SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Grover Cannon has been sentenced to life in prison for the 2015 slaying of 29-year-old Shreveport Police Officer Thomas LaValley, after deciding they were unable to come to unanimous agreement on the death penalty.
The same jury unanimously convicted Cannon, 31, of first-degree murder in the officer’s death on Wednesday. On Saturday, they deliberated for just one hour before returning to tell the judge they were deadlocked.
“Is it your belief that any further deliberation would be helpful?” asked Caddo District Judge Ramona Emanuel.
“We do not,” answered the jury’s foreman.
As with the requirement in death penalty cases that a jury must agree unanimously to convict, the jury also had to agree unanimously on the death sentence. Because they could not come to a unanimous agreement, Cannon was automatically sentenced to life in prison.
Cannon appeared relieved at the sentencing verdict, smiling as he stood with his defense team. Defense attorney Dwight Doskey said it was the outcome they wanted and that they are thankful to have avoided the death penalty.
“It was a difficult case for everybody concerned because we all realize the mental impairments that affected both the defendant, it affected his ability to let us put on the right defense for him,” said Doskey.
Family members and friends were emotional following the verdict but said they were thankful for the closure and felt that that justice has been served.
“I’m glad it’s over. It’s been a long time,” said LaValley’s mother, Jackie. “He’s not going to be able to get out and kill someone else, which I feel like he would have done if he was out in the public.” But, she added, “I will always grieve for Thomas and for what could have been. To lose a child, even, but to lose him that way. And alone. That’s what really hurts.”
“Life or death, he’s still gonna die behind bars,” said friend Chris Redford. “And he’ll never see the light of day and I think that’s what ultimately is the goal. To make sure the monster never gets out.”
The verdict came after a three-day penalty phase of the trial in which they heard witness testimony and were presented with evidence from both the defense and the prosecution as each side made their case for whether Cannon should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
Officer LaValley was shot while responding to a report of a suspicious person at the home of Cannon’s sister, Latauria Cannon, in the 3500 block of Del Rio Street in the Queensborough neighborhood.
In what is essentially a second trial before the same jury, the defense and prosecution spent the past three days presenting witnesses and evidence as each makes their case for whether Cannon should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or death by lethal injection.
During closing arguments, lead prosecutor Ed Blewer thanked the jury – which was drawn in Baton Rouge and bussed into Caddo Parish for the trial – for their sacrifice and enduring the emotional trauma associated with this process. Blewer spoke of the level of proof needed to consider the death penalty.
“We can be absolutely sure Grover Cannon committed this murder. It’s crystal clear.”
Blewer pointed to witness testimony that said Cannon knew the difference between right and wrong when he executed Thomas LaValley, who was a person, not just a “figure.” Thomas, Blewer said, was a friend and a brother, “dedicated to protecting the many people here in Shreveport.” The lead prosecutor also told the jury that LaValley’s murder effectively ended his mother, Jackie’s life, as well.
“Grover Cannon is dangerous, he’s paranoid, he’s a coldblooded killer,” Blewer told the jury. “He is completely without remorse.”
Defense attorney Dwight Doskey reminded the jurors that each of them now held the power of life in their own individual hands and talked about how to honor a police officer, as has been done for LaValley with a public memorial and the renaming of a bridge.
“What you don’t do is kill in honor of Thomas LaValley,” said Doskey, maintaining that Cannon did not have the mental capacity to react properly in the situation because his mother drank while she was pregnant with him, resulting in brain damage caused by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. “We don’t get to choose our parents,” Doskey asserted to the jury.
“He was dangerous. He is in a structured environment now. He’s in prison,” appealing to jurors to sentence Cannon to life in prison.
“This is not a guilt trip, this is a responsibility trip.”
In rebuttal, prosecutor Bill Edwards countered with a reminder that choosing the death penalty would not be tantamount to taking a life in the same way Cannon did to LaValley.
“This is not a killing, this is not murder. This is giving a just verdict for a crime.”
In addition to testimony from LaValley’s mother, former co-workers, and friends, the jury has heard from Cannon’s mother, sister, and brother, as well as psychiatrists and mental health experts. Cannon’s defense team spent most of the past two days reviewing Cannon’s childhood trauma and mental state, making the case that he suffers from mental delusions, paranoia, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
A psychologist who took the stand for the defense Saturday testified that brain damage from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder doesn’t excuse Cannon’s conduct, but helps explain it. While asserting that Cannon knew shooting a police officer was wrong, the psychologist explained that FASD causes brain damage that can lead to crime and school records showing his performance at an early age provided evidence of that kind of brain damage.
On cross-examination, the state pointed out that the psychiatrist is not neurologist or neuropsychologist, and therefore not qualified to interpret the assessments performed on Cannon.
Cannon’s brother was the last to testify in his brother’s defense early Saturday afternoon. Ira Cannon, who is 10 years into an 18-year sentence of his own, took the stand in handcuffs and an inmate jumpsuit. Hed told the jury he hadn’t seen his brother since 2007 because each of them has been in and out of jail over the years.
Asked by his brother’s defense attorney to share memories of their childhoods, Ira Cannon recounted the death of their older brother and their grandmother and described Grover as a “big brother figure to him.” He also recounted the time he was hit by a car, in pain and suffering broken bones, and how Grover squeezed his hand and told him to wake up.
“He showed the love he had for me,” Ira Cannon said.
For now, Grover Cannon remains in the custody of the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office until he can be formally sentenced on January 2. From there, he will be sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola where he will begin serving his sentence of life at hard labor without the benefit of parole.