavy burden the prosecution relied on three witnesses. The primary witness, McFarland, admitted lying in all of his pre-trial statements and to the dispatcher. He changed his story from a justified intentional shooting to an accidental shooting to his immunized testimony that Rosiere said "I am going to shoot." Rosiere's statement, made at night during a high speed chase, is susceptible of multiple interpretations, such as the shot was a warning to stop. Rosiere's reaction "I missed," then after Glover fell off the motorcycle, "Oh, fuck, I hit him," clearly refutes the state's proof of the statutory intent to kill or inflict bodily harm. McFarland lacks credibility and is not worthy of belief.
Brooks' testimony has little, if any, probative value. The number of shots (sounds) is uncertain. The testimony is not beneficial to the state's case.
The totality of the State's case is weak, at best, and woefully insufficient to convict. The evidence does not exclude the hypothesis that Rosiere acted justifiably out of apprehension. Nor does it exclude the reasonable belief that Rosiere did not intend to shoot Glover. We do not believe
We need not discuss defendant's assignment relating to Brady material. However, we note that a statement by William Helfand
With reference to Helfand's statement, the judge noted there was "[n]o time to concoct a story at that junction." The State also did not produce a statement from off-duty narcotics Officer Michael Glasser who verified he heard the "108" called in prior to the shooting. Glasser confirmed Helfand arrived immediately after the shooting.
The suppressed statements were crucial to Rosiere's defense. The trial judge noted that Helfand's testimony "could have made a whale of a difference" to the defense. We agree. The state acted improperly and the new trial motion (now moot) should have been granted.
Defendant's conviction is reversed.
REDMANN, Chief Judge, dissenting.
This is a hard case because the Louisiana second-degree murder statute is a hard law. It allows no other punishment than life imprisonment for a broad range of homicides, including:
Though society cannot tolerate either homicide, it is a hard law that treats the second the same as the first. A legislator might well vote to treat those two situations differently. Yet homicide is among the gravest of offenses, and defendant here—whose behavior is described in example 2—does not argue that Louisiana's constitutional prohibition of excessive punishment invalidates the statute's punishing his behavior with imprisonment for life.
This case was assigned to me for preparation of the court's opinion, and I now reproduce as my dissent my proposed opinion, altered to show that is only my view rather than the court's.
The basic question in this appeal is whether the state proved that the homicide
Defendant and another police officer were pursuing two persons on a motorcycle that was speeding up to 90 or 95 mph (according to its driver) over a distance of two or three miles on New Orleans streets shortly after midnight on August 31, 1983. Defendant shot and killed the passenger. Although defendant did not testify, a statement by him was introduced in which he describes a "pop" and flash from the motorcycle that convinced him he was being fired upon, and for that reason he "returned fire with one shot."
The trial judge, sitting without a jury, found defendant guilty of second degree murder, "the killing of a human being ... [w]hen the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm ...," La.R.S. 14:30.1, and imposed the statutory sentence of life in prison. Defendant appeals.
Defendant argues from State v. Edwards, 420 So.2d 663 (La.1982), that it is the burden of the state, once the defendant raises the justification defense, to prove that defendant did not reasonably believe that the persons on the motorcycle were shooting at him and his partner. Citing State v. Holmes, 388 So.2d 722 (La.1980), defendant argues that to infer specific intent the circumstances must exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence, and then, comparing specific intent to justification, urges that the state failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis to prove beyond reasonable doubt (citing Edwards, supra) that defendant acted without justification.
Defendant does not contend that a trained police officer, shooting a .357 pistol at someone a car length and a half away, may not intend to inflict great bodily harm upon his target. (I have considered, nevertheless, the arguably inconsistent testimony by the state's principal witness, defendant's partner, that defendant first said "I missed" after shooting, but when the passenger fell, defendant said "Oh, fuck, I hit him!") Defendant contends only that the state failed to carry its burden of proving, beyond reasonable doubt, the absence of justification.
To meet that burden, the state presented the testimony of defendant's partner, testifying under a grant of immunity. He described the high-speed chase with flashing lights and siren, from start on Louisiana avenue through Toledano street and Washington avenue to fatal finish on the Palmetto street overpass. He denied any shot or backfire from the motorcycle (though he saw "both flashes" and defendant shot only once) or any other cause for fear of the motorcyclists when defendant announced "I'm going to shoot" and shot as the car was only a car length and a half from the motorcycle. The state also presented the testimony of the motorcycle driver denying both shooting and backfiring from the motorcycle, and the testimony of a neighbor that she had heard only one shot.
