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The People v. Philong N. Huynh

December 20, 2012


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Robert F. O'Neill, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. SCD222832)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Haller, J.



A jury convicted Philong N. Huynh of first degree felony murder (Pen. Code,*fn2 § 189), two counts of sodomy of an intoxicated person (§ 286, subd. (i)) and two counts of oral copulation of an intoxicated person (§ 288a, subd. (i)). The jury also found to be true special circumstance allegations that the murder was committed during the commission of sodomy (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(D)) and during the commission of oral copulation (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(F)). The trial court sentenced Huynh to an indeterminate term of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus a consecutive determinate term of 10 years.

Huynh appeals, contending (1) there was insufficient proof of death by criminal agency; (2) insufficient evidence supported the sodomy and oral copulations convictions involving the murder victim; (3) the jury instructions on first degree felony-murder did not properly address causation; (4) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on other sex crime evidence; (5) Evidence Code section 1108 is unconstitutional; (6) the court erred by refusing to give lesser-included-offense instructions on the sodomy and oral copulation counts involving the murder victim; (7) the court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on second degree murder; (8) the court erred by not instructing the jury sua sponte on involuntary manslaughter; (9) the court erred by allowing a SART nurse to testify about a sexual assault examination conducted by another SART nurse; (10) the court violated his right to confront adverse witnesses by admitting the preliminary hearing testimony of the non-homicide sexual assault victim; (11) the court erred by refusing to advise the jury that the non-homicide sexual assault victim refused to attend the trial; and (12) reversal is required because of the cumulative nature of the errors.


Prosecution's Case

In January 2008, Dane Williams, 23, started working for Hurley International, a clothing company based in Orange County. By all accounts, Williams was heterosexual. The company was taking part in an industry trade convention in San Diego toward the end of the month. Williams drove a company bus to San Diego on the Wednesday before the convention was to start. On the night of January 25, a Friday, Williams went to nightclubs/bars with his friends and co-workers in the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego. Brandon Guilmette, who was a long-time friend of Williams and a Hurley co-worker, left the group at 1:00 a.m. to return to the Marriott Hotel. According to Guilmette, Williams had several cocktails, but was "pretty put together still." Others in the group also said that Williams appeared in control of himself at that time despite his drinking.

However, about an hour later, a Hurley senior designer saw Williams in front of the Marriott Hotel and he appeared "discombobulated" or "[d]efinitely intoxicated." About 2:20 a.m., a woman saw Williams, who was alone and swaying, in front of the hotel. The woman, who did not know Williams, said he appeared to be "drugged"; he was unbalanced and fell face down. When the woman attempted to assist him, Williams stood up, leaned against a wall, and then staggered off. The woman said Williams was unable to speak.

Williams did not return to his hotel room and did not show up for work the next day.

Williams's body, which was lying face down and rolled in a blanket, was found in an alley in the Mid-City area on Tuesday, January 29, at about 6:30 a.m. Williams was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing the night he disappeared, but his underwear and his watch were missing. Also, a beanie cap was on top of Williams's head; Williams had not been wearing the beanie cap the night he disappeared.

Semen belonging to someone other than Williams was found on his shirt. Dog hairs were on the blanket that was wrapped around Williams's body. A hair found on Williams's shoe was not his. Carpet fibers were on Williams's clothing. Police saw tire tracks from a van next to the body.

