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Lawshea v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 7, 2019

AVANTE LAWSHEA APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 47BCR-16-386] HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR., JUDGE

          John H. Bradley, Chief Public Defender, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Darnisa Evans Johnson, Deputy Att'y Gen., and Jason Michael Johnson, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          SHAWN A. WOMACK, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         A jury convicted Avante Lawshea of capital felony murder for the deaths of Bahadur "Bob" Dhillon and Anthony Tramble and one count of aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for each murder and to ten years for the aggravated robbery. Because the murders were committed in the presence of a child, each life sentence received a ten-year enhancement. Lawshea appeals, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. After careful review, we conclude his argument lacks merit and affirm his conviction.

         I.

         Because Lawshea challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of his convictions, we recite the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. See Williams v. State, 2017 Ark. 287, at 4, 528 S.W.3d 839, 842. On the evening of November 5, 2016, Lawshea met with Christopher Clay and Ledarrius Simmons at the home of Issac Branch in Blytheville, Arkansas. They asked Branch to drive them to a nearby hotel in his white 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier station wagon. Branch shared a cigarette rolled with marijuana with Lawshea and Simmons during the drive.

         Branch drove them to the hotel, where he waited inside the car. Lawshea, Clay, and Simmons did not go inside the hotel, but instead walked to the nearby Shell gas station. Surveillance footage shows three masked men approaching the station, one dressed in red and the other two dressed in dark colors. They were unable to enter the locked station where an attendant was working inside. Branch saw them running toward his car and noticed they appeared agitated when they returned. He was then given directions to Bob's Cherry Tree gas station. On the way to the Cherry Tree station, the men finished smoking and left the cigarette butt in the car's ashtray. Branch parked on a dark road behind the station, turned off the ignition, and again stayed inside the car while Lawshea and the others left.

         Meanwhile, Ruby Cullins was parked outside the Cherry Tree station. Her friend, Robert Calvin, was inside purchasing gas and sodas with Cullins's granddaughter, T.B., and goddaughter, SC At the time, both girls were nine years old. The station was about to close for the evening and they were the only customers inside. Bob Dhillon owned the station and was behind the counter while Anthony Tramble worked in the back room.

         While Calvin and the girls were shopping, Lawshea entered the store with Clay and Simmons. Once again, they had masked their faces. The masked robber in red, later identified as Lawshea, was armed with a 9-millimeter handgun. Lawshea ordered Dhillon to give him the money from the register. He then shot Dhillon in the back of the neck. When Tramble emerged from the back room, Lawshea instructed him to not move or speak before shooting him in the face. The three men left with a couple hundred dollars and some cigarettes while Dhillon and Tramble lay dead on the floor. They were seen running toward the road behind the station. A third shot was fired as they ran away.

         Branch heard three gunshots while sitting in his car. Shortly after the gunfire, he saw Lawshea and the two others running toward the car. They entered the vehicle and yelled for Branch to "go" and "drive." A witness saw the station wagon parked on the road behind the Cherry Tree station. After hearing the gunshots, he noticed men running towards the car and watched them drive off.

         The subsequent police investigation uncovered surveillance footage from the hotel and the Shell station. Because Branch's station wagon was unique in that area, police were quickly able to identify him. He eventually admitted that Lawshea, Clay, and Simmons were in the car with him that night. Branch claimed that Lawshea had not been in his car before or since that night. He also stated that Lawshea had been dressed in red, while the other two men wore black and green. His girlfriend, Jaleesa Harris, admitted seeing the three young men with Branch that evening. She identified Lawshea, Clay, and Simmons in separate police lineups. Police recovered the station wagon and found a cigarette butt with Lawshea's DNA in the ashtray. All four men were charged with two counts of felony capital murder predicated on one count of aggravated robbery. Lawshea was convicted on all three charges and now raises this direct appeal.

         II.

         Lawshea's lone argument on appeal is that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. His contention is premised on the claim that there was insufficient corroboration of accomplice testimony to sustain ...


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