Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

People v. Vega-Robles

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

May 5, 2015

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
JOSE VEGA-ROBLES, Defendant and Appellant.



[As modified May 7, 2015]

Contra Costa County Super. Ct. No. 05-080176-1, Hon. Brian Haynes, Judge.

Page 555

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 556

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 557


Joseph Shipp, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey M. Laurence and Christopher W. Grove, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.




A jury convicted Jose Vega-Robles of conspiracy to sell controlled substances, attempted robbery, and two first degree murders, and found true gang and firearm enhancements. In People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155 [172 Cal.Rptr.3d 438, 325 P.3d 972] (Chiu) our Supreme Court held “an aider and abettor may not be convicted of first degree premeditated murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine.” (Id. at pp. 158–159.) Because we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt which theory of liability the jury used to convict defendant of Darrell Grockett’s murder, we reverse his conviction for Chiu error. On remand, the People may either accept a reduction of defendant’s conviction to second degree murder or retry the first degree murder charge under theories other than natural and probable consequences. (Id. at p. 168.) We reject defendant’s other appellate challenges to the judgment.


In 2008, the Contra Costa County District Attorney filed an indictment charging defendant and four others with conspiracy to sell narcotic and non-narcotic

Page 558

controlled substances in violation of Health and Safety Code sections 11352 and 11378, from January 1, 2004 until November 30, 2005. (Pen. Code, § 182, subd. (a)(1)); count 1.)[1] The indictment alleged 19 overt acts under count 1. Overt act Nos. 1 and 2 alleged the sale of methamphetamine by defendants to Robert Lott and by Lott to Tara Sander in 2004. Overt act Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6 alleged a plan between defendants and Coby Phillips to kill Darrell Grockett on October 7, 2004. Overt acts Nos. 7 through 15 alleged a plan between defendants and Ricardo Ruiz to kill Marcelino Guzman-Mercado on December 3, 2004. Overt act No. 16 alleged the burglary of Guzman-Mercado’s residence by defendant and two other codefendants. Overt acts Nos. 17 through 19 involved the nonfatal shooting of Jose Hernandez on February 21, 2005 by defendant with the assistance of Thomas Covey.

The indictment also alleged the conspiracy described in count 1 was committed to benefit two criminal street gangs, Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM) and Sureños. (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1).)

In addition, the indictment alleged two counts of murder (§ 187, subd. (a); counts 2 [Grockett] & 3 [Guzman-Mercado]), attempted robbery (§§ 211/212.5/664; count 4), residential burglary (§ 459; count 5), grand theft (§ 487, subd. (a); count 6), and attempted first degree murder (§§ 187, subd. (a)/664; count 7 [Hernandez]). The indictment alleged counts 2 through 6 were committed to benefit the FAIM and Sureños criminal street gangs. (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1)) And, in connection with counts 2, 3, and 7, it alleged a principal intentionally used and discharged a firearm causing death or great bodily injury for the benefit of the Sureños and FAIM street gangs. (§ 12022.53, subds. (b), (c), (d) & (e)(1)).

On March 26, 2012, the court granted defendant’s motion to sever count 7, the attempted murder charge. The overt acts related to that count were not severed.

On June 8, 2012, the jury convicted defendant of counts 1 through 4 (conspiracy, murders of Grockett and Guzman-Mercado, and attempted robbery of Guzman-Mercado), and found both murders to be of the first degree. The jury found true the allegations that defendant committed (1) the conspiracy for the benefit of the Sureños and FAIM gangs, (2) the Grockett murder for the benefit of the FAIM gang, and (3) the robbery and murder of Guzman-Mercado for the benefit of the Sureños gang.

With respect to the firearm allegations, the jury found true that a principal party intentionally discharged a firearm during the Grockett murder and that

Page 559

the offense was committed for the benefit of the FAIM gang. The jury found the cognate allegation not true with respect to the Guzman-Mercado murder and the Sureños gang, but did find true the allegation a principal party used a firearm and committed the offense for the benefit of an unspecified criminal street gang.

