APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Stanislaus County. Scott T. Steffen, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 1108890) Stanislaus County
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Franson, J.
NOT TO PUBLISHED IN THE OFFICIAL REPORTS
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.
Appellant Ramon Guardado appeals from his convictions of robbery and first degree felony murder committed during the commission of a robbery. Appellant claims he fatally stabbed Joseph Badal in the chest with a steak knife while high on methamphetamines and in fear for his life, without any prior intent of robbing the victim. On appeal, appellant claims (1) insufficient evidence of the taking and of intent supports the robbery-related findings and verdicts; (2) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury with several instructions that unfairly advantaged the prosecution; and (3) the prosecutor engaged in misconduct arising primarily during the prosecutor's rebuttal closing argument. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment in all respects.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Joseph Badal called Monica Arias on May 10, 2006, looking for Christina Coito, a woman he had previously bought a small dinner for, and expressed interest in, but who had rebuffed his advances. Coito and Arias were "close" friends and were involved in drugs as suppliers. Arias was not with Coito at that time but arranged to meet up with Badal, ostensibly to help him look for Coito.
After Badal called Arias, Arias and appellant exchanged several phone calls. Arias eventually asked appellant to accompany her to meet Badal in the parking lot of a bar. She told appellant she would "hook him up" with drugs if he did so, and he agreed. Appellant was carrying a knife in his front right pocket that he had taken from his home a day or two earlier. He testified he sometimes armed himself, after being jumped several months earlier, and would especially take precaution to arm himself when he was going to be doing drugs. Appellant testified he took methamphetamines the day of the incident to stay awake, as he had been up for three days at that point.
Arias had previously provided drugs to appellant, and also had a $200-a-day habit herself. Arias testified she thought she would get some money from Coito if she helped Badal find Coito.
Arias made arrangements to be dropped off, along with appellant, near the parking lot where she was going to meet Badal. Arias believed her phone was having technical difficulties and at one point she used appellant's phone to call Badal's cell phone as they approached the parking lot on foot. Arias saw Badal on his cell phone at this time.
Shortly thereafter, around 7:55 p.m., on May 10, appellant and Arias got into Badal's white SUV in the parking lot and the three began driving toward less populated areas. Arias was in the front passenger seat. Appellant was in the rear passenger seat, in the middle, but sitting closer to Arias's side.
Several minutes later, and while still driving, Badal handed Arias a $20 bill, which she interpreted as initiating a drug buy. She testified she took out a rock of crystal meth, wrapped it in plastic, and placed it in the console of the SUV. She placed the $20 bill in her bra. Perhaps due to a misunderstanding, Badal abruptly pulled over to the side of the road in a residential neighborhood they were then passing through. He pulled Arias closer to him in an attempt to kiss her. She rejected his advances and got out of the SUV.
Appellant then inflicted a number of knife wounds to Badal, including a fatal stab wound to Badal's chest. The pathologist testified that Badal also suffered a superficial slashing wound to the fleshy part of his neck that began or ended in a deeper cut inflicted on Badal's mandible, indicating that either the assailant or the victim moved as the knife was held to Badal's neck. The pathologist also testified that the fatal chest wound was at an angle that led him to believe the most plausible way to inflict both the neck wound and the stab wound within the short period of time required*fn1 was if the assailant had been holding the knife to the victim's neck from behind and then stabbed the victim fatally while the victim's back was still to him. The pathologist also testified that the depth of the wound could have been caused by the victim turning toward the assailant, thus driving the knife in deeper.
After stabbing Badal, appellant climbed into the driver's seat. Arias
got back into the front passenger seat. Appellant drove off in a
panic, and eventually struck a telephone pole, coming to a stop. A
neighborhood resident saw a woman exit the passenger side of an SUV,
let down the back gate, and saw a body roll out, hitting the ground.
He described the driver as "Mexican, shaved head, skinny."*fn2
The woman returned to the passenger seat, and the
vehicle hurried away. Badal was still alive at this point, but
quickly succumbed to his injuries. No residents were observed taking
anything from Badal's body. Badal's phone and wallet were never
Arias later demanded appellant pull over so that she could take over driving. Appellant complied, and then wiped down the knife with his shirt and threw the knife out the window, toward a canal on the side of the road.
Badal's wife testified that Badal always carried a cell phone and a wallet, and "somewhat" routinely carried cash. She also testified that Badal was the kind of person who would defend himself if attacked or confronted.
Arias continued driving the SUV and picked her boyfriend up, then dropped appellant off in front of a trailer park, after Arias's boyfriend and appellant got into an argument. Appellant later tried calling Arias, but the call went to voicemail. Appellant received a call back from Badal's cell phone, shortly thereafter, which did not go to voicemail.
Arias was pulled over by police that evening, while still driving Badal's SUV. A $20 bill was found in her pocket, along with other items. Detective Jon McQueary testified that Arias gave a fabricated story initially when questioned. Arias's parole officer contacted Arias after she was arrested for the homicide. Arias became emotional when she found out she was going to be charged with murder. She testified she told the parole officer they intended only to "roll with the guy," meaning merely to go with Badal. Arias's parole officer testified that Arias told him, "I had nothing to do with the stabbing. I was outside the 4Runner," and that they had only intended to "roll the guy."
Appellant was picked up by police the following day. Detectives interviewed appellant. Parts of the interview were recorded, and played back for the jury. Appellant initially told police he was not involved in any way, that he had never ridden in a white SUV and that he had never seen Arias in a white SUV. After further questioning, appellant told a detective he was supposed to meet up with Arias and her boyfriend after they obtained a car, and they were going to just drive around in it for fun. Appellant stated he didn't know what Arias and her boyfriend's exact plan was, but that "subconsciously" he knew they intended to rob someone.
Appellant eventually admitted to another detective that he was in the SUV, that he had stabbed Badal, that he had gotten involved because Arias and Badal had begun arguing, and that he had driven the SUV away from the scene of the crime in a panic.
After the police interview, appellant led the detectives to where he had thrown the knife away, which the police recovered. The ride was audio-recorded, and was also played back for the jury. Detectives asked appellant again during the ride whether he intended to rob Badal, and appellant denied having any plans to rob Badal.
In the first amended complaint, the People charged appellant in count I with murder with two special circumstances alleged, that the murder was committed (1) during the commission of a carjacking within the meaning of Penal Code*fn3 section 190.2(a)(17)(L) and (2) during the commission of a robbery within the meaning of section 190.2(a)(17)(A). The People also charged appellant in count II with carjacking (section 215) and in count III with robbery (section 211), and special allegations that appellant personally used a knife in the commission of the crimes.
The prosecution's theory of the case revolved around the idea that Arias and appellant had planned from the beginning to take Badal's car, and that the events of the evening had not gone according to plan.
Appellant's case revolved around a theory of imperfect self-defense justifying only a manslaughter conviction. That is, appellant was just trying to defend Arias and himself from Badal, who was bigger than both of them,*fn4 without any prior intent to rob Badal.
During jury deliberations, the jury asked the court a series of
questions relating to the timing of intent required for the carjacking
charge, as well as a question on the robbery elements.*fn5