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Date: 06-23-2019

Case Style:

State of Louisiana v. Javonte Sanders

Case Number: 52,632-KA

Judge: James M. Stephens

Court: COURT OF APPEAL SECOND CIRCUIT STATE OF LOUISIANA

Plaintiff's Attorney: JAMES E. STEWART, SR
District Attorney

WILLIAM JACOB EDWARDS
MEKISHA SMITH CREAL
CHARLES KENNETH PARR
Assistant District Attorneys

Defendant's Attorney: LOUISIANA APPELLATE PROJECT
By: Peggy J. Sullivan

Description:





On November 3, 2010, Sherri Payton, age 47, was found deceased in
her home located at 575 Lynbrook Boulevard in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Results from her autopsy and evidence recovered at the crime scene
established Payton died of a homicide. Investigators systematically ruled
out possible suspects. This matter became a ďcold case,Ē until law
enforcement officers received an anonymous tip in 2013, leading them to
investigate Paytonís former neighbor, Javonte Sanders. Sanders was
arrested on October 30, 2013, after forensic tests of fingerprints and DNA
placed him at the crime scene. Sanders was subsequently indicted for the
first degree murder of Sherri Payton in violation of La. R.S. 14:30; however,
the charge was later amended to second degree murder, in violation of La.
R.S. 14:30.1. During the pendency of Sandersí case, he was represented by
multiple attorneys, both appointed and retained, and also represented himself
for a period of time. Multiple pretrial motions were filed and argued on
Sandersí behalf by multiple attorneys, as well as by Sanders in a pro se
capacity. Sanders ultimately waived his right to a jury trial and elected to
have a bench trial, which began on January 29, 2018, wherein 17 witnesses
testified, all called by the state. After deliberation, the trial court returned a
2

verdict of guilty as charged. Following his conviction, Sanders filed a
motion for post-verdict judgment of acquittal and a motion for new trial,
both of which were heard and denied on March 12, 2019. Sanders was
sentenced on that same day to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment
at hard labor, without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of
sentence. This appeal by Sanders ensued.
DISCUSSION
On appeal, Sanders asserts that (1) the evidence at trial was
insufficient to support his conviction; (2) the trial court erred in denying his
request for a fingerprint expert; (3) the trial court erred in denying his
motions for continuance; and, (4) the trial court erred in denying his motion
to suppress his recorded statement.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
In his first assignment of error, Sanders argues the evidence
introduced by the state at trial to convict him of second degree murder was
circumstantial in nature and was not sufficient to negate every reasonable
hypothesis of innocence. At trial, the state called Paytonís son, Kory Hill, as
its first witness. He testified Sanders was a childhood friend from the
neighborhood but there was no reason Sanders would be inside Paytonís
home. Hill stated it had been a year or more since he had lived in his
motherís home. He further testified he normally spoke with his mother by
telephone every evening and became worried when she had not answered his
calls for three days, beginning October 31, 2010. He called several people
asking if they had seen or spoken with Payton and ultimately made contact
with his friend Kiwaun Wise, whom Hill asked to search his motherís house.
3

On cross-examination Hill testified at the time of his motherís death,
he had been incarcerated for three months. He stated while he was still
living with his mother, a year or more before her death, he kept drugs in his
motherís house. The state objected to the defense attorneyís question to Hill
of whether he kept or sold drugs from his motherís house on grounds the
question was not relevant. The defense argued that Hill may have owed a
debt to someone over the drugs and someone may have been responsible for
Paytonís murder. The trial court sustained the objection, finding there was
enough of a gap in the three-month delay from Hillís arrest to Paytonís
murder that Hillís obligations to other parties were not relevant to the instant
offense.
Breunka Hawkins, the mother of Hillís young daughter, Kaílasia,
testified she had lived with Payton during her pregnancy, and the house was
always kept clean because Payton was a ďneat freak.Ē After Kaílasia was
born, Payton helped in transporting Kaílasia to and from daycare. Payton
also kept a bedroom for Kaílasia at her house. Hawkins testified she was in
Paytonís home every week, and it was always clean and picked up,
including Kaílasiaís room. Hawkins last saw and heard from Payton on
October 30, 2010, which was the last time she and Kaílasia were at Paytonís
home. On November 2, Hawkins unsuccessfully attempted to reach Payton.
On November 3, Payton did not arrive to pick Kaílasia up, and Hawkins
again was unsuccessful in reaching Payton on the phone. At noon on
November 3, Hawkins stopped at Paytonís house and knocked on the door,
but no one answered. Hawkins saw that Paytonís car was gone and the mail
remained in the mailbox. Hawkins saw through the front bathroom window
that the bathroom light was left on, which Hawkins testified was unusual.
4

Ashley Thomas, the mother of Hillís infant son, Koryion, last saw
Payton when they visited Hill in jail on October 31, 2010. Afterward, they
returned to Paytonís house. Thomas said there was no broken window or
broken glass in the kitchen and the house was clean, just as it always was.
Thomas testified she left Paytonís house between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. on
October 31. She tried to reach Payton by phone on November 1 and 2, but
she never saw or heard from Payton again. At Hillís request on November
3, Thomas stopped by Paytonís home between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. Thomas
testified no one answered her knock on the front door. Seeing Paytonís
vehicle was gone, Thomas thought Payton had left for work. Later that same
afternoon, Hill called Thomas at work, and she assisted Hill in reaching his
close friend Kiwaun Wise on the phone. Wise was near Paytonís house and
agreed to stop by.
Kiwaun Wise testified when he arrived at Paytonís house on the
evening of November 3, 2010, he found the front door locked but was able
to enter the kitchen through the unlocked door in the carport. In the kitchen,
Wise saw the back door window was broken. Entering the bathroom, he
found Payton, nude and laid over the edge of the bathtub, with her hands in
the water. Wise called 911, and members of the Shreveport Fire Department
and Shreveport Police Department responded at approximately 6:20 p.m.
Michael Cook, Jr., a fire department paramedic, arrived on the scene
and observed Payton had no pulse and that rigor mortis had occurred.
Corporal Gary Thomas and Sergeant Christi Snell testified they saw the
broken back door window and a childís room in complete disarray, with a
smashed piggy bank, coins scattered across the floor, and items tossed
around. The officers testified they found Payton face down, with her upper
5

