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Andre Luis Ortega v. Ken Clark

March 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy J Bommer United States Magistrate Judge



Petitioner, Andre Luis Ortega, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after being convicted by a jury of first degree murder. Petitioner raises several claims in this federal habeas petition; specifically: (1) his due process rights were violated when the prosecutor was permitted to proceed on a felony-murder theory based upon a robbery at trial ("Claim I"); (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the gang related findings because it was not established that the Nortenos are a criminal street gang ("Claim II"); (3) prosecutorial misconduct ("Claim III"); (4) his due process and equal protection rights were violated by the admission of uncharged offense evidence ("Claim IV"); (5) his due process and equal protection rights were violated when the prosecutor was allowed to ask the gang expert at trial whether Petitioner's tattoos showed a propensity for violence ("Claim V"); and (6) his due process and equal protection rights were violated when the prosecutor gave the jury a chart during closing argument that was eventually brought in by the jury during their deliberations ("Claim VI"). For the following reasons, Petitioner's habeas petition should be denied.


Placer County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Long testified he responded to a report of a burglary in Newcastle, California on January 10, 2002. The address to which he reported was the residence and work address of Miller and Aggie Lee, husband and wife. Aggie ran a palm-reading business from that location. The Lees reported that guns, coins, credit cards, and heirloom jewelry had been stolen. Two days after the burglary report Miller Lee told Deputy Long they had received information that the burglar was Steve Adams from Stockton. Deputy Long investigated and discovered that Steve Adams's address in Stockton was a palm reading business, and that Gary, Walter and Lucy Adams were also related to that address.

Some of the jewelry the Lees reported as stolen turned up in a pawn shop in Stockton. Miller Lee purchased some of the jewelry that had a sentimental value, but one piece, a diamond bracelet, was not recovered from the pawn shop. The Placer County Sheriff's Department received almost daily calls from Miller Lee asking for the status of the investigation into the burglary. Miller Lee called less frequently after sheriff's deputies informed him there was no evidence linking Steve Adams to the crime. The calls from Miller Lee ended sometime in February 2002.

Steve Adams's mother left Steve with Walter and Walter's sister Dolly when Steve was a baby. Steve was referred to as Walter's adopted son. Dolly and her sisters worked at a palm reading business on East Harding Way in Stockton. The Adamses refer to themselves as gypsies or Yugoslavians. Dolly had heard accusations from other gypsies that Steve was robbing gypsies from out of town.

Walter had a Ford Explorer he had been trying to sell for a while. On the morning of the murder, October 23, 2002, Dolly received a phone call asking whether they had a car for sale. When Dolly told the caller they did, he said he would come take a look at it. Dolly told the caller that the car was not there at the time, and he hung up. The man called again in the afternoon, saying he was coming in from the Fresno area to take a look at the car, and bringing his aunt, who had the money to buy the car.

Two young Hispanic men arrived to look at the car. Walter left in the car with the two young men around 2:30 p.m. Walter was wearing a gold bracelet he had possessed for four or five years. Dolly became concerned after 30 or 40 minutes had passed and Walter had not come back. Dolly had a friend take her to the mall around 6:00 p.m. to see if Walter's car might be in the parking lot. They could not find it, and by the time they got back home Steve had called the police.

The next morning at around 9:00 a.m., Stockton police investigator David Anderson was dispatched to the west frontage road of Highway 99 when a report came in that a Ford Explorer had been found with Walter Adams's body inside. Walter's body was in the passenger seat. There were rope burns from his mouth to his ear lobes, several gunshot wounds to his right shoulder area, and a rope was draped around his chest. Three expended shell casings from a .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun were in the driver's seat area, one was in the center console, one was on the right rear floorboard, and a sixth one was underneath the victim. The victim's wallet containing $11 was in his right rear pants pocket, but he was not wearing a bracelet.

