State v. Rawson

Decision Date15 September 2017
Docket NumberNO. 2017 KA 0430,2017 KA 0430
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US


Appealed from the 22nd Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of St. Tammany State of Louisiana

Case No. 529796

The Honorable William J. Burris, Judge Presiding

Mary Constance Hanes

New Orleans, Louisiana

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant

Billie Glend Rawson, Jr.

Warren L. Montgomery

District Attorney

Matthew Caplan

Assistant District Attorney

Covington, Louisiana

Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee

State of Louisiana



Billie Glend Rawson, Jr. ("Defendant") was charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder of his father, Billie G. Rawson, Sr. ("Mr. Rawson"), in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. He pled not guilty and waived his right to a trial by jury. Following a bench trial, Defendant was found guilty as charged. Defendant filed a Motion for New Trial and a Motion for Post Verdict Judgment of Acquittal, both of which were denied. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Defendant filed a Motion to Reconsider Sentence, which was denied. Defendant now appeals, designating two assignments of error. First, Defendant argues that the evidence against him was insufficient to support the conviction for second degree murder. Second, Defendant argues that his mandatory life sentence was excessive.


On October 22, 2012, Defendant went to Mr. Rawson's house in Pearl River, Louisiana. Defendant did not have a good relationship with Mr. Rawson. During this visit, Defendant's conversation with Mr. Rawson became heated, resulting in Defendant punching and kicking Mr. Rawson and, in one instance, hitting him in the head with a flashlight. Several hours later and into the early hours of October 23, while Mr. Rawson was sitting on the couch in his living room, Defendant either threw a large kitchen knife at Mr. Rawson or stabbed him in his left thigh. The knife was removed from Mr. Rawson's leg, leaving a knife wound about two inches wide and two inches deep. The knife perforated Mr. Rawson's left femoral artery and as a result, he bled out and died within minutes. After the incident, Defendant left Mr. Rawson's house and drove to Mississippi. While driving, Defendant called some family members and told them that he had killed Mr. Rawson. Defendant was arrested in Mississippi the same day. Upon arrest, Defendant was interviewed by a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Officedetective. Two days later, Defendant was interviewed again in St. Tammany Parish.

Defendant's nephew, Kyle Rawson ("Kyle"), testified at trial that Mr. Rawson, his grandfather, was an alcoholic. According to Kyle, Mr. Rawson began "drinking his life away" after his wife died. Kyle further testified that Mr. Rawson was in poor physical condition and that it was difficult for him to walk to the front porch and go outside. Additionally, Kyle testified that several months prior to Mr. Rawson's death, Defendant had been living with his brother, Kyle's father. Kyle testified that during this time, Defendant stated on multiple occasions that he would kill his father (Mr. Rawson).

Defendant testified at trial. According to Defendant's version of events, when he went to Mr. Rawson's house to talk to him, they began arguing. Defendant alleged that during this argument, Mr. Rawson retrieved a knife from under the couch cushion and moved toward the defendant. In response, Defendant hit Mr. Rawson in the head with a flashlight, took the knife out of Mr. Rawson's hand, and placed it in the kitchen.

A few hours after this altercation, Defendant and Mr. Rawson began arguing in the kitchen. Defendant alleged that Mr. Rawson had picked up a knife off the stove and moved toward Defendant. Defendant then struck Mr. Rawson, causing him to drop the knife. At this point, Mr. Rawson went into the living room and sat down on the couch. When Defendant picked the dropped knife up off the floor in the kitchen, he saw Mr. Rawson raise his right arm. Defendant thought Mr. Rawson might have a knife in that raised hand, so Defendant, reflexively, threw the knife in his hand at Mr. Rawson and struck him in the leg. Defendant further testified that he did not intend to hurt or kill Mr. Rawson.


