State v. Dickerson, 88

CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
Citation529 So.2d 434
Docket NumberNo. 88,88
PartiesSTATE of Louisiana v. Johnny DICKERSON. KA 0050. 529 So.2d 434
Decision Date21 June 1988

Page 434

529 So.2d 434
STATE of Louisiana
No. 88 KA 0050.
529 So.2d 434
Court of Appeal of Louisiana,
First Circuit.
June 21, 1988.

Page 435

Charles Genco, Amite, for plaintiff-appellee.

Johnny Dickerson, Angola, in pro. per.

Michael S. Gallagher, Loyola University, New Orleans, for defendant-appellant.



On November 13, 1986, Johnny Dickerson (defendant) was indicted by the Tangipahoa Parish Grand Jury for first degree murder, LSA-R.S. 14:30, aggravated kidnapping, LSA-R.S. 14:44, and armed robbery, LSA-R.S. 14:64. On March 11, 1987, the indictment was amended to reduce the first degree murder charge to second degree murder, LSA-R.S. 14:30.1. These offenses stem from the death of Walter Talley, Jr., on or about April 24 or 25, 1981. Defendant pled not guilty, and, after a jury trial which began on June 1, 1987, was found guilty as charged. On the charge of second degree murder, the court sentenced defendant to be imprisoned with the Department of Corrections for life without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. On the charge of aggravated kidnapping, the court sentenced defendant to be imprisoned with the Department of Corrections for life without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. On the charge of armed robbery, the court sentenced defendant to serve 50 years with the Department of Corrections without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. Defendant has appealed to this court with three assignments of error.


Early on the morning of April 25, 1981, Talley's body was found by some fisherman near the Manchac exit of Interstate 55 in Tangipahoa Parish. He had been shot with a high-caliber pistol in the back of the head. Later that same day, Melvin Landry, who had a wrecker service, towed a burned Datsun automobile which he found in a secluded area to his yard in adjoining Livingston Parish. The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office (TPSO) got its first lead as to the victim's identity two weeks' later when St. Tammany Parish officials put it in touch with Talley's family. TPSO learned that Talley was involved in drug dealing and that Barbara Rogers Dickerson 1 was his Hammond connection.

Page 436

On June 20, 1981, Eric Sivula, a lieutenant with the Louisiana State Police and commander of its vehicle theft investigation section, went to Landry's Wrecking Yard and examined the burned Datsun. After finding the confidential vehicle identification number and running a check, he learned that the vehicle was registered to Walter F. Talley.

After the vehicle was identified as belonging to Talley, Barbara was questioned by TPSO deputies, and defendant became a suspect. Some time later, she agreed to be a witness and was granted immunity from prosecution. At trial, she was the state's star witness.

Barbara testified that she had been married to defendant but was divorced from him on December 19, 1979; that, notwithstanding their divorce, defendant continued to live with her "on and off"; that she sold marijuana for Talley; that she was on five years' probation from the 19th Judicial District Court for distribution of Quaaludes; and that she gave a statement regarding Talley's death to TPSO in October of 1982.

Barbara testified that she was present at the scene of Talley's murder. She said that after Talley had been robbed of a sizeable amount of cash and drugs, she and defendant took him, bound and gagged, to a place near Manchac, where defendant walked Talley away. A short time later, she heard a shot, and defendant returned alone. They then burned Talley's car, and defendant disposed of the gun in the Tickfaw River. They spent the night at the Ramada Inn in Hammond and returned to her residence the next morning. The next day, defendant came back driving a black Monte Carlo. They went together to a car lot, and defendant bought her a green Monte Carlo. She insisted she never told anyone that Brian Foret 2 killed Talley.

Jessie Lord, defendant's fellow prisoners from May of 1984 until June of 1985 while both were in federal custody in Pennsylvania, agreed to become a witness after he contacted TPSO authorities in August, 1984. Lord testified that he learned from defendant during the period they were fellow prisoners various details of the homicide; that he talked to TPSO Detective Larry Westmoreland on several occasions; and that the story defendant told him was that defendant killed Talley after Barbara set Talley up.

Hilda Coniglio also testified for the state. She and her husband own a car lot in Tangipahoa Parish. She testified that between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on April 25, 1981, she sold a green Monte Carlo to Barbara Dickerson for $1,500.00 cash; and that a man was with Barbara but stayed in the background during the entire negotiations. After describing the man, she pointed to defendant in the courtroom and identified him as the man who was with Barbara.