Officer Anderson's observations led him to conclude someone had been sitting in the back seat of the vehicle when the victim was killed. His conclusion was based on the fact that the driver's seat was pushed completely forward as if someone had exited the vehicle on the driver's side from the back seat. [FN 2] The vehicle could not have been driven with the seat in that position. The rope burns on the victim's mouth were unlikely to have been caused by a person in the front seat, because a person could not have exerted enough pressure from that position. Also, the ends of the rope, which was still draped over the victim, were pointed over his shoulders towards the back of the seat. The gunshot wounds came from a position directly above the victim into his right shoulder. There were no bullet holes indicating the victim was shot from the front, because those bullets would have exited the victim's body and gone into the seat. The location of the shell casings was consistent with someone in the back seat having fired the gun, although it was also possible from the casings that the shots could have come from the driver's seat area. [FN 2] The Explorer was a two-door vehicle.

The Explorer was processed for fingerprints. [Roque] Bejarano's fingerprint was discovered on the exterior of the passenger window, his left palm print was on the interior of the driver's door, and his right palm print was on the exterior of the passenger door. Defendant's fingerprint was discovered on the exterior of the passenger door window frame.

Dr. Robert Lawrence preformed Walter's autopsy. He determined Walter died as the result of massive hemorrhage and shock from multiple gunshot wounds. The gun muzzle had been either in contact with the victim's skin or within less than an inch. Dr. Lawrence was also of the opinion that the shooter had been in the back seat behind the passenger. He opined the person in the back seat had been holding onto the rope with one hand and reaching around with the gun and firing downward. It was not likely that the shooter was either in the driver's seat or standing outside on the passenger side of the vehicle. Dr. Lawrence did not go to the crime scene, and did not know if there was any blood spatter inside the vehicle.

Noori Zamanian, who lived on Highway 99 frontage road, called the Stockton Police Department the morning of October 25, 2002, after reading a newspaper article about the victim's body and truck having been found. Zamanian reported two Hispanic males had come to his house two days earlier and asked to use the phone. Police officers removed Zamanian's telephones and tested them for latent prints. Defendant's fingerprint was found on one of the telephones.

Defendant was the first of the three suspects to be arrested and interrogated. He told investigators that he, Bejarano, and [Robert] Sisneros had gone to Stockton in Sisneros's vehicle to find someone that had committed a robbery, to scare the person, and to send him a message to stop robbing. They spent and hour or two looking for the person, and when they were unable to find him, decided to find the person's father and send the message to him instead. They knew the father had a vehicle for sale, so they called the number and pretended they wanted to test drive the vehicle in order to make contact with the father.

The three agreed that defendant and Bejarano would go with the victim on the test drive, and Sisneros would follow them in his car. They were on the freeway when the victim said he had an appointment and needed to go back. Bejarano, who had been driving, pulled over to let the victim take the driver's seat. When Bejarano reached for the driver's door, defendant threw a rope over the victim's head. He intended to put the rope around the victim's neck, but it got caught on his mouth. By this time Bejarano was standing outside the passenger door and saw the rope was caught in the victim's mouth. He told defendant, "[y]ou got to do it[,]" so defendant pulled out a gun and fired. He was sitting directly behind the victim when he shot him.

Defendant and Bejarano ran across the freeway to the other side of the frontage road, where they asked a resident if they could use his phone to call for a ride. Sisneros had not followed them, and they had no idea where he was. Defendant first tried to call his cell phone, then called his home phone in Sacramento. He spoke with Marissa, Bejarano's girlfriend, and told her to contact Sisneros to come pick them up. Shortly after that, Sisneros picked them up and they went back to Sacramento.

Defendant admitted he had joined the Nortenos when he was 10 or 11 years old. Defendant said there was no way to get out of the gang, but he did get away from the crowd and try to stick to himself.

Bejarano testified at trial pursuant to a plea agreement. He stated that on October 22, 2002, defendant asked him if he wanted to go somewhere the next day and make some money. It was Bejarano's understanding they were going to do a "lick," i.e., some criminal activity for the purpose of monetary gain. The next morning Bejarano agreed to do the lick. Sisneros picked up the two of them and they drove from Sacramento to Stockton. Sisneros said they were looking for someone and they began driving around Stockton searching for that person.