body draped across the edge of the bathtub, which was partially filled with
water. Payton was nude except for a bra, unhooked and hanging from her
shoulders. Sgt. Snell testified multiple bruises and fibers were visible on
Paytonís body.
Corporal Thomas further testified Paytonís missing white Grand Am
sedan was found on November 4, 2010, parked several miles away in an
apartment complex. Sgt. Snell, who was also a security officer at the
apartment complex, stated the vehicle was not at the apartment complex
during her morning shift on November 3. She testified no surveillance video
was available from the apartment complex. The vehicle was towed to the
police department for processing and printing.
Sergeant Tracy Mendels, a crime scene investigator with the
Shreveport Police Department, testified that as she arrived at Paytonís house
around 6:46 p.m. on November 3, 2010, she observed the intense odor of
bleach emanating from the house. She stated the smell got stronger as she
entered the house and became much stronger as she entered the bathroom.
The odor appeared to be coming from the bathtub. Sgt. Mendels observed
Paytonís hands soaking in the bathtub water, from 3-4 inches above her
wrists to her fingertips. Sgt. Mendels stated discoloration on Paytonís hands
indicated how the water level in the bathtub changed and dropped over time.
Payton still had several pieces of jewelry on her person. Sgt. Mendels
testified the bra found hanging from Paytonís shoulders was frayed, as if cut.
She noted Payton was bruised all over her body, including her face. Sgt.
Mendels observed on Payton trace evidence, including hair, carpet fibers,
and debris. Sgt. Mendels testified she also noticed tape marks on the
victimís legs. Touching them with her gloved hands, she found the
6

markings were sticky. Sgt. Mendels did not take a sample of the bathtub
water.
Sergeant Mendels observed that the home was extremely well-kept
and very neat, with the exception of the small bedroom clearly decorated for
a young girl. Sgt. Mendels noticed a poster had been knocked from the wall,
and a table and chair appeared to have been tossed onto the bed. Adult-size
clothingóa blue rain jacket and knee-high leather bootsówere on the floor
along with a multicolored brown scarf and a shower cap. The floor was
covered in loose change and the pieces from a smashed pink ceramic piggy
bank. Sgt. Mendels secured viable fingerprints from the piggy bank pieces,
which were transferred to Sgt. Duddy for analysis. In the master bedroom,
Sgt. Mendels saw a skirt and a board game placed on the bed. She stated
Paytonís jewelry boxes and purses did not appear disturbed, missing
anything, or dumped out, and Paytonís checkbooks remained in her purse.
However, Sgt. Mendels noticed a large rectangle-sized void in the dust on
the floor suggested that something, perhaps a rug, had been removed from
the floor in front of the bed. Sgt. Mendels also recovered one of Paytonís
journals, in which a quote had been written in cursive, and above it, upside
down, someone had printed the word ďdie.Ē No fingerprints were recovered
from the journal. In the laundry room, Sgt. Mendels found a wad of paper
towels in the trash can. She testified the towels were covered in a ďgrossĒ
shiny material, appearing to be ďsnotĒ or saliva, and was still wet. In the
kitchen sink, Sgt. Mendels found a serrated blade knife she thought might
have been used to cut Paytonís bra strap. However, no fibers from the bra
were found on the knife. Sgt. Mendels did not find any containers of bleach
or anything containing bleach in the home, and she did not find any tape.
7

Sergeant Mendels further observed burglar bars covered every
window except the one in the back door. She testified, other than the broken
back door window, none of the windows, doors, or door locks bore any signs
of forced entry. She found tiny fragments of broken glass inside the kitchen
in front of the back door, but found large broken pieces of glass outside, at
5-6 feet and at 20 feet from the back door. Because of rain, Sgt. Mendels
was unsuccessful in recovering latent prints from the broken pieces of glass,
which were found in the yard. She stated the outside of the back door
appeared to have been wiped. Sgt. Mendels photographed the entire crime
scene and retained various items for further processing.
The next day, November 4, 2010, Sgt. Mendels processed Paytonís
car. Sgt. Mendels testified as she walked up to the vehicle, she observed a
strong odor of bleach and when she opened the car door, the odor became
extremely strong. She found the entire vehicle had a ďjust washedĒ
appearance and had been wiped down. However, she noticed fresh mud
splatter on the inside of the car door frame was not on the outside. Sgt.
Mendels examined the vehicle but no prints of any value were recovered.
Long Jin, M.D., a forensic pathologist, was accepted as an expert in
forensic pathology and testified about his autopsy of Payton, performed on
November 4, 2010. Dr. Jin opined, based upon the bodyís condition, Payton
had likely been deceased for 12-16 hours, plus or minus two hours, when her
body was discovered in the early evening of November 3, 2010.
Dr. Jin testified he was able to rule out drugs, alcohol, and disease as a
cause of death, and Payton did not die of natural causes or accident. He
stated Payton had numerous blunt-force injuries over her body, noting
contusions, abrasions, and lacerations found on Paytonís face, head,
8

shoulders, arms, chest wall, thighs, knees, and lower legs. Dr. Jin pointed
out significant contusions to both temporal sides of Paytonís head were not
small, but rather a ďpretty good sizeĒ and could have been made by a fist.
Payton had two small lacerations on the right side of her lower lip,
contusions on her neck below her chin, and a contusion on her left jaw.
Additionally, he noted a laceration in Paytonís vaginal area and contusions
on her right inner thigh. Dr. Jin testified Paytonís cause of death was
asphyxia due to forceful drowning, based upon the condition of the body and
the evidence at the scene where Payton was found by the bathtub filled with
water. He noted that when a person is submerged in water, their air is cut
off and they suffocate. Dr. Jin testified water or liquid might be found in the
lungs or stomach, but not always, and he did not find water in Paytonís
lungs or stomach. He also opined the multiple injuries found on Paytonís
body were consistent with someone being forcefully smothered or drowned,
and the contusions and abrasions on Paytonís neck and shoulders indicated
that Payton struggled. Additionally, Dr. Jin noted evidence of a sticky
residue on the victimís body suggested the possibility that Payton was tied
up or bound at the time she was drowned. He testified that the manner of
death was homicide.
Dr. Jin noted Paytonís hands, which were found submerged in the
bathtub water, were a ďunique yellow-whitishĒ color he had never seen
before. He testified the color was consistent with a reaction to a chemical,
such as bleach. Dr. Jin testified the crime lab tests only for drugs commonly
found in the blood and not every chemical, drug, or toxin. He noted
Paytonís blood did not indicate the presence of any chemicals, but the lab
9