The jury acquitted defendant of counts 5 and 6, residential burglary and grand theft, respectively.

The court sentenced defendant to an indeterminate prison term of 85 years to life. Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal.


I. Prosecution Evidence.

A. Defendant’s drug trafficking operations.

In 2004, Ricardo Ruiz lived in the Richmond/San Pablo area and knew Juan Delatorre, defendant’s cousin, Primo, his brother, Sergio, and the brothers Rudolfo and Alejandro Figueroa. Before and during 2004, Ruiz was affiliated with Richmond Sur Trece (RST), a Sureño gang. Delatorre was also involved in RST, and Rudolfo Figueroa was affiliated with it to the same extent Ruiz was. Ruiz believed Alejandro and Rudolfo Figueroa were also affiliated with the Sureños.

Ruiz met Sergio Robles before he became acquainted with defendant or Primo. Ruiz’s primary relationship was with Sergio. Sergio was involved in selling “crystal” and “coke, ” which he obtained in Los Angeles. Defendant was involved in drug sales with Sergio. Defendant’s job was “selling dope.” Ruiz knew this because “they used to come to my house all of the time and did their business there and I seen it.” Also, defendant had all kinds of cars: “Mercedes, Jaguars, Beamers, ... Escalades.”

Ruiz worked for both Sergio and defendant. He assisted them in their drug sales by picking up and delivering the drugs. He facilitated a drug sale from Sergio to Coby Philips. However, he did not deal drugs with or buy drugs from Coby Philips. Both Sergio and defendant asked Ruiz to transport drugs from Southern California to the north, but Ruiz declined to do so.

Ruiz also acquired methamphetamine from defendant, Sergio and others, which he resold in small quantities. Defendant and Sergio did not share their drug profits with Ruiz. Ruiz did not share his profits from these sales with

Page 560

anybody. Primo was also involved in the drug sales. RST members were involved in selling crystal methamphetamine and marijuana.

Defendant was not in RST. He worked with his brother and “was higher on the food chain than a street dealer.” In 2003 and 2004, defendant and his brother dealt in pound quantities. According to Ruiz, Delatorre was using and selling drugs at the same time. Initially, he got drugs from Ruiz, but eventually he got them directly from defendant and Sergio and became part of the distribution ring.

Ruiz knew who Coby Phillips was because Phillips’s father and grandparents lived on the same street in San Pablo as Ruiz. However, he did not associate with Philips because Hispanic and White groups do not associate. Phillips had a leprechaun or a shamrock tattooed on his face near his eye. Ruiz was present when Sergio talked to Phillips about a drug transaction. Ruiz went with defendant and Sergio a couple times to Phillips’s house in Vallejo to drop off drugs. Ruiz also went with Primo to sell drugs at different places. On one occasion, Ruiz guarded a car containing drugs on Bush Street in San Pablo at the request of defendant and Sergio. Ruiz went with defendant a couple times to collect a debt owed by Delatorre for a pound of methamphetamine.

Stacey Taylor married Coby Phillips in November 2003. She had known him since she was 13. She knew defendant as Phillips’s friend “Carlos, ” who supplied him with methamphetamine, which Phillips resold to other drug dealers. Phillips was a member of the FAIM gang, as were Thomas Covey, Matt Donohue, Jason Donohue, and about 100 others. Phillips had shamrock tattoos on his face and shaved head. The large shamrock on the back of his head had the letters FAIM in the middle of it, and he had a swastika tattooed on the top of his head. Taylor concluded drug dealing was the primary activity of the gang. Taylor knew Phillips obtained methamphetamine from defendant and Sergio (as well as a couple of others) in 2004 because she was with Phillips and a lot of the time it was at their house. Phillips bought varying amounts of product from defendant, sometimes as much as ten pounds. She did not directly know where defendant got the methamphetamine, but she knew it came from Mexico. Phillips resold “sales quantities” (as opposed to “street level quantities”) of the drugs, typically to other FAIM members.