Bejarano was aware defendant had a gun because he had seen it. While they were driving around, Sisneros made a lot of phone calls regarding the fact that they could not find the person for whom they were searching. Eventually, Sisneros made a phone call and told the person on the other end they could not find the target, but that they had seen the target's father. When Sisneros hung up, he said they were going to go look for the dad.

They went to a palm reading shop and Bejarano called the number from a "for sale" sign on an Explorer parked in front of the shop. A woman answered and told Bejarano the owner of the vehicle was not in, and that he should call back. Bejarano called back later and said he was coming from Fresno and wanted to test drive the vehicle. They waited another 30 to 40 minutes before going back to the palm reading business. During that time they talked about what was going to happen. While Bejarano drove the Explorer, defendant was going to sit in the back seat and strangle the man with a rope obtained from the back of Sisneros's car. Defendant did not want to shoot the man because he did not want to leave shells behind at the scene. Sisneros told them the man was wearing a diamond bracelet and expensive diamond ring, and to be sure and get the jewelry. Bejarano did not know why the man was being killed, other than Sisneros said it was to send a message to the man's family.

As Bejarano was driving the Explorer, he noticed Sisneros following them at first, but then noticed he was not there. He drove the car onto Highway 99. After he went past a couple of exits, the victim said he needed to get back for an appointment. Bejarano pulled over and told the victim he did not know the area and did not know which road to take. The victim said he would drive. Bejarano was out of the car, and the victim had opened the passenger door when defendant put a rope over the victim's head. Bejarano ran around to the passenger side and told defendant the rope was in the man's mouth. Bejarano shut the door because he figured defendant was going to shoot the victim. Bejarano heard defendant shoot the victim five or six times. Bejarano and defendant ran away from the vehicle. They ran over to an overpass, went to a house and knocked on the door. No one answered at the first house, but when they went to a second house a man came out from the side of the house. They told him their car had broken down on the freeway and they needed to use the phone. Defendant made the phone call. They waited outside, and Sisneros soon came and drove them back to Sacramento.

During the drive, Bejarano saw defendant holding the diamond bracelet the victim had been wearing. At one point during the drive Sisneros talked to someone on the phone to let them know the deed was done and to set up a meeting. They met that evening in a parking lot in the Sunrise area of Sacramento. Sisneros met the person in a parking lot. As they were driving away from the meeting Sisneros said he got $2,000 for the job. He gave defendant some of the money, and defendant gave Bejarano $200. Sisneros said he had shown the guy the bracelet to let him know the job was done.

Bejarano had performed a lick previously with defendant when defendant asked him to go to Willits, California and steal some marijuana plants. They did that lick with Raymond Royal and Raymond Rios. Bejarano thought Royal might have been associated with the Oak Park Bloods. When they took the marijuana plants, Bejarano and Royal went to the backyard while defendant held the people in the house at gunpoint. At one point someone tried to grab some of the plants from Royal, and Royal shot him. Both defendant and Royal had guns for the Willits robbery. Defendant's gun was a .380 caliber automatic handgun, the same handgun he used to kill Walter Adams. When police were dispatched to the Willits robbery, they found a man with two gunshot wounds to his chest, a woman with a gunshot wound to her knee, and a man with blunt force trauma to the head. Bejarano testified that defendant sported gang tattoos, and that he was once a member of the Norteno gang. Bejarano was not sure whether defendant considered himself a gang member at the time of the Adams murder. When police interviewed Bejarano in January 2003, he told them both defendant and Sisneros were members of the Norteno gang. He stated he "associated" with Nortenos. Bejarano admitted he had entered into a plea agreement by which he would receive 18 years in prison in exchange for his truthful testimony.

Sisneros also admitted he entered into a plea agreement after being charged with the murder of Walter Adams. In exchange for his truthful testimony, he agreed to a 20 year prison sentence. Sisneros testified he was related to gypsies Johnny Mitchell and Miller Lee. Sometime in 2002, Miller Lee approached him and defendant about some property that had been stolen from Lee, and asked if Sisneros would be interest in trying to recover it. Lee said he wanted Sisneros to recover the property and scare the man who had stolen it. Sisneros said the gypsies treated him with respect because he had been incarcerated, and they assumed he was someone to fear.

