Prosecutors are urging a state appellate court to reinstate a jury’s second-degree murder conviction of a Baton Rouge man in the 2013 slaying of his brother-in-law, a unanimous conviction that a judge overturned and reduced to negligent homicide.
“In modifying the verdict, the trial court decided that 12 jurors representing a cross-section of the East Baton Rouge Parish community were incapable of understanding and applying the law,” Assistant District Attorney Dylan Alge argues in documents filed at the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
The jury, by a 12-0 vote in March, convicted Derrick Bland of second-degree murder in the July 28, 2013, shooting death of 40-year-old James “Mucci” Stockton. Such a conviction for Bland, 50, would have meant a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
State District Judge Trudy White, however, overturned the verdict in August and found Bland guilty of negligent homicide, which carries up to five years behind bars.
“Had the trial judge been a member of the jury, the verdict would have been 11-1, supporting a valid verdict of guilty as charged,” Alge notes in his 1st Circuit filing in November.
A vote of 10-2 is all that was needed to convict Bland of second-degree murder.
White accepted Bland’s intoxication defense, saying in her ruling that the trial testimony “clearly supports” such a defense. The judge also said it was unreasonable for the jury to conclude or infer from Bland’s actions that he had the specific intent to kill Stockton.
The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office disagrees.
Trial testimony indicated Bland shot Stockston three times, and after his brother-in-law fell to the ground, Bland walked up to him and shot him three more times.
“Deliberately pointing and firing a deadly weapon at close range are circumstances that support a finding of specific intent to kill,” Alge said in his filing with the 1st Circuit Court.
Alge notes that voluntary intoxication does not excuse a crime, but he acknowledges it is a defense to a specific intent offense if the circumstances demonstrate that intoxication precluded formation of the required intent.
Alge argues the jury found that Stockton cursed Bland and kicked him out of his North Lobdell Boulevard apartment after a party, making Bland want to either kill or hurt Stockton.
“It rationally concluded that (Bland’s) leaving the apartment to go get cigarettes and returning approximately thirty to forty-five minutes later allowed his blood to cool and plot his retaliation,” Alge claims. “It rationally concluded that (Bland) being underneath a tree next to James’s apartment with a gun already in a position to fire constituted lying in wait, further indicating he actively desired to hurt or kill James.”
Alge also draws the appeals court’s attention to Bland’s post-slaying actions, which included leaving Stockton to die, barging into a neighbor’s house to get rid of the gun, and going into hiding for the night.
“(The jury) rationally concluded that (Bland’s) testimony discounted intoxication as he could vividly remember many of the pertinent events occurring that evening,” Alge says.
Bland’s testimony, the prosecutor adds, “illustrated a use of selective memory as opposed to intoxication.”
Bland’s attorneys, who maintain he was not sober enough to have the specific intent to kill Stockton, are expected to file a response to Alge’s filing. His lawyers say there is no doubt Stockton and Bland had argued, but they contend there was not sufficient time for Bland’s blood to cool before the shooting took place.