would not have tested for a chemical, such as bleach, unless specifically
requested.
Henry Blake testified he was married to Rita Payton, the victimís
sister. When he learned Sherri Payton was found dead on the evening of
November 3, 2010, Blake went to Paytonís house and found it blocked off
by police. He testified it was nearly dark when a man walked up. Blake
stated this man appeared to be about 5 feet, 5-6 inches tall, with what
appeared to be a recent scar on his upper cheek. He testified the man asked,
ďWhatís up?Ē and then stated, ďA woman must have been beat up pretty
bad.Ē Blake testified he was only 60 percent certain he would recognize the
man. He then identified Sanders in court as the man who spoke to him in
2010. Blake testified he gave this information to Detective Ken Strickland
about two to three weeks after Payton was found murdered.
Detective Ken Strickland of the Shreveport Police Department
testified he took over the case investigation on August 24, 2011. He stated
that on September 20, 2011, he interviewed Henry Blake about his
conversation with an unknown male at the crime scene on the day Paytonís
body was discovered. Blake described the man to Det. Strickland as being 5
feet, 6-7 inches tall, and weighing about 200 pounds. Det. Strickland
testified he obtained fingerprints and DNA swabs from a list of possible
suspects for comparison with prints and swabs taken at the crime scene.
Corporal Clarence Van Wray, a community liaison officer with the
Shreveport Police Department, testified that while at a community meeting
on September 23, 2013, he was given an anonymous tip that Javonte Sanders
was involved with the Payton homicide, and he passed the information to
Shreveport Police Detective Greg Rudell (now retired).
10

Corporal Christian Hicks testified he was employed with the
Shreveport Police Department and upon arriving at the scene, made contact
with Kiwaun Wise. He assisted in securing the scene and obtained a
description of Paytonís car from a neighbor.
Sergeant Danny Duddy with the Shreveport Police Department was
accepted as an expert in fingerprint identification analysis and testified he
processed Paytonís house for latent fingerprints on November 3, 2010. Sgt.
Duddy testified when he entered the house, he observed a strong smell of
bleach in the bathroom. He recovered viable latent prints from the back
door and the bathtub tiles. Sgt. Duddy stated there is no limit of time that a
fingerprint may exist on a surface, but prints may be degraded by time,
cleaning and wiping, or humidity. Sgt. Duddy testified once a latent
fingerprint is found, he determines whether the print is clear enough for a
comparison and to make a conclusion on identification. A sufficient print is
then compared against a known print and examined for ridge flow, patterns,
ridge structure, spatial relationship, bifurcation, dots, and dissimilarities.
Sgt. Duddy testified once his comparisons are made, they are then passed
along for peer review.
Sergeant Duddy testified after comparing the latent prints he and Sgt.
Mendels recovered at the crime scene against the list of known possible
suspects and prints obtained by Det. Strickland, he found no fingerprint
matches. He stated at Sgt. Rudellís request, he subsequently compared
Sandersí known prints obtained from the Caddo Parish Sheriffís Department
to the latent prints he recovered at Paytonís house. Sgt. Duddy testified he
found six prints that matched. Specifically, both Sandersí palm prints
matched two prints recovered from the ceramic bathtub tiles near Paytonís
11

body; Sandersí left thumb matched a print recovered from the nose of the
smashed ceramic piggy bank; Sandersí right ring finger matched a print
recovered from the broken glass of the backdoor window; Sandersí left palm
matched a print recovered from the outside of the back door; and, Sandersí
left ring finger matched a print recovered from the outside of the glass from
the back door. Sgt. Duddy testified he also compared the latent crime scene
fingerprints to known fingerprints of Sandersí brother, Demario Sanders,
which were obtained from the Shreveport Police Department. He testified
there was no match. Sgt. Duddy passed these prints to Lieutenant Owen
McDonnell for review and confirmation. Sgt. Duddy testified Lt. Owen
agreed with his conclusions.
Former Detective Greg Rudell confirmed he asked Sgt. Duddy to
compare the latent prints recovered from the Payton crime scene to Javonte
Sandersí known prints. Det. Duddy informed him Sandersí known prints
matched some of the latent prints recovered at the crime scene. Det. Rudell
testified he reviewed the original and supplemental reports of the
investigation and spoke with Kory Hill. He then obtained a search warrant
and an arrest warrant for Javonte Sanders. Sanders agreed to a voluntary
interview at the Shreveport Police Department. Det. Rudell testified he and
Det. Joshua Mayfield read Sanders his Miranda rights, and he signed the
rights form.
Det. Rudell testified Sanders told him he had known Kory Hill for
about seven years and he had been at the Payton house a few times before
Hill moved out in 2008-2009. Sanders told the detectives he learned that
Payton was missing, and later dead, from Larry Thomas, a friend who lived
across the street from the Payton house. Det. Rudell testified Sanders stated
12

he and Larry Thomas had gone by Paytonís house after Hill moved out and
after Hill went to jail, in order to check on Payton. Sanders stated there was
no reason his fingerprints or DNA should be in Paytonís house and denied
killing Payton. Sanders was arrested and a DNA swab taken pursuant to the
search warrant.
Larry Thomas, Jr., testified he lived at 578 Lynbrook Boulevard with
his dad, and he was close friends with Kory Hill. Thomas testified Sanders
lived down the street and he, Sanders, and Hill would hang out together,
sometimes at Paytonís house. Sometimes they entered the house and hung
out in the kitchen or den, but mostly they hung out in the backyard. He
stated he had not gone over to the Payton home since Hill moved out in
2008-2009, and he just spoke to Payton from across the street if he saw her
outside.
As its final witness, the state called Jessica Esparza, Ph.D., with the
North Louisiana Crime Lab. Dr. Esparza was accepted as an expert in
forensic DNA analysis and testified about her tests of DNA evidence
recovered from the crime scene. She testified that in December 2010, she
received the case with 55 items and examined at least half of the items.
Some items were not tested because the investigators determined the results
would not be probative. Buccal DNA swabs obtained from Det. Stricklandís
list of possible suspects were sent to Dr. Esparza for testing. Dr. Esparza
testified that suspected blood found on the bathtub was consistent with a
known blood profile for Payton. She stated no viable DNA profile was
obtained from Paytonís left hand fingernails, but Paytonís right hand
fingernails revealed an autosomal DNA profile mixture of two individuals,
one major contributor and one minor contributor. Sherri Payton could not be
13