Lee and Mitchell drove Sisneros to Stockton and took him by several houses where they believed Steve Adams might be living. One was a palm reading shop. Sisneros said they were just supposed to scare Adams, and Sisneros expected no compensation for it.

Sometime in October Sisneros called a couple of people to help him with the job. One of those people was defendant. Defendant and Sisneros were Nortenos, were known to have guns, and defendant was not afraid to use a gun. Bejarano also went with them to do the job. Bejarano was also a Norteno.

On the day of the murder Sisneros kept in telephone contact with Lee and Mitchell. They discussed where Sisneros might be able to find Steve Adams. The plan was to scare Steve by beating him up. Sisneros, Bejarano and defendant went several places, but could not find Steve's car. Sisneros told Lee there was a red Ford Explorer in front of one house, and Lee told him he thought the Explorer belonged to Steve's father. Lee said that since the father was not taking responsibility for his son, they should send a message to the father. Lee told Sisneros the victim wore expensive jewelry, and that some of it might belong to Lee. He wanted Sisneros to retrieve the jewelry. Sisneros told defendant and Bejarano this.

There was a "for sale" sign in the back of the Explorer. Miller told Sisneros to call the number. Bejarano agreed to make the phone call. Bejarano and defendant went to test drive the vehicle, and Sisneros planned to follow them in his car and pick them up afterward. However, Sisneros got stopped by a train and lost contact with the Explorer. When Sisneros could not find them, he headed back to Sacramento. Within about 20 minutes, he got a call from one of the men's girlfriends telling him defendant and Bejarano were stranded. Sisneros went to pick them up. He exited the freeway when he saw the Explorer on the side road, and soon saw Bejarano and defendant walking. After they got in the car, Bejarano showed Sisneros the bracelet he got from the victim. They discussed whether they could get any money for it. Defendant told Sisneros he emptied the gun into the victim, and Bejarano took off running.

Sisneros got a phone call from Lee, and he told Lee they had the victim's bracelet. Lee said he wanted it. Lee told Sisneros to meet him in Sacramento. The three of them met Lee and Mitchell in a parking lot. Lee said he would get money to buy the bracelet. When Sisneros told Lee and Mitchell that Walter was dead, Mitchell said he got what he deserved.

After meeting with Lee and Mitchell, Sisneros dropped off defendant and Bejarano at a chicken place. He gave them $200 so they would have some money.

About a week later Sisneros met Lee again. He had given Lee the bracelet, and Lee paid him $3,500. He gave $100 to Bejarano.

Defendant testified at trial, and recounted a series of events that differed in several material respects from the statement he gave police shortly after the murder. He testified that Sisneros never told him why he wanted defendant to go out of town with him. He said he rode with Sisneros and Bejarano to Stockton, where they drove around to a couple of different locations, including a palm reading shop. Later, they were shopping when Sisneros and Bejarano told him Sisneros had contacted his cousin and the cousin told him where they could locate someone. Defendant did not know why they were trying to locate the person, and he was not curious about it. They went to a palm reading shop and Sisneros told him Bejarano was interested in buying a car. They got the number off of a "for sale" sign in the back window of a red Explorer. Defendant did not decide to go on the test drive with Bejarano until the last minute.

When Bejarano pulled the car over so that the victim could drive back to his house, Bejarano pulled a gun on him. The victim asked what was going on, and Bejarano told him his son had robbed Lee. Bejarano tossed a rope to defendant. The victim reached for Bejarano's gun and started fighting with Bejarano. Defendant panicked and threw the rope over the victim to get him to let go of the gun. Bejarano was standing outside the driver side door when he shot the victim six times. The victim was leaning over the center console with his head over the driver's seat.

