State v. Crehan, 2018 KA 0746
|Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
|05 November 2018
|2018 KA 0746
|STATE OF LOUISIANA v. JACE CREHAN
NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION
On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana
Trial Court No. 09-15-0123
The Honorable Anthony J. Marabella, Jr. Judge Presiding
Bruce G. Whittaker
New Orleans, Louisiana
Attorney for Defendant/Appellant,
Hillar C. Moore, III
Allison Miller Rutzen
Assistant District Attorney
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Attorneys for Appellee,
State of Louisiana
BEFORE: GUIDRY, THERIOT, AND PENZATO, JJ.
Defendant, Jace Crehan, was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1.1 He pled not guilty. After a trial by jury, defendant was found guilty as charged by eleven of twelve jurors. Defendant filed a motion for new trial, which was denied by the trial court. Immediately following the denial,2 the trial court imposed a term of life imprisonment at hard labor, to be served without the benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Defendant now timely appeals raising three assignments of error. For the following reasons, we affirm the conviction and sentence.
On the afternoon of July 4, 2015, the Zachary Police Department ("ZPD") was notified by Delmonico Noce that he had found a large amount of blood in his brother's residence. Delmonico had stopped by his brother Robert's trailer to return some borrowed lawn equipment when he noticed a large amount of water pouring out of the residence. After entering and seeing blood, Delmonico immediately left the trailer and called ZPD.
During the initial ZPD walk-through, officers discovered a blue 55-gallon barrel in the kitchen. As a result, detectives were called in and the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office ("EBRSO") assumed the lead in the investigation. Police determined the residence belonged to Robert Noce, Jr. ("Noce").
During their investigation, police noticed a window-unit air conditioner next to the trailer under an open window. Police also observed a large amount of water pouring from the trailer, coming from at least one purposefully stopped-up sink.
Further investigation revealed a body in a blue barrel, along with used latex gloves. Near the barrel, in the center of the adjacent master bedroom, was a portion of carpet saturated with blood. There was also blood spatter on several objects in the room. A can of Axe deodorant spray and a wallet were found on the bed.
Later forensic examination of Noce's body revealed that a black leather belt had been wrapped around his neck. Though the body was assumed to be that of Noce, DNA and fingerprint samples later confirmed this. An expert forensic witness testified Noce died from multiple stab wounds and strangulation.
Twelve days before his death, and after having been indicted for aggravated rape, Noce pled no contest to felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile for the sexual abuse between the ages of four and twelve of Brittany Monk ("Brittany"), the daughter of Noce's former live-in girlfriend, Margaret Dixon. For that offense, as part of a negotiated plea, Noce had been sentenced to ten years imprisonment at hard labor, which the trial court suspended, five years active probation, and he was required to register as a sex offender.3
Police developed Brittany and defendant, her then-boyfriend, as suspects in Noce's death, and the forensic evidence eventually confirmed their involvement. DNA from the latex gloves was matched to a DNA sample taken from Brittany, and a latent fingerprint taken from the bedpost was matched to defendant. Police also learned the pair had purchased batteries and blue nitrile gloves from Walmart during the early morning hours of July 4, 2015.
At trial, Brittany explained she and defendant had begun to discuss confronting Noce "about two weeks" after the guilty plea, which is when Brittany claimed to have just learned Noce was not going to spend any time in prison. She said defendant did not want to move out of the house in which they were living,
but that Brittany did not feel safe there with Noce not incarcerated. She admitted Noce had not posed any threats to her, and that neither she nor defendant had any contact with him between when he was arrested in 2012 until July 4, 2015, the day of his death. Brittany testified that defendant was "ok with" the case against Noce being dismissed because he "didn't believe there would be enough evidence to convict" Noce. She explained because defendant did not want to move, she and defendant discussed over several occasions that they would scare Noce so he would stay away from them. Specifically, Brittany testified that defendant talked about tying Noce to a chair and beating him and "making sure that he knows why we are there." Brittany also testified that she had told defendant that Noce had raped her, but she never told defendant specifics about the abuse.