excluded as the major contributor, but the concentration of the minor
contributor was too low to obtain a valid autosomal DNA profile.
Dr. Esparza testified that she then used another, more sensitive test,
which was able to target only the male chromosome in the DNA profile,
even where there is an abundance of female DNA present. Using this test,
Dr. Esparza was able to obtain a partial ďYSTR haplotypeĒ for the DNA
profile obtained from the swab of Paytonís right hand fingernails. She
testified that 99.85 percent of the African-American population, 99.83
percent of the Caucasian population, and 99.81 percent of the Hispanic
population could be excluded as a possible donor of this YSTR haplotype.
Dr. Esparza stated that after comparing YSTR haplotype of the DNA profile
found underneath Paytonís right hand fingernails to the YSTR haplotypes of
other possible known suspects provided by Det. Strickland, she found that
none were consistent. However, she further testified that the YSTR
haplotype from Sandersí DNA swab was consistent with the partial YSTR
haplotype found under Paytonís fingernails. She explained that the YSTR
haplotype was shared by every male in a personís paternal lineage;
therefore, Sanders and anyone in his paternal line could not be excluded as a
possible donor of the DNA found under Paytonís fingernails. Dr. Esparza
testified the likelihood anyone else in the population would have this same
YSTR haplotype profile was .15 percent of the African-American
population, .07 percent of the Caucasian population, and .19 percent of the
Hispanic population. After the state rested, the trial court advised Sanders of
his rights to remain silent and to testify. Sanders elected not to testify and
the defense rested.
14

Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, Sanders
argues that Henry Blakeís in-court identification of him as the man he spoke
to at the crime scene on the day Paytonís body was found was not reliable or
credible. Sanders also contends the stateís inability to exclude his DNA
profile based on the YSTR haplotype testing does not sufficiently establish
he was the minor contributor of the DNA found underneath Paytonís right
hand fingernails. Sanders asserts the trial court erred in considering his
latent printsófound on the door of entry into Paytonís home, on a smashed
piggy bank inside the home, and on a porcelain bathtub tile above the tub
where Paytonís body was foundóas evidence he was inside the home
around the time of Paytonís murder. Sanders argues the prints were merely
evidence from his prior visits to the home on some undisclosed date, and the
trial court erred in assuming the prints were recent to the crime simply
because Paytonís house was clean and tidy. We disagree.
The standard of appellate review for a sufficiency of the evidence
claim 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 proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979); State v.
Tate, 2001-1658 (La. 5/20/03), 851 So. 2d 921, cert. denied, 541 U.S. 905,
124 S. Ct. 1604, 158 L. Ed. 2d 248 (2004); State v. Ward, 50,872 (La. App.
2 Cir. 11/16/16), 209 So. 3d 228, writ denied, 2017-0164 (La. 11/22/2017),
227 So. 3d 827. This standard, now legislatively embodied in La. C. Cr. P.
art. 821, does not provide the appellate court with a vehicle to substitute its
own appreciation of the evidence for that of the fact finder. Ward, supra.
The appellate court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or reweigh
15

evidence. State v. Smith, 1994-3116 (La. 10/16/95), 661 So. 2d 442; Ward,
supra. The trier of fact is charged to make a credibility determination and
may, within the bounds of rationality, accept or reject the testimony of any
witness; the reviewing court may impinge on that discretion only to the
extent necessary to guarantee the fundamental due process of law. State v.
Casey, 1999-0023 (La. 1/26/00), 775 So. 2d 1022, cert. denied, 531 U.S.
840, 121 S. Ct. 104, 148 L. Ed. 2d 62 (2000); State v. Henry, 46,406 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 8/10/11), 73 So. 3d 958.
The Jackson standard is applicable in cases involving both direct and
circumstantial evidence. An appellate court reviewing the sufficiency of
evidence in such cases must resolve any conflict in the direct evidence by
viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. When
the direct evidence is thus viewed, the facts established by the direct
evidence and inferred from the circumstances established by that evidence
must be sufficient for a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable
doubt that defendant was guilty of every essential element of the crime.
State v. Sutton, 436 So. 2d 471 (La. 1983); State v. Robinson, 50,643 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 6/22/16), 197 So. 3d 717, writ denied, 2016-1479 (La. 5/19/17),
221 So. 3d 78. In cases resting on circumstantial evidence, assuming every
fact to be proved that the evidence tends to prove, in order to convict, it must
exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. La. R.S. 15:438.
At the time of this 2010 offense, La. R.S. 14:30.1 provided, in
pertinent part, that second degree murder is the killing of a human being
when:
(1) When the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm; or

16

(2) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape, forcible rape, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, second degree kidnapping, aggravated escape, assault by driveby shooting, armed robbery, first degree robbery, second degree robbery, simple robbery, cruelty to juveniles, second degree cruelty to juveniles, or terrorism, even though he has no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.

Specific intent is the state of mind that exists when the circumstances
indicate the offender actively desired the prescribed criminal consequences
to follow his act or failure to act. La. R.S. 14:10(1). State v. Jones, 46,758
(La. App. 2 Cir. 12/14/11), 81 So. 3d 236, writ denied, 2012-0147 (La.
5/4/12), 88 So. 3d 462. Specific intent need not be proved as a fact, but may
be inferred from the circumstances of the transaction and the conduct of the
defendant. State v. Odums, 50,969 (La. App. 2 Cir. 11/30/16), 210 So. 3d
850, writ denied, 2017-0296 (La. 11/13/17), 229 So. 3d 924. All that is
necessary is that the defendant form the specific intent to kill or inflict great
bodily harm for an instant when committing the crime. State v. Barnett,
52,406 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1/16/19), 262 So. 3d 477. Specific intent to kill or
inflict great bodily harm may be inferred from the circumstances of the
offense, the extent and severity of the victimís injuries, or the defendantís
actions in deliberately pointing a gun and firing it at a person. State v.
Barnett, supra; State v. Odums, supra. The determination of whether the
requisite intent is present is a question for the trier of fact. State v. Odums,
supra.
Here, the trial court, as fact finder, weighed the credibility of the
stateís lay and expert witnesses, and the verdict suggests he found them
credible. As noted above, the determinations of weight and credibility by
the fact finder are given great deference and are not reassessed on review. A
17