Taylor sometimes counted the drug money for Phillips. During 2003 to 2005, the most cash Taylor had ever seen Phillips with in connection with drug sales was about $100, 000. Taylor knew Phillips also received guns as payment for drugs because she was present when Phillips discussed drugs for guns with defendant and Sergio. Taylor knew that her brother, Clayton Cates,

Page 561

transported drugs because she was there when he left and when he returned. She also went with Phillips a few times to drop off or pick up a pound of drugs.

Taylor understood she was testifying under a grant of immunity stemming from a murder prosecution in Solano County.[2] She had lied to the police when she provided Phillips with an alibi for the Grockett murder. She had previously committed perjury in one jury trial to exonerate Phillips from domestic violence charges and at another jury trial in Solano County. She lied at the Solano County trial because she was afraid of retaliation if she testified truthfully. She felt safe after relocation and did not need to worry about something happening because of her testimony in the current case. She received $1, 500 a month for rent and other incidentals for herself, her four children, and Tim Covey, with whom she still lived, from the state’s witness relocation fund. Her brother, Clayton Cates, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a one-year jail sentence in the Solano County case. Cates also receives relocation money.

Taylor began a romantic relationship with Tim Covey a couple of months after Phillips went to jail on the current charges. Taylor and Phillips got back together after Phillips was released from jail for lack of evidence, but then separated for good in early 2007 after the domestic violence incident on New Year’s Eve in 2006. At that point, she and Tim Covey moved away and stopped associating with defendant and the rest of the group because everyone was upset about her relationship with Covey. However, she remained on friendly terms with Jamie Beckwith, defendant’s girlfriend.

Cates testified that from 2004 to 2007, Phillips made money by selling methamphetamine, and Cates was “involved in some way with it.” Cates participated in Phillips’s drug trafficking activities. According to Cates, Phillips obtained his methamphetamine from defendant and Sergio. Cates met defendant and his brother through Phillips. On three or four occasions, Cates transported drugs from Los Angeles to the Bay Area for Sergio. Sergio provided Cates with the car he drove to Los Angeles. Cates would leave the car at a predetermined s pot in Los Angeles and pick up the car later that day. He then drove it to Sergio’s house in Benicia. Cates saw people take drugs from the panels inside the car. Cates was paid about $3, 000 per trip. Cates knew Phillips got his drugs from Sergio because Cates heard Phillips talking

Page 562

about it. Cates got drugs from Phillips and delivered them to Stephen Buchanan, whom he knew through Phillips.

Cates knew Phillips and the Covey brothers were in the FAIM gang because of their tattoos. Phillips had shamrocks tattooed on his face and head. Thomas (Bubba) and Timothy Covey had FAIM tattooed on their arms. Buchanan was also a gang member and had gang-related tattoos. Cates denied he was ever a member of FAIM. He did not have any tattoos. In 2008, Cates was arrested on drug-related charges involving Cates’s delivery of drugs to Buchanan. He was also “in trouble” on a 2007 murder charged out of Vallejo that also involved his sister. Cates pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in the Buchanan matter, received a suspended sentence of 11 years, and was placed on probation. He was given immunity to testify in the Vallejo matter. He was also in witness relocation.

Timothy Covey was a member of the FAIM gang, which his brother Tom cofounded. Covey had several tattoos on his body, including one on his arm that said FAIM and one on his shoulder that said FAIMLY. The gang recruited members through the prison system. Belonging to the gang made “things a lot easier” for Covey when he was in Contra Costa County jail. In late 2004 to early 2005, Covey personally knew about 30 FAIM gang members.

The purpose of forming the gang was to use “muscle” to “help our drug trade.” Covey knew that Phillips purchased drugs from defendant when he was not in jail because he witnessed the transactions. Covey started purchasing methamphetamine directly from defendant after Phillips went to jail. Defendant would “front” Covey a pound or two of methamphetamine at a time which Covey would then resell to “[m]ostly sellers, ” and then pay defendant out of the sales proceeds. At the time, Covey considered defendant “family.” By the time of trial, Covey no longer considered him a friend. Covey still owed defendant money for drugs, but he had made no effort to pay him back. Covey testified that if defendant were released, “we’d have to deal with it[, ] obviously.”