In his first assignment of error, Defendant argues that the evidence against him was insufficient to support the conviction for second degree murder. Specifically, Defendant contends that he is guilty of manslaughter because of the presence of the mitigating factors of sudden passion or heat of blood at the time of the killing. (Defendant makes no assertion that he killed Mr. Rawson in self-defense).

A conviction based on insufficient evidence cannot stand, because it violates Due Process. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV; La. Const. art. I, § 2. To determine whether evidence is sufficient to uphold a conviction, the standard of review is whether, 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, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). See La. Code Crim. P. art. 821(B); State v. Ordodi, 2006-0207 (La. 11/29/06), 946 So.2d 654, 660; State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1308-09 (La. 1988). The Jackson standard of review, incorporated in Article 821, is an objective standard for testing the overall evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for reasonable doubt. When analyzing circumstantial evidence, La. R.S. 15:438 provides that the factfinder must be satisfied that the overall evidence excludes every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. See State v. Patorno, 2001-2585 (La. App. 1 Cir. 6/21/02), 822 So.2d 141, 144.

Second degree murder is defined as the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. La. R.S. 14:30.1(A)(1). "Guilty of manslaughter" is a proper responsive verdict for a charge of second degree murder. La. Code Crim. P. art. 814(A)(3). Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:31(A)(1) defines manslaughter as a homicide which would constitute either first or second degree murder, but the offense is committed insudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the factfinder finds that the offender's blood had actually cooled, or that an average person's blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed. The existence of "sudden passion" and "heat of blood" are not elements of the offense but, rather, are factors in the nature of mitigating circumstances that may reduce the grade of homicide. State v. Maddox, 522 So.2d 579, 582 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1988). Further, manslaughter requires the presence of specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. See State v. Hilburn, 512 So.2d 497, 504 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1987), writ denied, 515 So.2d 444 (La. 1987).

Specific intent is the 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). Such state of mind can be formed in an instant. State v. Cousan, 94-2503 (La. 11/25/96), 684 So.2d 382, 390. Specific intent need not be proven as a fact, but may be inferred from the circumstances of the transaction and the actions of the defendant. State v. Graham, 420 So.2d 1126, 1127 (La. 1982). The existence of specific intent is an ultimate legal conclusion to be resolved by the trier of fact. State v. McCue, 484 So.2d 889, 892 (La. App. 1st Cir. 1986).

In his brief, Defendant does not deny that he killed Mr. Rawson. According to Defendant, he was angry with Mr. Rawson, who had twice attempted to attack him with knives. Defendant alleges that he threw the knife at Mr. Rawson only after being provoked. Further, Defendant suggests that even an average person would have lost his self-control based on Mr. Rawson's acts of provocation. According to Defendant, Mr. Rawson, "in a state of total intoxication, tried twice to attack him with knives and he had to fight [Mr. Rawson] off." Defendantfurther suggests that when he threw the knife at Mr. Rawson, he did so only because he reasonably interpreted Mr. Rawson's movements to be another threat. Specifically, "he believed that Mr. Rawson had obtained yet another knife and was about to throw it at him." (As noted, there is no self-defense claim before us).

In order to reduce a homicide to manslaughter, the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence the mitigating factors of sudden passion or heat of blood. See State ex rel. Lawrence v. Smith, 571 So.2d 133, 136 (La. 1990); State v. LeBoeuf, 2006-0153 (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/15/06), 943 So.2d 1134, 1138, writ denied, 2006-2621 (La. 8/15/07), 961 So.2d 1158. See also Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977). Further, the killing committed in sudden passion or heat of blood must be immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Thus, the evidence at the defendant's trial must have been sufficient to establish that the provocation was such that it would have deprived an average person of his self-control and cool reflection.

On the same day that Defendant killed Mr. Rawson, he was interviewed in Mississippi by Detective Daniel Buckner with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. This interview was videotaped. Two days later, Defendant was interviewed in St. Tammany Parish by Detective Randy Loumiet with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. This interview was recorded in an audio recording. Additionally, almost four years later, Defendant testified...

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