review of the record in its entirety reveals the trial court could have
reasonably found beyond a reasonable doubt that sufficient direct and
circumstantial evidence existed to support the verdict that Sanders murdered
Payton. Sandersí identity as the perpetrator was established where the direct
and circumstantial evidence put Sanders at the scene of the crime during the
time period that the crime was committed. Sandersí fingerprints on the
outside of the back door, which was exposed to moisture and humidity,
established that Sanders was at the house recently, in the timeframe of the
murder. Crime scene investigators testified Paytonís body was found draped
over the bathtub, which was partially filled with water and a bleach-like
chemical. The forensic pathologist testified Paytonís extensive bodily
injuries showed she strenuously fought and struggled before being
asphyxiated by drowning or smothering. Sandersí palm prints were found
on nearby porcelain bathtub tiles. It is unlikely the prints could have
survived the exposure to water, moisture, steam, cleaning, daily use of the
bathroom, and the events of Paytonís murder and struggle near a tub
partially filled with water and a bleach-like chemical. Thus, the palm prints
established Sanders was in the house very recent to Paytonís death.
Sandersí involvement in Paytonís murder is further suggested by the
recovery of a partial male DNA profile found under Paytonís right hand
fingernails, which matched Sandersí male DNA profile.
The record further supports the fact finder could have reasonably
found Sanders had specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, which
was established by testimony from the forensic pathologist. He noted the
multiple contusions found all over Paytonís body, including severe blows to
18

her head, and the evidence indicating that Payton died of asphyxiation by
drowning while bound with some type of adhesive tape.
As noted by the trial court in its ruling, simply no reasonable
hypothesis of innocence can explain the presence of the forensic evidence in
the home other than Sandersí guilt. Therefore, viewing the direct and
circumstantial evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, a
rational trier of fact could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Sanders
was guilty of every essential element of the crime of second degree murder.
This assignment is without merit.
Denial of Request for Fingerprint Expert
In his second assignment of error, Sanders asserts the trial court erred
in denying his request for funds to retain an independent fingerprint expert.
Sandersí November 29, 2016, pro se motion stated the matter ďinvolves
allegations of partial fingerprint evidence that was compared by Sgt. Duddy
at the Shreveport Police Department.Ē Sanders asserted, ďA fingerprint
expert with the proper curriculum vitae will clear law enforcement of any
wrongdoing to expose the illegality of evidence to obtain through means that
in fact violate rules, guidelines, and procedures established by constitutional
laws.Ē He further argued, ďIn order to properly defend this matter and
provide an effective and adequate defense of his issue, itís necessary to have
the partial fingerprints in question analyzed by an expert to determine if they
are usable for a legal comparison.Ē Sanders contended fundamental fairness
would be violated if he were denied the opportunity for an expert of his
choosing, to examine critical evidence whose nature is subject to varying
expert opinion. He further asserted, ďThe only means by which the
defendant can defend against expert testimony by the state is to offer [an]
19

expert of his own,Ē and requested the trial court grant the motion and
provide him with funding.
At the hearing on the motion for expert funding, the state argued
Sanders, through his prior retained counsel, had ample opportunity to cross
examine both of the stateís experts, Sgt. Duddy and Lt. McDonnell, during
the hearing on Sandersí Daubert motion to exclude fingerprint comparison
and analysis testimony, and the cross-examination by prior defense counsel
was sufficient for Sandersí defense. Citing State v. Touchet, 93-2839 (La.
9/6/94), 642 So. 2d 1213, the trial court found that Sanders failed to show a
probability that an expert would be of assistance in his defense, given the
prior cross-examination of the stateís expert witnesses by prior counsel. The
pro se motion for funding for a fingerprint expert was denied.
We note the Daubert motion to exclude fingerprint comparison and
analysis testimony was filed on June 12, 2015, by Sandersí then-retained
counsel. The motion asserted the state failed to provide any reports
explaining how the fingerprint analysis was done. At the July 21, 2016,
hearing on the motion, the state called Sgt. Duddy to testify about the
process he used in analyzing the latent prints recovered at the crime scene
against the known prints of possible suspects and Sanders. He was accepted
as an expert in latent prints and testified he was the supervisor for the crime
scene investigation unit and processed Paytonís home for latent prints. After
comparing the latent prints recovered against eight sets of known prints for
possible suspects, he found no match. After Sanders was identified as a
possible suspect in 2013, Sgt. Duddy compared Sandersí known prints to the
latent prints recovered at the crime scene and found six matches. Sgt.
Duddy made notes as he examined and compared each set of known prints
20

against the latent crime scene prints. He used three levels of identification
for each print and for each print considered the quality, the ridge detail, the
ridge structure, the spatial relation, and the points. He also compared the
latent prints to Sandersí brother, Demario Sanders, and found no matches.
Owen McDonnell, a former latent print examiner for the Caddo Parish
Sheriffís Department, was accepted as an expert in latent print examination
and analysis and testified he examined the known and latent crime scene
fingerprints and verified Sgt. Duddyís findings regarding the fingerprint
exclusions and matches. The trial court ultimately denied Sandersí motion
to exclude the fingerprint evidence.1
Sanders now argues his constitutional right to present a defense was
violated when the trial court denied his pro se motion for funds to retain a
fingerprint expert. He asserts the fingerprints found at Paytonís home were
the ďlinchpinĒ of the stateís theory that he had been there at the time of
Paytonís death and argues a fingerprint expert was necessary to provide
assistance at trial regarding the fingerprint analysis performed by the police
officers. We disagree.
Due process under the Fourteenth Amendment requires that no
indigent defendant be denied a meaningful and fair opportunity to present
his defense. State v. Touchet, supra. In order to provide an indigent with
the ďfair opportunityĒ to present his defense, the state has been required to
provide to the indigent defendant cost-free assistance of court-appointed trial