Covey had a falling out with some members of FAIM after he became romantically involved with Stacey Taylor, Phillips’s wife.

In the same Solano County case in which Stacey Taylor testified, Covey refused to testify against a FAIM member. He made no deal for immunity from prosecution in Contra Costa County. “I’m just telling the truth.” The United States government relocated him and his family to a different state after he began to receive threats. His rent and incidental expenses were paid by Solano County. He felt he needed to relocate before he could testify.

Page 563

Jamie Beckwith was defendant’s girlfriend from 2003 to 2007, and she had two daughters with him. At that time, defendant did not have a job; he sold drugs which he told her, and she believed, he obtained from Mexico. He was known as Carlos or by the street name Calacas. She knew his brother, Sergio, was also involved in selling drugs from being around them all of the time and overhearing conversations. Carlos and Sergio worked together, but defendant was “more of the leader.” Sergio sold more cocaine, whereas defendant sold crystal methamphetamine by the pound. Their cousin, Primo or Josue, worked for defendant in the drug business, delivering and picking up “money and stuff like that.” The largest quantity of methamphetamine Beckwith heard defendant discuss was 30 pounds, and the greatest amount of money was around $400, 000.

Beckwith also knew Coby Phillips, who bought drugs from defendant. Phillips did not hang out with people who were not White or Irish, except defendant. Timothy Covey associated with Phillips. After Phillips went to jail in late 2004 or early 2005, Phillips had Covey “take care of [Phillips’s] business and take care of his household duties, ” and Covey started doing drug transactions with defendant. Beckwith knew Ricardo Ruiz “through [defendant’s] people that he knew and met up with.” Beckwith socialized with Phillips’s wife, Stacey. Both Tim Covey and Stacey were around when drugs were being discussed.

Beckwith saw defendant, Sergio, Primo, and Tim Covey carrying guns. In 2004 and 2005, defendant “always” carried a gun, which he kept in the center console of his vehicle.

Beckwith knew, by “talking to everybody, ” that Cates picked up drugs somewhere in Los Angeles for both defendant and Sergio.

In 2005, defendant told Beckwith there was a warrant for his arrest, and he left for Mexico. Covey later drove Beckwith to Mexico to see him. Defendant was arrested in 2007 when he returned to the United States. Taylor and Covey took Beckwith to see him in jail in Petaluma.

B. Murder of David Grockett-October 7, 2004.

On October 7, 2004, then Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Detective[3] Shawn Pate noticed a Chevrolet pickup truck parked at a pullout along Crockett Boulevard. The truck was locked; the keys were inside the truck. Darrell Grockett’s body was lying face up on the ground behind it. Grockett had tattoos on his forehead and upper torso. He had $2, 000 in his left front jacket

Page 564

pocket. He had gunshot wounds to the mouth, finger, and left torso. Eleven cartridge casings and six bullets were recovered from the scene. Some of the rounds had passed through the front of the body into the dirt beneath. Eleven cartridge cases, 10 bullets, and one bullet fragment were submitted the crime lab for ballistics analysis. The analysis established three rounds were fired from a.38 or.357 caliber firearm and seven rounds were fired from a 9-by-19 millimeter gun. From the blood stains at the scene, it appeared that Grockett first was shot while standing and then shot additional times while lying on the ground.

i. Events Leading Up to the Murder.

Stacey Taylor testified Darrell Grockett was a friend of Phillips who had attended their wedding. Grockett had shamrock tattoos and was gang-affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood. Taylor witnessed drug deals between Phillips and Grockett. Grockett would come to their house and hand Phillips money and receive drugs in return. In October 2004, both Grockett and Phillips were out of custody. Phillips told Taylor they had a disagreement over drugs because Grockett did not want to pay what Phillips was asking.