On January 30, Deputy Medical Examiner Othon Mena, M.D., performed an autopsy on Williams. Williams had been dead for one to three days before his body was found. The autopsy revealed lividity in Williams's upper chest area, and a "significant" amount of blood and fluid in Williams's lungs and airways. Williams's lungs were congested and weighed twice their normal weight, which can suggest cardiac death or death from asphyxiation. However, there was no evidence of strangulation, no physical signs of asphyxiation and no evidence of a cardiac event. The autopsy also disclosed a 60 percent blockage of one of the main arteries leading to Williams's heart, but Dr. Mena opined that this narrowing alone was not the cause of Williams's death. There was no trauma to Williams's anus or rectum. Toxicology tests results showed a blood alcohol level of between 0.17 percent and 0.21 percent. Williams's blood also contained a therapeutic level (0.36 mg/L) of diazepam, a benzodiazepine drug.*fn3 Trace amounts of diazepam were also found in Williams's gastric contents. According to Mena, the levels of alcohol and diazepam were insufficient to have caused Williams's death, but played a role in the death. (See fn. 2, ante.)*fn4

Dr. Mena could not determine the cause or manner of Williams's death and listed them as "undetermined" in his autopsy report.*fn5 At trial, Mena opined the most likely cause of death was asphyxiation by a person or from the position Williams was in.

Williams's death remained unresolved for 18 months.

On Saturday, June 6, 2009, Jeremiah R., a heterosexual Navy corpsman who was recently assigned to Camp Pendleton, visited downtown San Diego.*fn6 While walking around the Gaslamp District, Jeremiah encountered Huynh, who asked for a cigarette and introduced himself as "Phil." Huynh asked Jeremiah if he wanted to go to "strip clubs" and offered to pay for a lap dance, but Jeremiah declined. When Huynh mentioned he had a rental car and asked if Jeremiah wanted to go somewhere else, the corpsman said he wanted to see the local beaches. Before arriving at Ocean Beach, Huynh bought two pint-size bottles of cognac at a liquor store. Jeremiah consumed a pint of cognac while at Ocean Beach. Huynh told Jeremiah that he had recently moved to San Diego after a divorce. Jeremiah assumed Huynh was a heterosexual by the way he acted.

When Jeremiah mentioned he had a headache, Huynh gave him one or two pills from a Tylenol bottle, which was inside the car. Huynh then drove to Mission Beach with Jeremiah. Other than playing basketball at Mission Beach, Jeremiah's recollection of the rest of the night was hazy. He remembered he felt intoxicated, but did not think it was from the cognac.

Jeremiah agreed to go to Mexico with Huynh, but had no recollection of going to Mexico. Jeremiah believed he went to Mexico because a photo in his cell phone showed him standing under a "Mexico" sign on the Mexican side of the border.

Jeremiah remembered going to Huynh's residence, where he watched television in the living room before "crash[ing]" on the bed in Huynh's bedroom; Jeremiah was fully clothed. When Huynh tried to wake him up, Jeremiah said he wanted to go back to sleep. At the time, Jeremiah also heard Huynh talking to someone else.

The next day--Sunday, June 7--Jeremiah was back at Camp Pendleton, but he did not recall how he arrived there, other than being on a bus and hitting his nose when the bus driver made a quick stop. Jeremiah was missing his underwear and his pocket knife. Jeremiah felt "strange" and disoriented, and he was slurring his words. A supervising corpsman took Jeremiah to the emergency room on the base. The emergency room doctor ordered a drug screen, which came back positive for benzodiazepine. Because he was concerned that Jeremiah might have been drugged by someone, the doctor told the nursing staff to contact the San Diego Police Department.

On June 8, Jeremiah underwent a SART examination, which showed (1) his anus had abrasions and lacerations, including two open wounds, and (2) the end of the anal canal was red, which is not normal, and swollen, which indicated trauma to the rectum. The SART nurse flossed Jeremiah's teeth and took swabs from his mouth, anus, rectum, penis and scrotum; these were provided to the police, along with Jeremiah's blood and urine samples.

A police forensic analyst ascertained that the scrotal, anal and rectal swabs, as well as dental floss from Jeremiah's mouth, contained semen that did not belong to Jeremiah. Based on the semen, a DNA analyst generated a DNA profile, which was placed in a law enforcement database. This DNA profile matched the foreign DNA profile of the semen found on Williams's shirt 18 months earlier.