1 Following the trial courtís denial of Sandersí Daubert motion, Sanders wrote retained counsel a letter threatening him with physical harm if he did not petition the court for funding for an independent fingerprint examiner and DNA expert. Sandersí retained counsel in turn filed a motion to withdraw as counsel on September 14, 2016, which was granted by the trial court. Sanders proceeded to represent himself, with the Indigent Defenderís Office appointed as standby counsel, until he was re-appointed counsel on February 22, 2017.
21

counsel. State v. Touchet, supra at 1214-15. Counsel must also be effective,
and effective assistance requires that an indigent defendantís counsel be
provided with the basic tools of an adequate defense at no cost to the
indigent defendant. Id. While the Touchet court further observed that
various types of expert assistance have been found crucial to an indigent
personís defense, it also noted:
[F]or an indigent defendant to be granted the services of an expert at the expense of the state, he must establish that there exists a reasonable probability both that an expert would be of assistance to the defense and that the denial of expert assistance would result in a fundamentally unfair trial. To meet this standard, a defendant must ordinarily establish, with a reasonable degree of specificity, that the assistance is required to answer a substantial issue or question that is raised by the prosecutionís case or to support a critical element of the defense. If the trial court finds that the indigent defendant is able to meet this standard, it is to authorize the hiring of the expert at the expense of the state.
Id. at 1216.
Here, the fingerprints recovered at the crime scene and matched to
Sandersí known fingerprints were clearly, in this largely circumstantial case,
a critical element of the case against Sanders. However, Sanders failed to
establish ďwith a reasonable degree of specificityĒ that an independent
fingerprint expert was required to answer a substantial issue about the
fingerprints. In pretrial proceedings, Sandersí prior retained attorney
persistently challenged the use of the fingerprints at trial. He insisted the
stateís fingerprint analyst, Sgt. Duddy, testify in detail about his examination
of each latent fingerprint that he claimed was a match to Sandersí
fingerprint. Sanders thoroughly cross-examined both Sgt. Duddy and Lt.
McDonnell about their examinations and conclusions regarding the
fingerprint comparisons.
22

Sanders failed to show how an independent expertís testimony would
be of additional assistance regarding the analysis of the fingerprint evidence
and merely made a general claim that an expert was needed to defend
against this evidence. Thus, Sandersí claim failed to establish that state
funding for an independent expert was warranted in this case. This
assignment is without merit.
Denial of Motions for Continuance
In his third assignment of error, Sanders asserts the trial court erred in
denying his motions for continuance filed upon his retention of an
independent fingerprint expert and funds to retain private counsel. On
January 19, 2018, Sanders, through appointed counsel, filed a written motion
for continuance requesting the January 29, 2018, bench trial be reset. The
motion explained that on Friday, January 12, 2018, Sanders asked counsel to
request a continuance of the trial, and the following day counsel spoke with
Sandersí mother, Mattie Belton, who informed counsel she had hired Eric
Ray, of Glendale, Arizona, as an independent fingerprint expert. The motion
also stated Belton had further informed counsel at that time she had sold
property in order to obtain funds to hire private counsel and requested
counsel obtain a continuance to allow the unnamed private attorney to
enroll.
On January 26, 2018, the trial court issued a written ruling denying
the motion for continuance. The trial court found that the January 29 trial
date, which was set by agreement on August 28, 2017, gave Sanders over
five months to prepare and retain private counsel and independent experts.
It further found Sandersí motion for continuance was dilatory in nature,
23

would only serve to further delay the proceedings, and would not serve the
interests of justice.
On January 29, 2018, the day of trial, counsel informed the trial court
that earlier that morning, Belton had provided her with what purported to be
a preliminary report from Eric Ray, and Sanders had asked counsel to
request another motion for continuance. Counsel informed the court that on
Saturday, January 27, 2018, she spoke with Ray, who stated after a
preliminary review, he had a different opinion from the stateís expert on
some of the fingerprints. Counsel argued this difference in opinion was the
basis for the request for continuance. Counsel further explained Ray stated
he could be available to testify via telephone conference or could testify in
person on a future date if counsel or Sandersí family could fly him in.
The trial court denied the motion, finding that the fingerprint issue
was not new as the stateís fingerprint evidence was not recently introduced
and there had been an extensive hearing on the fingerprint evidence with a
thorough cross-examination by Sandersí then-retained counsel. Citing State
v. Walton, 440 So. 2d 850 (La. App. 2 Cir. 1983), writ denied, 443 So. 2d
1121 (La. 1984), the trial court held Sanders failed: to allege sufficient
grounds under La. C. Cr. P. art. 709 to show a continuance was warranted
for an absent witness; to specify the testimony the absent witness might
provide; and, to show due diligence in procuring the witnessí attendance.
The trial court further found the ďeleventh-hourĒ request did not warrant a
continuance in this case that had been pending for so long, where the
defense waited so long to procure the witness, and the purported preliminary
report was not timely produced in discovery to the state, pursuant to La. C.
Cr. P. arts. 725 and 726.
24

We note the record shows the trial court did not review the purported
report from Ray prior to ruling on Sandersí motion. However, after the trial
courtís ruling, counsel informed the court ďit was the usability that [Ray]
disagreed with.Ē The trial court then permitted Sanders to proffer Rayís
report into the record, which was accomplished at the close of trial.
Sanders asserts the trial court erred in denying his January 19 and 29
motions to continue the trial set for January 29, 2018, where he had just
retained an independent fingerprint expert, Eric Ray, and sought to again
retain a private attorney. He argues the continuance was warranted because
Rayís preliminary report, provided by Sandersí mother on the day of trial,
indicated he disagreed with the stateís fingerprint expert regarding the
fingerprint analysis. Sanders contends the trial courtís denials compromised
his right to present a defense and impinged his right to choice of counsel.
We disagree.
Upon a written motion at any time, the trial court may grant a
continuance, but only upon a showing such a motion is in the interest of
justice. La. C. Cr. P. art. 707. The decision whether to grant or refuse a
motion for a continuance rests within the sound discretion of the trial judge,
and a reviewing court will not disturb such a determination absent a clear
abuse of discretion. La. C. Cr. P. art. 712; State v. Sullivan, 52,204 (La.
App. 2 Cir. 8/15/18), 253 So. 3d 911. Whether a refusal to grant a
continuance was justified depends on the circumstances of the particular
case presented. State v. Snyder, 1998-1078 (La. 4/14/99), 750 So. 2d 832.
Generally, a reviewing court will not reverse a conviction even on a showing
of an improper denial of a motion for a continuance, absent a showing of
specific prejudice. State v. Snyder, supra; State v. Jordan, 50,002 (La. App.
25

2 Cir. 8/12/15), 174 So. 3d 1259, writ denied, 2015-1703 (La. 10/10/16),
207 So. 3d 408.
While the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as La.
Const. art. I, ß 13, guarantee the accused the right to assistance of counsel
and the right to counsel of choice, the accused may not force a postponement
of trial by a last-minute change of counsel. State v. Roth, 52,359 (La. App. 2
Cir. 11/14/18), 260 So. 3d 1230. The trial court does not abuse its discretion
in conducting orderly proceedings by denying a motion for continuance
made the morning of trial in order to change counsel. State v. McCoy, 2014
1449 (La. 10/19/16), 218 So. 3d 535, revíd and remanded on other grounds,
138 S. Ct. 1500, 200 L. Ed. 2d 821 (2018).
Louisiana C. Cr. P. art. 709 provides a motion for a continuance based
upon the absence of a witness shall state all of the following:
(1) Facts to which the absent witness is expected to testify, showing the materiality of the testimony and the necessity for the presence of the witness at the trial.