Ruby Dickerson, defendant's mother, testified for him. She said that Barbara told her twice that she lied to police about defendant and Talley's murder out of jealousy and revenge and that Brian Foret had done it. Rose Brenner, who had known defendant for twenty years, gave substantially the same testimony as defendant's mother.

Gloria Foret testified for defendant. Her testimony was that Barbara was extremely jealous of her friendship with defendant to the extent of deliberately damaging her car while she visited defendant; that Barbara continually harassed her over the telephone, which prompted her to report it to the authorities; that her husband died on February 4, 1983, of cancer; that her husband used and sold drugs; but that she did not think he had killed Talley because he was in "bad shape" at the time.

John S. Campbell, a federal inmate serving time for bank robbery, also testified for defendant. He said that Brian Foret told him that he (Brian) took Talley out to the country and shot him because Talley had turned "narc" to save himself from prosecution. After Campbell's less than convincing testimony, defendant released three

Page 437

federal prisoners from subpoenaes who, along with Campbell, had been summoned at considerable expense to Tangipahoa Parish to testify. These prisoners were identified as Mr. Chandler, Mr. Kessler, and Mr. Torres.

B.J. Felder also testified. He testified that Barbara told him that Brian killed a man near Manchac under a bridge because a drug deal "went sour."


We have gone into the facts as adduced at trial at some length to place in proper perspective the primary issue defendant raises in this case, i.e., that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated because of the long delay from the time he became a suspect until he was indicted and tried. The following factual chronology will help put defendant's speedy trial claim in focus:

04/25/81 Talley's murder
                09/2/82 Defendant is sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal confinement for a
                 firearms violation (his sentence was later increased to 4 1/2 years
                 because of an attempted escape)
                02/3/83 Arrest warrants issued by TPSO against defendant, charging him with
                 first degree murder and aggravated kidnapping
                02/4/83 Brian Foret's death
                02/15/83 Detainers received by federal authorities at the Memphis Correctional
                 Institute where defendant was housed at the time
                03/20/83 Defendant files the first of many motions for speedy trial with the
                 22nd Judicial District Court
                09/18/86 Defendant completes his federal time and is held for TPSO
                09/26/86 Defendant is returned to Louisiana and arrested for murder,
                 kidnapping, and robbery
                11/13/86 Defendant is indicted for first degree murder, aggravated kidnapping,
                 and armed robbery
                11/24/86 Defendant is arraigned for said offenses
                04/27/87 State amends indictment to charge defendant with second degree
                 murder, aggravated kidnapping, and armed robbery
                06/1/87 Defendant's trial begins on said offenses

Within a matter of weeks after detainers were placed against him, defendant began pro se legal maneuvers to obtain a speedy trial. His motions addressed to the 22nd Judicial District were either denied or not formally acted upon. His requests for state appellate review were denied. His petition for federal habeas corpus relief was denied by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on February 12, 1986. Defendant then appealed to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Dickerson v. Louisiana, 816 F.2d 220 (5th Cir.1987), which also denied pretrial relief. The Fifth Circuit's opinion is dated May 13, 1987. The case was submitted after defendant had been released from federal confinement and returned to Louisiana, where he had been arrested, indicted, and was incarcerated awaiting trial. The Fifth Circuit articulated its task as follows: "to determine whether Dickerson is entitled to raise his speedy trial and due process claims through federal habeas corpus proceedings before Louisiana has tried him on state charges when his constitutional claims can be raised at his state trial." (Footnote omitted.) 816 F.2d at 224.

Although the case has reached us on appeal after trial, we note that the pretrial factors as considered by the United States Fifth Circuit have not changed and, though in a different posture, are the very same factors that we must review in considering defendant's first assignment of error.

In disposing of defendant's pretrial habeas corpus claim, the Fifth Circuit discussed Braden v. Thirtieth Judicial Circuit Court, 410 U.S. 484, 93 S.Ct. 1123, 35 L.Ed.2d 443 (1973), and noted it must resolve whether defendant had exhausted his state remedies. It discussed the long-established principle that:

"federal habeas corpus does not lie, absent 'special circumstances', to adjudicate the merits of an affirmative defense to a state criminal charge prior to a judgment of conviction by a state...

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