The level of clonazepam in Jeremiah's blood was 33 nanograms per milliliter. A therapeutic blood level of clonazepam is between 16 and 30 nanograms per milliliter. However, the metabolite (breakdown) of clonazepam was 128 nanograms per milliliter. Therefore, if Jeremiah had ingested the drug around midnight of June 6, the blood level of the drug would have been about twice the level that was detected--an amount substantially in excess of a high therapeutic dose.

Police used Jeremiah's cell phone records to track down Huynh. Jeremiah selected Huynh from a six-pack photographic lineup.

On September 10, police stopped and arrested Huynh as he was driving an Infiniti that was registered to him. Police found prescriptions and receipts from Mexico for Rivotril (see fn. 2, ante) in Huynh's wallet and a pill crusher in a bag on the floor of the vehicle. Inside the side pocket of the driver's side door there were two prescription bottles of Viagra and one prescription bottle of Ambien.

Police also searched the car of Huynh's mother, a Subaru, which Huynh had been driving earlier that day. Police found Huynh's paystubs, mail, receipts for diazepam and Abilify prescriptions, four Mexican pharmacy receipts and prescriptions for Rivotril, which were purchased between March and October 2008. Also in the Subaru were bank statements, including one showing a September 2008 withdrawal of money in Tijuana, and rental documents of a Dodge minivan from Enterprise-Rent-A-Car dated January 28, 2008. Police also found a list of pornographic movie titles, including "Straight Buddy Seduction," "Straight Meat, Hung and Full of Cum," and "Straight Buddy Sex."

Police searched the residence at 5360 1/2 Wightman Street, where Huynh and his mother lived. In Huynh's bedroom, police found a book about homosexuality in the military and homosexuals who are interested in men in the military. Also in the bedroom was a lock box, which contained two watches that did not belong to Huynh. In the kitchen, police also found 12 empty prescription bottles in Huynh's name for, among other drugs, Viagra, Levitra, clonazepam, and diazepam. The prescription bottle for diazepam indicated the prescription was filled on January 25, 2008.

An FBI forensic computer expert examined a computer which police confiscated from the Huynh residence. The expert found a Yahoo user profile that had been set up as "I like str8 guys 2." The expert also found numerous Craigslist postings from "Ph" using various e-mail addresses including "" One post read: "I work down at Adelita's. I like masculine guys. Come to TJ and see me some time. The beer is on me." The expert also found a response to a Craigslist posting about Tijuana in which "Phil" using an e-mail address of "," wrote he would "pay for everything, clubs, titty bars." Some of the e-mails included photographs of Huynh. In one of these photographs, there was a blanket similar to the one in which Williams's body was wrapped.

Police also found documents in the residence, which indicated that Huynh attended the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine for two years. Among the classes Huynh took there was a course in pharmacology, which included the study of the benzodiazepine class of drugs. The chairman of the pharmacology department at the college testified that students in the course learned that benzodiazepines can create an "amnesia-like" state and can lead to unconsciousness and loss of any ability to resist. Additionally, the pharmacology students learned that if alcohol is ingested as well, these effects are intensified.

After Huynh was arrested, police took a DNA swab from his mouth. The DNA was profiled and compared to the DNA evidence collected from Williams and Jeremiah.

Huynh's DNA semen was found on the sperm fraction of the DNA on Williams's shirt. The probability of someone at random matching that profile is one in 990 quintillion Caucasians, one in 4.5 sextillion African-Americans and one in 6.6 sextillion Hispanics.*fn7 Huynh's DNA was found on the beanie cap. The probability of someone at random matching that profile is one in 19 million Caucasians, one in 120 million African-Americans and one in 110 million Hispanics. The DNA profile from a hair found on Williams's shoe matched the DNA profile of Huynh's mother. DNA analysis also showed that hairs found on the blanket which was wrapped around Williams's body belonged to Huynh's dog. The probability of a random dog's DNA matching the DNA from the dog hairs on the blanket is one in 2.4 trillion. Fibers found on Williams's clothing matched the fibers of the carpet located in Huynh's residence.