Those discussions between Brittany and defendant culminated on the night of July 3, 2015. Brittany testified defendant had the idea of getting batteries for their walkie-talkies and gloves to prevent them from leaving fingerprints or DNA at the scene. The pair went to Walmart, where they purchased batteries and gloves. They returned home, removing one pair of gloves from the box and leaving the rest there. She believed it was defendant's idea for both of them to wear dark clothes. Defendant looked up Noce's address on the sex offender registry as neither he nor Brittany knew exactly where he lived. The trip to Noce's trailer took between forty-five minutes and one hour, with defendant driving from their residence in Walker to Noce's trailer in Zachary, with one stop for Brittany to use the bathroom. Brittany testified she wanted to be there and that defendant asked her about this several times. On the way, defendant asked Brittany if anyone else lived at Noce's trailer, and she replied there should not be.
Upon their arrival at Noce's trailer, defendant removed the air conditioner from the window with a screwdriver. Defendant climbed in first, and then helped
the seven-month-pregnant Brittany up through the window into the trailer. Navigating through the trailer with a cell phone light, the pair made their way toward the master bedroom. Brittany explained she saw a blue barrel in the kitchen that she knew Noce used to make wine. Both removed their shoes, and defendant removed his watch. She explained that he did so in order to prevent it from getting lost in a struggle, and that she put her hair up to keep it from getting in the way. Defendant handed Brittany a can of Axe spray with the instructions to defend herself with it should the need arise.
Defendant then opened the door to the master bedroom, turned on the light, and ran to the side of Noce's bed. Noce immediately began screaming and pulling the covers back. First remaining near the door, Brittany then moved toward the bed as defendant and Noce began to struggle. Defendant grabbed Noce and tried to pull him onto the floor. As defendant did this, Brittany sprayed Noce in the face with the Axe spray. Defendant then got Noce into a chokehold, and they both dropped to the floor on their knees, with defendant behind Noce. Noce attempted to strike defendant in the head with a cordless drill battery pack. According to Brittany, defendant then said that Noce "chose to do this the hard way." Brittany testified she screamed at Noce that he ruined her life, and eventually he began to beg forgiveness. She punched Noce "ten or fifteen" times, while defendant continued to choke him. After some time, as Noce lay motionless, defendant told Brittany to go get a knife. Brittany went to the kitchen and selected a knife, believing defendant was about to kill Noce. Brittany dropped the knife onto the ground by defendant and left for the master bathroom. Unable to see the two men, Brittany described hearing a "crunching sound" as defendant stabbed Noce in the head and neck. When she walked out of the bathroom, she saw blood squirting out of Noce's body, covering the floor. Defendant told Brittany to get something with which to tie up the body, and she again left the room to retrieve a belt and ties from
the closet in another bedroom. Defendant wrapped the belt around Noce's neck, placed his foot on Noce's back, and pulled the belt for "probably a minute." After the pair moved the barrel into the bedroom and pushed the body in it, defendant moved the barrel back into the kitchen. They then attempted to clean up the blood, and defendant clogged the sink drains to flood the trailer with the intention of destroying evidence. The pair then put their shoes back on, and defendant retrieved his watch. Defendant told Brittany to put her gloves in the barrel, and the lid was put back on. They took a tablet computer with the intention of selling it for money because Noce's wallet contained no cash. Defendant later destroyed the tablet because he was concerned it could be electronically traced back to them. Brittany estimated the entire transaction at the trailer lasted about two hours.
The defendant and Brittany then returned to their house in Walker, where they placed all of their clothing and all of the remaining gloves in a trash bag. They then threw the trash bag away at a nearby car wash, and defendant threw the knife in a water retention pond across the street from the car wash. Later, they went to a nearby hospital so defendant could get a doctor's note in order to skip work the next day. They then went to a family barbeque, feeling it would appear suspicious if they did not.
That night, Brittany received a text message from the East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney who had prosecuted Noce for the sexual abuse asking for defendant's phone number. Defendant told her to give the number to the assistant district attorney,...
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