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People v. Sanchez

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

December 11, 2014

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
GENE SANCHEZ et al., Defendants and Appellants.

[REVIEW GRANTED BY CAL. SUPREME COURT]

Santa Clara County Superior Court No. 211268 Hon. Arthur Bocanegra Judge.

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COUNSEL

Kamala D. Harris Attorney General Dane R. Gillette Chief Assistant Attorney General Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Rene A. Chacon and Nanette Winaker Deputy Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Law Offices of John P. Dwyer and John P. Dwyer for Defendant and Appellant Gene Sanchez.

Kyle Gee, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant: Samuel Castro.

David D. Martin, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant Michael Espana.

J. Frank McCabe, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant Orlando Rojas.

OPINION

Premo, J.

This appeal follows a months-long trial of four defendants on 13 counts, including conspiracy to commit murder, murder, and attempted

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murder. All of the charges were based on a series of shootings that allegedly were carried out in retaliation for the killing of a member of the El Hoyo Palmas gang by a member of a rival Sureño gang. The defendants—Gene Sanchez, Orlando Rojas, Michael Espana, and Samuel Castro—were convicted of all counts against them. The jury also found true all of the special allegations, which included gang allegations, firearm allegations, multiple-murder allegations, and a robbery special circumstance allegation.

On appeal, each defendant raises or joins in numerous claims of error, including violations of the constitutional right to confrontation, erroneous evidentiary rulings, insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdicts, and instructional error. They also assert cumulative prejudice rendering the trial unfair.

We affirm defendant Sanchez’s judgment of conviction. We reverse defendant Rojas’s judgment of conviction for resentencing. We affirm defendant Espana’s judgment of conviction. We reverse defendant Castro’s judgment of conviction with directions and for resentencing.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. El Hoyo Palmas and Affiliated Gangs

Over defendants’ objections, John Mendoza testified as an expert in the area of Nuestra Familia, Nuestra Raza, and Norteño criminal street gangs. Mendoza, a former member of the Nuestra Raza and Nuestra Familia gangs, testified in exchange for a reduction in his sentence. According to Mendoza, Norteños (or Northerners) are members of street gangs that identify with Northern California. Nuestra Familia began as a prison gang and is at the top of the Norteño gang hierarchy. Nuestra Raza, also a prison gang, is subordinate to Nuestra Familia. Norteño street gangs, including El Hoyo Palmas (Palmas), fall under the Nuestra Familia umbrella. In prison, all Northerners report to Nuestra Familia. Mendoza testified that gang members gain respect by committing acts of violence, which they may brag about in custody. Sureños, or Southerners, and Norteños are rivals. Norteños refer to Sureños as “scraps, ” and “scrap hunting” refers to going out to attack or kill Sureños.

Evidence was presented that defendants were Palmas members. For example, witnesses identified photographs in which defendants could be seen in front of Palmas graffiti, wearing clothing associated with the gang, or making gang signs. Police searches also found clothing associated with Palmas in defendants’ possession. As discussed further below, San Jose Police Department Detective Anthony Kilmer testified over defendants’ objection as an expert on Norteño street gangs and Palmas in particular. He opined that all of

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the defendants were members of Palmas based on their tattoos, items found at their homes and on their computers, and/or police reports documenting their prior contact with law enforcement. Defendants did not dispute their gang membership at trial.

In addition to Mendoza, three other former gang members testified as part of plea bargains. Vince Tirri, a former Nuestra Raza member, testified as part of a plea deal that reduced his exposure from life to a range of seven to 19 years. As discussed in detail below, Tirri testified to several incriminating statements Espana made about the charged offenses while he and Tirri were in custody together. Tirri also testified to his impression that Sanchez, whom he met while neither was incarcerated, was a leader and influential member of Palmas who felt responsible for younger gang members.

Hector Delreal, a member of Palmas who was involved in some of the charged offenses, also testified as part of a plea deal. His testimony implicating defendants is discussed below.

Joseph Abeyta, a former member of both Nuestra Raza and Palmas, testified to incriminating statements Espana made about the charged offenses while in custody. Specifically, he testified that Espana was being teased for being a virgin and another inmate and Norteño joked, “Yeah, ... he’s a virgin with hot ones under his belt, ” which Abeyta interpreted to mean Espana had committed murders. According to Abeyta, Espana did not deny the suggestion that he was a murderer. On cross-examination, Abeyta acknowledged that Espana could not have contradicted the inmate who made the “hot ones” comment due to their relative rank in the Norteño hierarchy. Espana objected to the admission of Abeyta’s description of the conversation on hearsay grounds. The court ruled the testimony was admissible as an adoptive admission.

B. Firearms Evidence

Police recovered three firearms, each of which was used in one or more of the charged offenses, which are described in detail below.