Tire tracks found next to Williams's body matched the tires, wheel base and front wheel drive system of the Dodge minivan that Huynh had rented on the day before Williams's body was found. Fibers found on Williams's clothes matched the carpet fibers of the van that Huynh had rented.

Huynh's DNA was found in the sperm fraction of the DNA collected from Jeremiah's penis, scrotum and anus. The probability of someone at random matching that profile is one in 990 quintillion Caucasians, one in 4.5 sextillion African-Americans and one in 6.6 sextillion Hispanics, with a slightly lower figure for Asians.

In 2006, an adult video company hired Huynh to perform computer work for the company. Huynh told one of the company's owners that he liked "[y]oung, straight" men and wanted to have anal sex with them. Huynh also said he picked up young heterosexual men, many of whom were in the military, offered to buy them drinks and prostitutes in Tijuana, took them to a Tijuana bar to get them drunk, slipped pills into their drinks, brought them to a hotel and had sex with them when they passed out.

In January 2011, representatives of the San Diego County District Attorney flew to Chicago to interview Ryan R. in connection with the Huynh case. Ryan, a San Diego native, had relocated to Chicago in 2009. In 2007, Ryan, then 19 years old and a recent high school graduate, worked as a video editor for the same company that employed Huynh. The company also paid Ryan to be filmed masturbating. Ryan and Huynh often had lunch together, and Ryan believed Huynh to be a heterosexual like himself. Huynh frequently invited Ryan to accompany him to Mexico and offered to pay for drinks and girls. The two owners of the video company had warned Ryan that Huynh liked to take young men to Tijuana, where he would get them drunk, "slip" them drugs and then sexually assault them. But Ryan did not believe the owners. One night Ryan phoned Huynh because he was bored. Huynh suggested they go to a "titty bar" in Tijuana, and Huynh took Ryan to a strip bar called "Purple Rain." Huynh bought Ryan three or four beers and suggested they rent a hotel room to use as their "home base." Once in the hotel room, Huynh placed a pill in a bottle of water and offered it to Ryan, who at first declined to drink from the bottle. Because Ryan had "a guard up," he asked Huynh to drink from the bottle first. Ryan could not remember the rest of the evening. He woke up the next morning face down on a hotel bed with his shirt off and his pants undone. Ryan felt "hung over," but not like one would feel from drinking too much alcohol. He also felt like he had been sodomized. Ryan looked for Huynh, but could not find him.

Also, after Huynh's arrest was reported in news media, three other young men, all heterosexual, contacted police about their experiences with Huynh.

In April 2008, Maksim I. was clubbing in downtown San Diego with his wife and a friend. While his wife and friend were waiting in a line to get into a nightclub, Maksim walked to a nearby store, where Huynh approached him, and the two talked. Maksim returned to his wife and friend at the club. After his wife left with her friends, Maksim and his friend went to another bar. Huynh was at this bar. When the bar closed, Maksim and his friend went outside, where they saw Huynh. The three of them started talking about Mexico and Huynh's offer to pay for the "girls." Maksim and his friend agreed to go with Huynh and the three went to Adelitas in Tijuana. Maksim's friend was feeling ill and decided to go home. After Maksim drank two beers, he and Huynh went to a hotel room. Waiting in the hotel room for girls to arrive, Maksim said he was thirsty and Huynh gave him a Sprite soft drink. Maksim's next memory was waking up in the hotel room at 4:00 p.m. the next day; the door to the room was open. Maksim's debit card and watch were missing. At trial, Maksim testified he felt numb, disoriented and confused. Maksim also identified one of the watches from the box in Huynh's residence as the one he had been wearing that night.