Around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. on October 7, 2004, Taylor and Phillips went to a restaurant overlooking the Carquinez Bridge known as The Dead Fish. Before they left for the restaurant, Phillips told Taylor he was going to meet with Grockett. Phillips said that he and the other people he was meeting at the restaurant were going to go shoot Grockett. According to Taylor, when she and Phillips arrived, defendant was there with his wife Jamie Beckwith, Sergio, and Primo.[4] Phillips, defendant, Sergio, and Primo left the restaurant a short time later. According to Taylor, she and Beckwith remained at the restaurant.

ii. Events After the Murder.

About 45 minutes to an hour later, Phillips, defendant, and the others returned to the restaurant. Taylor and Phillips went to a house in Rodeo, where Phillips wrapped some things in rags and gave them to a woman named Amy Abeyta. Taylor knew the items were the guns used to shoot Grockett because Phillips told her he had to get rid of them. They did not stay at their home in Vallejo that night but, instead, went to a hotel in Vacaville. The next day they went to Taylor’s parents’ house in Shingletown in Northern California, where they had sent their children a few days earlier.

Page 565

Phillips later asked Taylor to attend Grockett’s funeral to avoid suspicion. They subsequently moved to a house in Cordelia, which Phillips rented from Sergio, who supplied Phillips with drugs. Phillips put bulletproof glass over the sliding glass door and windows. Defendant and Sergio both visited the Cordelia house.

In 2004, Sally Sinclair and Darrell Grockett came up with a plan to sell methamphetamine together. Grockett had a connection with someone for getting methamphetamine, and Sinclair was going to buy five pounds of methamphetamine from him for $35, 000. In late September or early October 2004, she gave him a $16, 000 advance, but the deal was postponed.

A few days later, Grockett came to her house with his girlfriend, Tara. Sinclair gave him another $13, 000. Around 8:00 p.m., Grockett’s cell phone rang and he stepped outside to take the call. Shortly thereafter, he came back inside and said he would be right back. He left without Tara, without the money, and without saying where he was going. Sinclair and Tara waited for him for hours at a local bar. Tara tried to call Grockett numerous times without success. At some point, Sinclair spoke to Grockett’s roommate, Matt Baker, on the telephone. Baker said Grockett was dead.

Sometime in October 2004, Ruiz had a conversation with Primo in front of Ruiz’s house on Bush Street in San Pablo about a shooting Primo witnessed the night before. Primo was scared and shaken up about what he saw. He said his cousin Calacas and Coby shot a man near Rodeo on Highway 4. Primo said the man they shot had tattoos on his face. At the time Primo was telling Ruiz about the shooting, defendant and Coby were standing across the street. After the conversation, Ruiz left and Primo rejoined defendant and Cody.

Timothy Covey testified he heard defendant and Primo joking in Spanish about Grockett’s death after it happened. They were talking “about the guy with tattoos all over his face and making gestures. Like, bang, bang, bang.” They made shooting gestures with their hands. Covey knew that Grockett had tattoos all over his face. According to Covey, the day after the Grockett shooting, defendant’s and Phillips’s families left town for Stacey Taylor’s grandmother’s house. When defendant and Phillips returned after the Grockett killing, “everybody was pretty much let known that we needed to start carrying guns and we were all hanging around Coby’s house in Vallejo.” By “we, ” Covey meant a close-knit group of FAIM members who were Phillips’s associates. Shortly thereafter, Phillips moved to a house in Cordelia and put thick Plexiglas on all the sliding glass doors.

C. Murder of Marcelino Guzman-Mercado-December 3, 2004.

In response to a call at 9:40 p.m. on December 3, 2004, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Xavier Shabazz was dispatched to 5955 North

Page 566

Arlington Boulevard, in San Pablo, where he located Guzman-Mercado’s body. The victim’s shirt and jacket were pulled up, exposing his torso. He had a gunshot wound in his left side under his armpit. There were also abrasions on the victim’s back and he was missing a shoe. The deputy located a matching shoe in the middle of the street about a half mile south of the body.

Guzman-Mercado died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, which entered his chest and exited his back. He had bruises and abrasions on his torso, face, and chest consistent with impact on a rough, stony, or gravel surface. He had $680 and his house keys on his person, as well as a phone number with a 650 area code on his belt. The phone number led to a relative and the eventual discovery of Guzman-Mercado’s address.