On March 1, 2007, police seized a.25-caliber pistol during a probation search of a residence. Delreal testified that another Palmas member left the gun in his car on February 28, 2007. As discussed below, that firearm was used in the shootings on Richmond Avenue (count 2), Hamilton Avenue (counts 3 & 4), and Waverly Avenue (counts 7 & 8).

On March 17, 2007, an officer investigating a loud party saw Castro, Espana, and a third man standing near a minivan. The officer seized a.357

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revolver that he saw underneath the front tire of the minivan. The gun did not belong to the owner of the residence and minivan. That firearm was used in the Hamilton Avenue shooting (counts 3 & 4).

Castro, Espana, and Rojas were arrested on March 30, 2007. After Rojas, who fled from police, was apprehended, an officer located a nine-millimeter Smith & Wesson pistol along the path Rojas had taken when he fled. That firearm was used in the shootings on Waverly Avenue (counts 7 & 8), San Tomas Aquino Parkway (counts 9 & 10), Poco Way (counts 11, 12, & 13), Virginia Avenue (count 14), and Giusti Drive (count 15).

C. Murder of Palmas Member Cesar Gonzalez

Early on the morning of December 3, 2006, Cesar Gonzalez was shot and killed by, police suspect, a Sureño gang member. According to Detective Kilmer, Gonzalez was a member of Palmas. Delreal testified that there was an emergency meeting of Palmas members at defendant Sanchez’s house on the evening of December 3, 2006. That meeting was attended by defendants Castro and Rojas, Pete Washington, possibly defendant Espana, and others. According to Delreal, Sanchez asked who was willing to “go do stuff, ” which Delreal interpreted to mean shoot Sureños in retaliation. Delreal testified that he, Castro, Rojas, and others volunteered. Following the meeting, Castro and Delreal met at a gas station where Castro told Delreal to go to the east side of San Jose and said he would go to the west side.

D. December 3, 2006 Shootings

1. McCreery Avenue Shooting

Delreal testified that on the evening of December 3, 2006, following the meeting at Sanchez’s house and his discussion with Castro, he and two other Palmas members went to McCreery Avenue on the east side of San Jose looking for Sureños. They shot at a group of men, hitting Jesus Ayala, a Sureño gang member.

2. Richmond Avenue Shooting

Meanwhile, according to Delreal, Castro went to the west side of San Jose in his Toyota Tacoma truck. Castro drove a green Toyota extended cab pickup that, according to an officer who conducted surveillance on Castro, looked darker and more blue in color in certain light.

Ivan Sandoval, a Sureño gang member, was shot outside an apartment complex on Richmond Avenue on the evening of December 3, 2006. Sandoval

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testified that the shooter was in a black or grayish truck. One of the individuals in the truck, who Sandoval identified as Washington, asked Sandoval if he was a Sureño by saying, “Sureño rifa; right?” Sandoval responded that he was and Washington began shooting. Sandoval testified that he knew Washington from juvenile hall.

Witness Shareen Nassarllah testified that the shooter was in the passenger seat of a passing truck. The shooter asked Sandoval, “Sur trece, que no?” Sandoval answered, “Yeah, ” indicating he was a Sureño, and was shot. Venancio Escobar, who also was shot in the incident, testified that the shots came from a dark green pickup truck. Another witness, Tony Guillen, testified that the shooter was in a greenish four-door truck. The officer who responded to the shooting testified that, on his way to the scene, he passed a dark green Toyota pickup truck.

A criminalist from the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory testified that he analyzed casings found at the scene of the Richmond shooting and determined that they were fired by the.25-caliber pistol recovered by police on March 1, 2007. Delreal testified that he had seen Castro with that gun a couple of months before it was left in his vehicle in February 2007.

Castro was charged with attempted murder (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 664, subd. (a), count 2)[1] of Sandoval.

E. December 14, 2006 Hamilton Avenue Shooting

Juan Perez testified that he and several other men were outside his Hamilton Avenue home at about 9:30 p.m. on December 14, 2006, when two people with hoods over their heads approached and asked if the men were Sureños. Perez answered that they were not and the hooded men then shot, killing Luis Medina and injuring Juan Payan. On April 12, 2007, Perez picked Washington out of a photo lineup as one of the shooters.

Fernando Reyes, who lived near the scene of the shooting, testified that after hearing gunshots he saw three men run away from Hamilton and get in a light blue pickup truck, which he believed to be a Nissan king cab. Reyes testified that a picture of Castro’s truck looked “more or less similar to the one” he saw, but he noted differences in the wheel rims and windows.

Delreal testified that while he and Castro were cellmates in jail, Castro admitted that he was present at the Hamilton Avenue shooting and “just... drove.” Delreal testified that Rojas also discussed a shooting on Hamilton while in custody. According to Delreal, Rojas said that he approached a group

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of Sureños and shot at them with a nine-millimeter pistol and that two people were shot, one of whom died.

