SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A psychiatrist who examined Grover Cannon in 2015 took the stand Thursday in the penalty phase of his capital murder trial, testifying that he was psychotic and paranoid at the time.
The jury that convicted Cannon Wednesday night of first-degree murder in LaValley’s slaying is hearing testimony that they will consider in deciding whether Cannon gets life or death.
The psychiatrist said that when she examined him in 2015, Cannon was convinced the Texas prison system where he was most recently incarcerated had an agenda to “turn all inmates homosexual” and that he believed it was spreading to Louisiana.
Based on her observations of Cannon in court for the past two days, she said she believes he suffers from paranoid delusions, has a psychotic disorder, substance abuse disorder, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Cannon’s mother also testified Thursday, telling the jury that she drank every weekend when she was pregnant with him but did not use crack while pregnant with him as she did with two of her other children. Ramona Cannon shared pictures from her son’s childhood, calling him “little Grover” as jurors perused a family album that included photos of Cannon as baby and young child.
Grover himself testified earlier in the afternoon, insisting that he had left the Del Rio Street home where Shreveport Police Officer Thomas LaValley was fatally shot in August 2015.
“I was wrongly convicted of a murder I did not commit,” Cannon said from the defense table after insisting on testifying on his own behalf and against his attorney’s advice. Expressing concern that Cannon is dangerous, the state asked the judge to require Cannon to testify from the defense table first, with the jury removed from the courtroom.
Cannon went on to say that “They (his family) didn’t know who came and went that night,” referring to video evidence during the guilt phase of the trial from his mother and sister that showed both telling police on the night of the murder that Cannon had been at the home threatening violence. Both Cannon’s sister and mother went on to testify that they did not recall telling officers of Cannon’s threats that night, in spite of those videos.
Cannon also said family loves him too, so he understands “what LaValley’s family and friends are going through.”
Following that initial testimony without the jury in the room, Judge Ramona Emanuel allowed Cannon to testify before the jury from the defense table.
Testifying before the jury, Cannon’s attorney Dwight Doskey asked him what he had to say to the jury, allowing Cannon to read a statement in his defense that said he left the Del Rio home before the shooting on foot, caught a ride with an acquaintance known to him only by the initials J.G., who drove him to Derrick Magee’s house, and Derrick Magee drove him to Grover Owen’s’ house.
Grover Owens died last year from a heart attack. No evidence was presented during the guilt phase of the trial that corroborated Cannon’s alibi.
The convicted killer’s testimony came after a former jailer at the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office took the stand and told the jury about the time Cannon threw a milk carton full of urine on him when he tried to deliver the inmate a food tray, hitting him in the mouth, face, and shoulders. Robert Owen recounted how Cannon did not want to receive the tray in the order they were stacked but demanded the tray from the bottom.
Blood tests confirmed that Cannon was positive for Hepatitis C. Owen was treated for eight months following the incident. He has not tested positive for the disease.
The penalty phase of the trial began late Thursday morning with several witnesses testifying on behalf of the state about Thomas LaValley’s life and the impact of his loss.
His mother, Jackie LaValley, was the first to take stand late Thursday morning in the penalty phase, tearfully testifying for 11 minutes about her son’s life and death. She showed photos of him at age five, as well as with her at his graduation at Northwestern and a photo of her with Thomas and his little brother Alex when Thomas graduated first in his class at the Shreveport Police Academy. She also shared a photo taken with him the last time she saw him, which was at a friend’s wedding in July 2015.
Reading from a statement she wrote for the jury, Jackie LaValley talked about how she wasn’t allowed to see Thomas the night he died, and the guilt she feels.
“A mother is supposed to protect her children and I feel like I wasn’t able to protect Thomas,” LaValley said. “Images still play in my head of his death every night.”
The grieving mother also said she prays “to be taken every night just to be with Thomas again.”
Thomas LaValley’s aunt Joy also took the stand, calling him a “miracle baby” because his mother could never conceive before him. She described her late nephew as respectful, ambitious, and intelligent. She was followed on the stand by several of the fallen officer’s friends and co-workers. All shared memories of Thomas and how his death affected them.
There were a mix of tears and smiles during Thursday’s testimony, including from the occasional juror, as loved ones recounted bittersweet memories of Thomas’ wry sense of humor, love of food and incredible kindness.
When court resumed following an afternoon recess, the state entered Cannon’s arrest record into evidence, highlighting a lengthy history of burglary charges.
The penalty phase is essentially a second trial before the same jury in which the defense and prosecution will present evidence and witness testimony as each side makes their case for life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. As with the requirement in death penalty cases that a jury must agree unanimously to convict, so must the jury agree unanimously on the death sentence. Otherwise, Cannon will automatically receive a life sentence.
Family members of both the victim and the offender can be called to the stand to testify, as well as expert witnesses and mitigation experts, who the state and defense will use to argue whether Cannon will receive the death penalty or the lesser penalty of life in prison.
Testimony for the defense is set to continue Friday morning in Caddo Parish District Court.