Guzman-Mercado lived in an apartment complex at 2389 Aberdean Way, Richmond. Police used the house key found on Guzman-Mercado’s body to enter the apartment. The exterior door frame appeared to have been recently repaired and freshly painted. A crowbar or tire iron was on a countertop inside.

i. Events Leading Up to the Murder.

Sometime in December 2004, defendant was at Taylor’s house in Fairfield when he said he needed to get some money for Christmas and that he was going to rob someone of drugs. Defendant’s girlfriend, Jamie Beckwith, and possibly Tim Covey, were present during the conversation. According to Taylor, defendant said “he knew somebody that had... either some money or some drugs that he could take [rob] from them.”

On December 3, 2004, Ruiz was at home drinking beer with Rodolfo Figueroa when Delatorre and Primo pulled up in a gold Lexus. The car was registered to Ruiz, although he did not own it. He drove it only for drug trafficking business when directed to by Primo. He did not use the car for his personal pleasure.[5]

Ruiz and Figueroa “hopped” in the car to go for a drive, but Primo drove to a Union 76 gas station (76 Station) on the San Pablo Dam Road, where defendant was waiting for them in a white Suburban SUV with another person. Defendant was the passenger. Primo and Delatorre got out of the car and spoke to defendant. When they returned to the Lexus, Primo told Ruiz to drive. Primo and Delatorre got in the Lexus, and defendant remained in the

Page 567

Suburban. Primo asked Figueroa to wait at the 76 Station and Figueroa got out of the car. Primo told Ruiz to pick up some drugs, and he drove to a nearby car wash to wait for the arrival of Guzman-Mercado, whom he did not know. Defendant was never in the Lexus.

After Guzman-Mercado got into the back seat of the Lexus, Ruiz drove off. Primo, who was in the front seat, turned around to speak to Guzman-Mercado. They argued in Spanish, and Ruiz heard someone say, “Let me see it.” Suddenly he heard a gunshot from the back seat. Ruiz stopped the car in shock and looked back to see that Guzman-Mercado was shot, and Delatorre had a gun in his hand. Ruiz kept driving and when he next looked back the door was open and Primo and Delatorre were trying to eject Guzman-Mercado’s body from the car, but Guzman-Mercado’s foot was caught under the seat and his body was being dragged along the pavement. Ruiz stopped the car; Primo got out and extracted Guzman-Mercado’s body from the car. Primo patted down Guzman-Mercado’s body, looking for “house keys, ” but did not find any. They drove off, and Primo made a call from his cell phone.

ii. Events After the Murder.

A short time later, they met defendant and others at the Wildcat Canyon Apartments, from which defendant sold drugs and where some of defendant’s relatives lived. The apartments were around the corner from the 76 Station and a couple blocks away from the location of the shooting. The others drove off, but Ruiz and Rodolfo Figueroa stayed until Alejandro Figueroa picked them up and dropped Ruiz at his home.

The next day, Ruiz was eating with a friend at the Portumex Restaurant on 23rd Street in Richmond when defendant, Sergio, and Primo came into the restaurant to talk to him. Sergio told Ruiz, “Don’t worry about it. Just don’t say nothing.” Defendant said, “Good job. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.”

About a week later, Delatorre told Ruiz the incident “wasn’t supposed to happen like that. They were just going to tie him up.” Ruiz asked Delatorre what happened after Ruiz was dropped off at the Wildcat Canyon Apartments. Delatorre said “they” went to the victim’s apartment and “he”― Delatorre― kicked in the door. He told Ruiz “he went in and got what they went for, ” which was “pounds of crystal meth.” Delatorre did not say who went to the apartment with him. He said defendant kept the drugs. Delatorre explained to Ruiz he “paid his debt” to defendant by participating in the transaction. Ruiz knew Delatorre owed defendant money for “crank” defendant had fronted to him because Ruiz went with defendant to collect the debt from Delatorre a couple of times.