Jeremy Rosario, Washington’s roommate and close friend, testified that Washington—who died on February 27, 2007—was a member of Palmas. Rosario testified that Washington said he was involved in a shooting near Hamilton and that Castro was there as well.

A criminalist from the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory testified that he analyzed casings found at the scene of the Hamilton Avenue shooting and determined that they were fired by the.25-caliber pistol recovered by police on March 1, 2007 and the.357-revolver recovered by police on March 17, 2007.

Castro was charged with the murder of Medina (§ 187, count 3) and the attempted murder of Payan (§§ 187, 664, subd. (a), count 4).[2]

F. January 20, 2007 Waverly Avenue Party Shooting

There was a party on Waverly Avenue, which is in a Norteño neighborhood, on January 20, 2007. Both Sureños and Norteños attended the party. A fight ensued. Shots were fired from the front of the house and Jose Romero and Marcos Lomeli, a Sureño gang member, were wounded.

Manuel Amaya, a Sureño, testified that he arrived at the party with other Sureños. Because he was dressed like a Sureño, a number of Norteños standing in the front yard called him a scrap. Some individuals said “Norte Palmas” and told Amaya and his friends to leave, but they did not. Later, someone asked Amaya if he was a scrap. He answered he was a Sureño and the man hit him in the face with a beer bottle. Amaya identified a member of Palmas as the man who hit him. Shortly thereafter, the lights went out and there was shooting. Amaya did not recognize any of the defendants as having attended the party.

Jose Cervantes, another Sureño who attended the Waverly party, testified that he heard people at the party yelling “Norte” and “Palmas.”

Partygoer Janet Ayala was interviewed by police in April 2007. At that time, Ayala picked Sanchez, Espana, and Castro out of photo lineups and indicated they were at the Waverly Avenue party. She also told the officer that she thought Castro had said “Why is there a scrap party being thrown in my

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hood?” On cross-examination, Ayala said she never personally heard anyone say “Why is there a scrap party being thrown in my hood, ” but heard from others that someone said that. She also indicated that she was never positive that the men she identified were at the party, but only thought they looked a little bit like people she saw there.

In April 2007, another partygoer, Sergio Crisostomo, identified Castro in a photographic lineup as having been at the party.

Yesenia Ramirez, who also attended the Waverly party, testified that the gunshots came from a vehicle, but said she could not describe it. On the night of the shooting, however, she told police that the shots were coming from two vehicles, one of which she described as a dark blue or dark green pickup truck.

Delreal testified that Rojas told him that he, Espana, and Castro were at the party on Waverly Avenue. Rojas told Delreal that, upon seeing Sureños, they left to get their guns and came back and shot into the party. Rojas admitted to Delreal that he was one of the shooters. Delreal further testified that he lived just down the street from the location of the Waverly shooting. On the night of the shooting, Castro called Delreal and said “some stuff happened by your house.” Shortly thereafter, Castro, Espana, Rojas, and another Palmas member arrived at Delreal’s house and dropped off some hats with the letter “P” on them, which are associated with the Palmas gang.

A criminalist from the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory testified that he analyzed casings found at the scene of the Waverly shooting and determined that they had been fired by the nine-millimeter Smith & Wesson pistol recovered by police on March 30, 2007 and the.25-caliber pistol recovered by police on March 1, 2007.

Castro was charged with the attempted murder of Lomeli and Romero (§§ 187, 664, subd. (a), counts 7 & 8).

G. January 27, 2007 San Tomas Aquino Parkway Shooting

Josafat Hernandez testified that on the night of January 27, 2007, he met two friends outside his apartment on San Tomas Aquino Parkway. One of the friends, Rigoberto Gonzalez (Rigoberto), got out of the car so that Hernandez could get into the backseat. Two men approached Rigoberto while he was standing outside the car and asked in Spanish what neighborhood he belonged to. Rigoberto answered: “I do not belong to a neighborhood” and was shot to death. Hernandez was shot in the leg. Hernandez testified that he recognized Espana “a little bit.”

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Alfonso Flores, who lived on San Tomas Aquino Parkway at the time of the shooting, testified that on January 27, 2007, he heard what sounded like firecrackers and screeching tires. He looked out the window and saw a dark-colored, extended-cab truck with its lights off backing up. When shown a picture of Castro’s truck at trial, Flores said it looked like the truck he saw the night of the shooting.

Delreal testified that Rojas told him that he, Espana, and Washington were involved in a shooting near San Tomas Aquino Parkway. Rojas told Delreal that Washington approached an individual who was getting out of a car, asked if he was a Sureño, and then shot the individual. Rojas shot the man after he was on the ground and Espana drove them away in Castro’s truck. Castro was not there because he was with his girlfriend.

Jeremy Rosario testified that Washington said he shot someone at San Tomas Aquino Parkway ...


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