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People v. Espinosa

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

September 25, 2014

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
ESTEVAN HARO ESPINOSA, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. TA122476 Pat Connolly, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

Jackie Lacey, District Attorney, Roberta T. Schwartz and Carolyn Nakaki, Deputy District Attorneys, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

J. Kahn, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Respondent.

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OPINION

ALDRICH, J.

Plaintiff and appellant the People of the State of California appeal from the trial court’s order reducing defendant and respondent Estevan Haro Espinosa’s first degree murder conviction to second degree murder, and resentencing him to a lower term. They contend: (1) the court lacked jurisdiction to modify the judgment; and (2) even if the court retained jurisdiction, modification of the judgment was improper because sufficient evidence supported the jury’s first degree murder verdict and sentence for that crime did not constitute cruel or unusual punishment. Because the People’s first contention is dispositive, we reinstate the jury’s first degree murder verdict and the original sentence.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. Facts

In light of the issues presented on appeal, we summarize the evidence adduced at trial.

a. People’s evidence

The victim, Delmirio Lopez, was the boyfriend of appellant Espinosa’s mother, Ebelia Haro, and they had lived together for approximately eight years. In March 2012 Lopez, Haro, appellant Espinosa, Espinosa’s younger brother, 18-year-old Asahel, and his younger sister, 16-year-old D., had recently moved to a small apartment. D. and Asahel slept in one bedroom; Lopez and Haro slept in another; and Espinosa slept on the living room couch.[1] Lopez was the “breadwinner” for the family, paying for rent, food, clothing, and other necessities.

On March 17, 2012, Lopez, Haro, Lopez’s friend Roberto Ramirez Cortez, and Espinosa went out to dinner at approximately 11:00 p.m. Lopez, Haro, and Cortez had been drinking beer for several hours, and had more at the restaurant. After dinner the group went back to the apartment. Haro, Lopez, and Cortez drank more beer.

Cortez testified[2] that at approximately midnight, he and Lopez went into the bedroom Lopez and Haro shared to turn on some music. Espinosa followed them. Lopez angrily asked why Espinosa did not have a job. Cortez

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returned to the living room, where he and Haro continued drinking. Five minutes later Lopez exited the bedroom and began cutting lemons in the kitchen. Five minutes after that, Espinosa, who had put on a sweatshirt, emerged from the bedroom and approached Lopez. Espinosa pulled out an ice pick, pulled Lopez toward him, and stabbed Lopez repeatedly. Lopez fell to the ground. Espinosa fled from the apartment. Cortez did not see a weapon in Lopez’s hands when Espinosa attacked.

Lopez died of his injuries several hours later. He had suffered 17 stab wounds to his torso, neck, and head, ranging from five inches to less than an inch in depth. These included five fatal wounds: two to his back that perforated his aorta; one to his left chest that perforated his heart; and two to his head that penetrated his brain. The wounds were made by two different stabbing instruments: a knife, and an object similar to an ice pick. The fatal wounds to Lopez’s head were made with “pretty strong force.”

Espinosa turned himself in at a sheriff’s station at approximately 6:00 a.m. that morning. In a videotaped interview conducted by detectives, Espinosa stated that just before the stabbing Lopez had entered D.’s bedroom and tried to take her photograph; Espinosa told him not to; and Lopez smirked and stated the photo was for his phone’s “caller ID.” Espinosa did not believe Lopez and thought the picture was “something sexual in nature.” Espinosa followed Lopez to the living room and demanded he not take pictures of his sister. Lopez pushed Espinosa and threatened to knock him out or beat him up. Haro tried to separate the men. Lopez pushed Espinosa again. Espinosa thought ...


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