Later, Sisneros told him that if anyone questioned him he should take the blame for the killing because he was the youngest one and would be out in a couple of years. He said if defendant did not keep quiet he would suffer the consequences later. Defendant testified that even though he had a gang tattoo on his back, he was never a gang member. He did, however, hang out with a lot of gang members.

Defendant's version of events was supported by the testimony of Duane Lovaas, a Department of Justice criminalist. He theorized that the shooter was the driver or was in the driver's position. His opinion was based on the location of the cartridge casings and the blood splatter evidence.

Deputy Ronald Aurich testified as an expert in criminal street gangs. He explained that Norteno is a criminal street gang made up of 20 to 25 different subsets in the Sacramento area. The subsets also have neighborhood affiliations. Aurich opined that defendant was a Norteno, and specifically a Barrio North Side Norteno. Aurich's opinion was based on defendant's gang logo tattoos, involvement in gang-related crimes, and the fact that he kept company with validated gang members. Aurich testified he had reviewed documentation indicating defendant admitted his gang membership to the juvenile county probation officer.

Aurich opined that Sisneros was also a gang member. His opinion was based upon the Norteno prison gang symbols tattooed on Sisneros's chest, his involvement in gang related crimes, the fact he had been in prison, and that he kept company with other gang members. Aurich also opined Sisneros was a gang member with a certain status above a common gangster from the neighborhood.

Aurich opined that Bejarano was a Norteno gang member, based upon his association with other gang members, the crimes in which he was involved, the neighborhood in which he lived, and the people with whom he associated.

In Aurich's opinion Walter Adams's' murder was gang related.

(Slip Op. at p. 3-17 (footnote omitted).)

Petitioner was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life imprisonment without thepossibility of parole. On direct appeal to the California Court of Appeal, Third AppellateDistrict, Petitioner raised the issues that he raises in this federal habeas petition (amongst others).

On December 20, 2005, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. Petitioner thenfiled a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. In April 2007, the CaliforniaSupreme Court summarily denied the petition for review.

In July 2008, Petitioner filed the instant federal habeas petition. Respondent answeredthe Petitioner on July 27, 2009.


An application for writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under judgment of a state court can only be granted for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. See 28U.S.C. § 2254(a); see also Peltier v. Wright, 15 F.3d 860, 861 (9th Cir. 1993); Middleton v.Cupp, 768 F.2d 1083, 1085 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119 (1982)).

Petitioner filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus after April 24, 1996, thus the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") applies. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S.320, 326 (1997). Under AEDPA, federal habeas corpus relief is not available for any claimdecided on the merits in the state court proceedings unless the state court's adjudication of theclaim: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of,clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2)resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of theevidence presented in state court. See 28 U.S.C. 2254(d).

As a threshold matter, this Court must "first decide what constitutes 'clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.'" Lockyer v. Andrande,538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)). "'[C]learly established federal law'under § 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Courtat the time the state court renders its decision.'" Id. (citations omitted). Under the unreasonableapplication clause, a federal habeas court making the unreasonable application inquiry should askwhether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was "objectivelyunreasonable." See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000). Thus, "a federal court maynot issue the writ simply because the court concludes in its independent judgment that therelevant state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly.

Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411. Although only Supreme Court law is binding on the states, Ninth Circuit precedent remains relevant persuasive authority in determining whether a state court decision is an objectively unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Clark v. Murphy, 331 F.3d 1062, 1070 (9th Cir. 2003) ("While only the Supreme Court's precedents are binding . . . and only those precedents need be reasonably applied, we may look for guidance to circuit precedents.").

The first step in applying AEDPA's standards is to "identify the state court decision that is appropriate for our review." See Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 2005).

When more than one court adjudicated Petitioner's claims, a federal habeas court analyzes the last reasoned decision. Id. (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). The last reasoned decision in this case came from the California Court of Appeal on direct appeal.


A. Claim I

In Claim I, Petitioner argues that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on a theory of felony-murder based upon a robbery despite the fact that the magistrate judge had found as a factual matter at the preliminary hearing that the evidence of the robbery was insufficient. Petitioner basis this argument on the theory of collateral estoppel. Petitioner also alludes to the ...

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