(2) Facts and circumstances showing a probability that the witness will be available at the time to which the trial is deferred.

(3) Facts showing due diligence used in an effort to procure attendance of the witness.

In State v. Jordan, supra, this court found the trial court did not abuse
its discretion by denying the defendantís motions for continuance where he
offered no explanation of how the defense preparations were inhibited in the
three years before trial and made no showing of prejudice as a result of the
denial.
Here, Sandersí last-minute motion for continuance to allow new
counsel to enroll did not provide a sufficient basis to warrant delaying trial.
26

While Sanders had a right to counsel of his choice, and this court is
cognizant of the financial burden often placed on families of incarcerated
indigent defendants and the time it can take to secure funds to retain counsel,
we note that Sanders made no complaints about his appointed attorney in the
year since she was reappointed to represent him or, specifically, in the five
months since the trial date had been set. Additionally, Sandersí motion
merely alleged funds to obtain private counsel had been secured and sought
an opportunity for private counsel to enroll. New counsel had not actually
been retained or made an attempt to enroll, and potential counsel was not
even mentioned by name in the motion or argument.
Likewise, Sandersí motions for continuance did not demonstrate a
justifiable basis for delaying trial in consideration of the just-retained
fingerprint expert. The record shows Sanders was indicted in 2013, and he
learned on the day of his arrest and again during the 2016 Daubert hearing
that the state had fingerprint evidence against him. Sandersí pro se motion
to obtain state funding for a fingerprint expert was denied on January 17,
2017, a year before the trial, giving him time to seek supervisory review of
the ruling or to timely retain an expert. The trial court noted that the trial
date was set by agreement in August 2017; so again, Sanders had ample
opportunity before the January 2018 trial date to prepare his defense and
retain an independent fingerprint expert.
Furthermore, the mere assertion on the morning of trial that Sandersí
independent fingerprint expert ďhad preliminarily looked at the prints and
that he had, as to some of the prints, a different opinion than what the
opinion of the stateís expert isĒ coupled with the day-of-trial delivery of the
expertís purported preliminary report from Sandersí mother to appointed
27

counsel does not satisfy the grounds for a continuance based on an absent
witness under La. C. Cr. P. art. 709, or a showing of due diligence.
We further find Sanders does not show any specific prejudice was
incurred as a result of the denials or demonstrate the likelihood the outcome
would have been any different had his continuances been granted, he
retained private counsel, or his fingerprint expert been ultimately allowed to
testify. Rayís report notably indicates he compared Sandersí prints to five
latent prints from Paytonís home.2 Ray found three of the comparisons,
including the comparison of the latent print recovered from the piggy bank,
were inconclusive, but Sanders could not be excluded as the source of the
prints due to some similarities. He further reported two of the latent prints
examined were determined to have originated from Sanders. The identified
prints were recovered from the back door as well as the bathtub tile. In
accordance with the above discussion regarding the sufficiency of the
evidence, we find even had the continuance been granted and Ray testified
and his report been introduced at trial, the totality of the evidence (which
would then include testimony from Sandersí own expert placing Sanders at
the scene of the crime), viewed in the light most favorable to the state,
would have been sufficient both for a rational trier of fact to conclude
beyond a reasonable doubt that Sanders was guilty of every essential
element of the crime and to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of
innocence.

2 While the report of Sandersí independent fingerprint expert, Eric Ray, was properly proffered into the record by Sandersí appointed counsel at the close of trial, the report did not initially appear as part of the appellate record. However, this court subsequently obtained and reviewed the proffered report.
28

Sanders has failed to demonstrate a continuance was warranted in the
interest of justice. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
denying Sandersí motions for continuance where his case had been pending
for five years prior to trial and it had been eight years since Paytonís
senseless murder. We further find even assuming that the denials were
improper, a showing of resulting prejudice to Sanders simply does not exist.
Accordingly, this assignment of error is without merit.
Denial of Motion to Suppress Recorded Statement
In his fourth assignment of error, Sanders asserts the trial court erred
in denying his motion to suppress his recorded statement. Sandersí
appointed counsel initially filed the motion to suppress Sandersí statement
made to police on October 30, 2013; private counsel later enrolled and
argued the motion. At the hearing on the motion, Sanders argued he was not
advised of the nature of the investigation as a homicide, and he was not
advised the detectives already had a warrant for his arrest. Sanders also
complained his many statementsóhe was done with the interview, he was
done talking, he had nothing to say, and to take him to jailóshould have
been construed by the detectives as an invocation of his right to remain
silent. He asserted his statement was rendered involuntary because the
detectives ignored these statements.
The state called Det. Rudell to testify regarding the statement Sanders
had given to him and Detective Joshua Mayfield on October 30, 2013. Det.
Rudell stated after the officers reviewed a rights form with him, Sanders
signed the form and agreed to speak with the detectives. He stated Sanders
was not forced, threatened, or coerced into making a statement, and Sanders
was not granted any promises or leniency in exchange for his statement.
29

Det. Rudell testified Sanders did not show any signs of being under the
influence of drugs or alcohol, Sanders did not have any slurred speech or red
eyes, and there were no signs that his ability to understand his rights or to
make a statement was affected. Sanders told Det. Rudell he could read and
write the English language. Det. Rudell testified that several times during
the interview, Sanders stated he was done with the interview but then he
continued to talk, and he never asked for any attorney. The detectives
continued the interview as long as Sanders continued to talk.
Detective Mayfield also testified about the interview of Sanders. Det.
Mayfield identified Stateís exhibit 1, which was a CD containing the audio
recording of Sandersí interview and statement. Sanders advised them he had
completed the 9th or 10th grade in school. Det. Mayfield explained Sanders
was not under arrest and was informed he was under investigation for
several recent burglaries. Det. Mayfield stated Sanders was not told he was
under investigation for homicide or the detectives already had a warrant for
his arrest. He testified when Sanders stated he did not wish to continue the
interview, the detectives did not ask him more questions but rather made
several statements, and the conversation just continued.
Sanders subsequently filed a motion for the in camera inspection of
his recorded statement and specifically directed the judge to seven times
where he allegedly asserted his right to remain silent but the detectives
continued the interrogation. The trial court ultimately denied Sandersí
motion to suppress, finding the statement was freely and voluntarily made
and was admissible at trial.
During his interview with Detectives Rudell and Mayfield, Sanders
stated he was born September 20, 1991, and that he lived at 421 Lynbrook
30