On May 24, 2009, Fernando P., a 21-year-old sailor in the Navy, was drinking rum in the Gaslamp District when Huynh approached and started a conversation. Huynh told Fernando he was divorced and was going to go to strip clubs in Tijuana. Huynh invited Fernando to accompany him and offered to pay for drinks and strippers. Fernando, who thought Huynh was interested in women, accepted the invitation. At Adelitas, Huynh bought beers. Fernando soon began to feel strange and when he mentioned this, Huynh said it was time to go to the hotel room because the girls were on the way. Huynh repeatedly told Fernando to take a Viagra pill, and in the hotel room Huynh attempted to force Fernando to do so. Fernando felt dizzy, weak and nauseated, but pushed Huynh away and ran out of the hotel room. He ran until he fell into a ditch. Fernando spent two days in a hospital in a coma; he had arrived at the hospital shirtless.

On Friday, August 21, 2009, David G., a 25-year-old college student who lived in downtown San Diego, was drunk when he went looking for some late-night food. Huynh walked up to David and said, "Hey, what's up?" Huynh also said he wanted to go to Mexico and invited David to accompany him, saying he would pay for everything. David agreed. At Adelitas in Tijuana, Huynh said he wanted Ecstasy and Viagra, but David said he did not take drugs. At one point, Huynh went to the bar and returned with an open beer bottle for David. Huynh then said he had a room and "girls" would "come over." After walking out of Adelitas, David blacked out. He awoke the next day in a hotel room. The door was ajar and David was fully clothed, but had scratches on his arm and shoulder. David felt horrible, dizzy and confused. At trial, David identified one of the watches that police found in the box in Huynh's residence as the watch he had been wearing on the night he met Huynh.

Defense Case

About 2:00 a.m. on January 26, 2008, a co-worker encountered Williams near the Marriott Hotel. Williams, who was "pretty out of it," suggested they " 'do something.' " The co-worker was tired and went to his hotel.

The defense also presented evidence that Williams's body was left in the alley between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on January 28, 2008.

Roger Miller, a DNA expert, testified the eight sperm cells found in Williams's anal swab were not significant because there was insufficient genetic material to perform DNA testing. Miller also said the sperms cells could belong to Williams because sperm is easily transferred. Miller added he would expect to find sperm cells in 100 percent of men's underwear. Miller also discounted the notion that the sperm found in Williams's anus belonged to Huynh simply because Huynh's sperm was found on Williams's shirt.

Although sperm was found on David G.'s shirt, the DNA profile obtained from the sperm matched David's own DNA profile and excluded Huynh.

A physician from Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista testified that when Fernando P. was brought to the hospital, his blood alcohol level was 0.23. Fernando P. was so intoxicated he had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator. A toxicology screen did not reveal any drugs in his system.

The defense also presented the testimony of three pathology experts, which will be discussed below. (See fn. 4, ante.)


I. Sufficient Showing of Criminal Agency

Huynh contends his murder conviction must be reversed because there is insufficient proof of death by criminal agency. The contention is without merit.

Because Huynh's contention is based on conflicting medical evidence presented at trial, we begin by relating the medical testimony in more detail.

In responding to hypothetical questions by the prosecution, Dr. Mena said that a penis placed in a person's mouth could make it more difficult to breathe and could cause that person's death if he or she had a 0.17 percent blood alcohol and had ingested benzodiazepine as well.*fn8 Mena also testified that if he had known that Huynh gave Williams benzodiazepine and sexually assaulted Williams, he would have changed the cause of death to "sudden death during or around the time of sexual assault while intoxicated" and change the manner of death to homicide.

In addition to Dr. Mena's testimony, the prosecution presented the expert testimony of Jonathan Benumof, M.D., an anesthesiologist and cardiovascular specialist who opined the cause of Williams's death was an "external obstruction to breathing."*fn9 Pointing to the excessive post-mortem weight of Williams's lungs, Dr. Benumof concluded there was a "complete" obstruction to breathing, which had caused "negative pressure pulmonary blood and edema." Benumof also opined the combination of alcohol and diazepam contributed to Williams's death by "hamper[ing] any effective opposition [Williams] would have mounted" against the external obstruction to his ...

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