In turn, the defense presented testimony by two other neighbors that they had heard two shots. The defense also presented the testimony of a motorcycle expert (hired by the city's administrative investigative agency in investigating this incident) that, when he tested the motorcycle on which the victim had been riding, it backfired as he drove at about 55 mph on the route that
The question for an appellate court on review 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 beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 309, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). There is no reasonable doubt that the elements of the crime itself—the killing and the specific intent to shoot the victim—were established by the evidence when viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution. The heart of the case, on this assignment of error, is whether some rational trier of fact could have found the absence of justification.
I cannot say that no rational trier of fact could have concluded that justification was proven absent, and I therefore find no reversible error in this assignment.
Defendant's second argument is that a new trial should have been ordered because of the state's failure to furnish defendant a copy of the statement of reserve police officer William Scott Helfand in response to defendant's request for material discoverable under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). The trial judge's "firm belief" was that the state should have furnished the statement. He observed, on the hearing of the motion for a new trial, that the statement "would have been critical to the defense's case" in that defendant would have made a "concerted effort" to find that witness. The trial judge nevertheless denied a new trial.
Helfand's statement included that defendant or his partner "yelled to me that the man on the ground had a gun" almost immediately after the shooting, when they "were just getting out of their car." Helfand (with his girlfriend, Donna Oakleaf— also a possible witness, though her name was not disclosed to defendant) was on the scene of the end of the chase just as the shooting occurred. If one is of the trial judge's view ("No time to concoct a story at that junction"), one might conclude that Helfand's statement supports a factual conclusion that, rightly or wrongly, defendant believed that the victim had a gun. Helfand's statement thus indirectly supports a conclusion that defendant believed he had been fired upon and thus supports defendant's justification theory. The statement also provides some conflict with defendant's partner's trial-time statement that he and defendant had no cause to fear the motorcyclists.
Defendant by pre-trial discovery motion had sought "an accounting of any documents and tangible objects which ... are favorable to the defendant" and "any and all evidence, of whatever nature, that may be deemed exculpatory as to the defendant, no matter how tenuous the exculpation." The state in response provided the city's motorcycle expert's report and the names of possibly exculpatory witnesses, namely that expert, the two witnesses who testified of hearing two shots, and Helfand. Defendant did not at any time request any
United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 112, 96 S.Ct. 2392, 2402, 49 L.Ed.2d 342 (1976), rules that when the defendant has made no request or only a non-specific request for exculpatory material, the prosecution's duty to disclose exists only if "the omitted evidence creates a reasonable doubt that did not otherwise exist ...."
I cannot say that Helfand's statement creates such a doubt. Considering the case as a whole, including the cover-up action and statements by defendant and the partner hereafter alluded to, Helfand's statement that defendant or his partner said that the victim had a gun on alighting from their car means nothing except that they made up the gun story right away. It does not create a different reasonable doubt from, nor afford any greater support to doubt than, the other defense evidence already in the record.
Much less can I say that the Helfand statement (or further, similar testimony by Helfand, if he had been found and testified) "would probably have changed the verdict or judgment of guilty ...," making new trial mandatory under C.Cr.P. 851.
I find no reversible error in this assignment.
Because of the public interest in this case, and because of their conceivable value to a reviewing court, I do note some additional circumstances that I deem not squarely relevant to guilt or innocence. Most prominent of all is that defendant and his partner "planted" a gun on Bamboo road, a possible escape route for the motorcycle and its driver (whom they did not pursue, defendant's partner testified, because they knew he could contradict their gun story). They also broadcast on their police radio that they were being fired upon and thereafter gave similar statements to the investigating police and administrative agencies (all of which, the partner testified, was nothing but coverup). It may also be mentioned that the driver of the motorcycle had pled guilty in 1982 to carrying his mother's .22 caliber handgun at a school. And it may be added that a smashed lead pellet, not a bullet from defendant's gun, was found atop the overpass. None of these circumstances, however, demonstrates any error in the conviction and sentence.
I would affirm.
Second degree murder is the killing of a human being: (1) When the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm; or (2) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated escape, armed robbery, or simple robbery, even though he has no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.
A homicide is justifiable: (1) When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger; or (2) When committed, for the purpose of preventing a violent or forcible felony involving danger to life or of great bodily harm, by one who reasonably believes that such an offense is about to be committed and that such action is necessary for its prevention. The circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fear of a reasonable person that there would be serious danger to his own life or person if he attempted to prevent the felony without the killing.
A motion for a post verdict judgment of acquittal must be made and disposed of before sentence.