Bogalusa Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Second-Degree Murder

March 6, 2024

FRANKLINTON—Interim District Attorney Collin Sims reports that on January 26, 2024, District Judge Alan Zaunbrecher sentenced Joseph Peoples, 32, of Bogalusa, to life in prison without parole after a jury found him guilty in January of the murder of Shawn Whiteside. He was also sentenced on 2 counts of obstruction of justice and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The Judge ordered the sentences to run consecutive to the life in prison sentence, for a total of 120 years. Peoples has three unrelated pending felony cases and several prior felony convictions.  Assistant District Attorneys Jay Adair and Hank Meyer led the prosecution.

Testimony at trial established that on April 22, 2020, the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to investigate an unresponsive white male lying on the side of Highway 1072. Upon arrival, officers and emergency medical services found the victim, later identified as Shawn Whiteside, had suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.

One of the witnesses who discovered the body told authorities she observed a silver SUV leaving the area. Law enforcement received information from another witness about a silver SUV with Arkansas license plates driving erratically along Highway 1072.  In the process of locating Mr. Whiteside’s next of kin, law enforcement officials developed information that he had last been seen in the company of Joseph Peoples.  Officers were alerted to a parked 2005 GMC Envoy fitting the description of the vehicle of interest. It was determined the vehicle belonged to Joseph Peoples.

Officers located Peoples at his residence.  He was detained and transported to the sheriff’s office for questioning by investigators. During his interview, Peoples eventually admitted shooting the victim but claimed to have acted in self-defense when the victim brandished a gun.  Peoples told authorities that he had driven to McDonalds in his SUV with the victim and an unidentified female as his passengers.  While returning home, he said the victim and the female began arguing.  He then noticed the victim, who was in the front passenger seat, had pulled out a gun.  Peoples claimed he deflected the gun by quickly moving his right arm, redirecting the gun towards the victim as it discharged.  Peoples said he panicked and drove to Highway 1072 where he dumped the victim’s body. Peoples denied knowing the female’s identity, but authorities later identified her as Allison Cook, People’s live-in girlfriend at the time.

Authorities located Cook and she provided a statement as well. Cook told police that she, Peoples and Whiteside had all been together that morning and that Peoples felt that Whiteside was flirting with her so Peoples pulled out a gun. She said Whiteside pleaded for his life but Peoples shot him anyway. Cook was able to provide police information that led to the recovery of the murder weapon. Both Peoples and Cook were arrested.

Detectives conducted a second interview of Peoples. During this interview, Peoples told police that it was Cook who had shot the victim and left the body on the side of the road.

At trial, prosecutors played the recorded interview of Peoples, as well as phone calls he had made from jail that were recorded by the jail’s system. Those calls revealed Peoples’ intent to claim self-defense, insanity or alternatively, that it was Cook who shot the victim.  Peoples also talked of plans to bribe Cook to not testify or to marry her so that she could not testify against him.  

Despite People’s hopes of silencing her, Allison Cook, testified at trial on behalf of the State. She told jurors that Peoples pulled out the gun and threatened Whiteside with it while driving.  Immediately prior to the fatal shot, Whiteside’s last words were, “Don’t do this…I have two sons.”  After Peoples shot him, Cook testified that she threw her jacket over Whiteside to ease the trauma of having witnessed his murder. Peoples then drove out of Bogalusa, down Highway 1072, and ordered Cook out of the car, telling her, “If I didn’t love you so much, you’d be right next to [Whiteside]”.  Peoples ordered her to pull Whiteside’s body out of the vehicle, but she was unable to. Cook told jurors that Peoples kicked the victim’s body out of the passenger seat and onto the gravel. Peoples then drove them back to their residence, disposing of the murder weapon under a backyard shed and the victim’s cell phone in a toilet tank.

Throughout the trial, Peoples’ attorney argued for his innocence, claiming that Cook shot Whiteside in a jealous fit due to her unfounded suspicions that Peoples and the victim were involved in a romantic tryst.  The jury rejected that claim, rendering a guilty verdict on all counts in just over 20 minutes.

In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Hank Meyer told the jury, “Justice demands you’re speaking not only for the decedent in this case, but also for his boys, his widow, his mother and his aunt.”