Boulevard. He said he finished the 9th grade and could read and write
English. The detectives advised Sanders he was under investigation for
some recent burglaries and then read Sanders his rights. Sanders stated he
had known Kory Hill about seven years and they were ďreal tight.Ē Sanders
stated he had not been at Paytonís home after Hill moved out unless Hill was
there or he was checking on Payton with Larry, who lived across the street
from Payton. Sanders stated he saw Payton almost every day in the
neighborhood, then Larry called and said she was missing. Sanders said a
couple of weeks later, Larry told him Payton was dead, and someone had
raped and killed her. Sanders stated when he found out, he went over to
Lynbrook and everybody was still outside. Sanders stated he had maybe
showered at Paytonís house years before, but he did not stay there. When
asked where he was ďthat night,Ē Sanders told the detectives he was on
Second Street at his grandmotherís house, smoking marijuana with his
cousin. Sanders denied being near Payton on November 3, 2010, and denied
any involvement in her death. He stated there was no reason that his
fingerprints should be in Paytonís house.
At 36 minutes into the interview, Sanders stated he was done talking,
and he was done with the interview. Sanders was asked why he was upset,
and he replied he did not know anything about ďit.Ē The detectives
eventually advised Sanders they had a search warrant to take a DNA sample
from him, so it could be compared to DNA recovered from the crime scene.
The detectives also informed Sanders his fingerprints were found inside the
house and established he was there. Sanders told the detectives he was done
talking, he would not saying anything else, he had nothing else to say, and
31

they could just take him to jail. Sanders never admitted any involvement in
Paytonís death.
Sanders argues the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress
his statement where he informed the officers multiple times he had nothing
to say, and the interview was over. We disagree. La. C. Cr. P. art. 703(B)
provides a defendant may move on any constitutional ground to suppress a
confession or statement of any nature made by the defendant. The state
bears the burden of proving the admissibility of a purported confession or
statement by the defendant. La. C. Cr. P. art. 703(D). The state must
establish that an accused who makes a statement during custodial
interrogation was: first advised of his constitutional rights; understood and
knowingly waived those rights; made the statement freely and voluntarily;
and, did not make the statement out of fear, duress, intimidation, menaces,
threats, inducements, or promises. State v. Garner, 52,047 (La. App. 2 Cir.
6/27/18), 250 So. 3d 1152, writ denied, 2018-1290 (La. 2/25/19), 266 So. 3d
288. Voluntariness is determined on a case-by-case basis, under a totality of
the circumstances standard. Id. The admissibility of a confession or
statement is a question for the trial court, and the trial courtís factual
determinations and conclusions will not be overturned unless not supported
by the evidence due to the trial courtís opportunity to observe witnesses and
assess credibility. Id. The testimony of the interviewing police officers
alone may be sufficient to prove that the defendantís statement was given
freely and voluntarily. Id.
A review of the record establishes Sanders was properly advised of
his rights, and his statement was freely and voluntarily given. Detectives
Rudell and Mayfield testified Sanders was advised of his rights and he stated
32

he understood and voluntarily gave his statement. Furthermore, both
detectives testified Sanders did not appear to be under the influence of drugs
or alcohol when he was advised of his rights or when he gave his statement.
The trial court clearly found the detectivesí testimony to be credible. The
state met its burden to prove Sandersí statement was freely and voluntarily
given and not made under the influence of fear, duress, intimidation,
menaces, threats, inducements, or promises.
We further note Sandersí statement did not include a confession.
Sanders admitted only to knowing the victim and her son, he had been inside
her house before, and he had been to her house to check on her since her son
had moved out and been incarcerated. Sanders consistently denied any
involvement in Paytonís death or being at her house at the time of her death.
Considering only the portion of the interview prior to Sandersí first assertion
of silence, there is no showing that the trial court erred in admitting Sandersí
statement. Sanders simply does not show that his assertion of his right to
remain silent rendered the portion of his statement made prior to that
assertion involuntary or inadmissible. Therefore, Sanders fails to show the
trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress his statement. This
assignment is without merit.
Pro Se Assignment of Error
In a pro se assignment of error, Sanders asserts the trial court deprived
him of his state and federal constitutional right to present a defense in
violation of La. Const. art. I, ß 15, and the Sixth and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution. He argues he was deprived
of his right to present a complete defense when during the trial, the trial
court sustained the objection to the defenseís question whether Kory Hill
33

possessed and sold drugs at his motherís house. Sanders argues the trial
court erred when it ďdecided that the defense could not present evidence that
an unidentified person killed the victim while looking for drugs and money
stashed in her home by her son, Kory Hill.Ē Sanders asserts the trial court
erred in finding any debts Hill may have owed were irrelevant since Hill had
been incarcerated for three months prior to Paytonís death. We disagree.
Sanders makes no showing that Hillís obligations to anyone or his
prior drug-related activities were relevant to the instant murder, where Hill
testified at trial he had moved out of his motherís house over a year before
her murder, and he had been incarcerated for three months before her
murder. There was no evidence presented at trial that would specifically
support the defendantís theory Payton was killed when someone was
searching the home for stashed drugs. The only room in disarray was the
childís room. Likewise, there was no testimony anything of value in the
house appeared to have been taken. Instead, the victimís personal jewelry
was found on her body, and the crime scene investigator testified her purse,
jewelry box, and checkbooks appeared undisturbed. Furthermore, only
Sandersí fingerprints were identified at the crime scene; all other potential
suspects were excluded by the crime scene investigator, the crime lab, and
detectives. Accordingly, Sanders fails to show the trial court erred in
sustaining the objection. This assignment is without merit.

Outcome: For the forgoing reasons, Javonte Sandersí conviction and sentence
are affirmed.

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