Page 568

After the Guzman-Mercado shooting, Ruiz maintained his association with defendant, Sergio, and Delatorre and continued to make drugs sales, but he tried to “keep [his] distance.”

Ruiz assumed Guzman-Mercado was a drug dealer because he was supposed to pick up a package from him. Picking up things or people or making deliveries and dropping things off was a “standard thing” that Ruiz would do with defendant, Sergio, and Primo “[o]nce in a while.” While driving, he assumed the incident with Guzman-Mercado was going to be just another drug transaction because drug transactions were something he would typically do with Primo, Delatorre, or defendant.

At some point in December after the murder had occurred, defendant told Stacey Taylor he got the money or drugs and that he had shot the guy in the car, or inside the car. Defendant described the car as a Lexus.

In December 2004, defendant told Covey about shooting someone in Primo’s Lexus. According to Covey, defendant and Primo “were laughing and joking about how he was hanging out of the car and they were shooting him as they were going down the road.”

They said they had to get rid of Primo’s car, which was a Lexus. They did not say who did the shooting. Covey recalled, “It was close to Christmas and it was hard times and everybody was trying to figure out a way to make money and I was under the impression that it was a robbery” because “[t]here was no dope around and nobody had no means of making money and he, Coby, had said that they had a plan to make money and that’s all we heard.”

Beckwith overheard a conversation between defendant and Primo and Rick Ruiz about pushing someone out of a car. Defendant asked, “Did you finish it or did you do it?” Primo said they shot the person but he was not dead and they had to push him out of the car. She thought they used an older model Lexus for the job.

iii. Ruiz Is Arrested for the Guzman-Mercado Murder.

Ruiz was arrested on March 5, 2007 for the Guzman-Mercado murder. At the time, Ruiz had heard Sergio and defendant had been arrested, and he knew people were talking about the Guzman-Mercado murder. The police questioning led him to believe he was arrested because defendant had implicated him, Delatorre, and the Figueroa brothers, Rudolfo and Alejandro, in the Guzman-Mercado murder, although he later learned defendant meant a different Alejandro. After reading the police reports, he knew defendant and Sergio had ratted him out.

Page 569

Ruiz was charged with the murder. Ruiz gave police a statement on March 5. On the advice of counsel, Ruiz admitted to the prosecutor and Inspector Pate he was in the car when Guzman-Mercado was killed. Ruiz admitted he initially told law enforcement officers that Primo shot Guzman-Mercado, because Primo was in Mexico and he wanted to deflect suspicion from his friend Delatorre. However, Ruiz eventually identified Delatorre as the shooter.

On September 11, 2007, he gave police another statement in which he told police about Primo’s statements concerning the Darryl Grockett murder. In that statement, Ruiz told police Primo said Grockett was trying to get Coby Phillips killed or trying to kill him. According to Ruiz, Primo said two shooters― defendant and Coby―were shooting at Grockett and “they” all had guns. He also told law enforcement about the Hernandez shooting. According to Ruiz, Hernandez was affiliated with “northerners, ” the rivals of Sureños.

Ruiz agreed to testify for the prosecution. He entered a plea agreement in which he was to serve three years in a local facility. As part of that deal, Ruiz also testified at Delatorre’s trial and before the grand jury.[6] He was supposed to tell the truth. Since he started testifying in 2008, Ruiz had received approximately $63, 000 and relocated with his family.

Detective Pate recalled that he and Detective Goldberg interviewed Ruiz at the Martinez jail in early 2007. Goldberg suggested Delatorre was already talking and told Ruiz that if he was “honest” about what he and other people did, Ruiz would not be booked into jail. The officers did not give Ruiz police reports to read or say defendant had been talking about Ruiz. At that point, Ruiz admitted that he was driving the car when Guzman-Mercado was shot.

Ruiz mentioned a Chevy Tahoe truck was also involved, but maintained he did not know the occupants. Eventually, Ruiz identified a photograph of defendant, who went by the nickname Calacas, as one of the people in the truck.[7] Ruiz said that earlier that evening, Primo had talked about “jacking” (i.e., robbing) Guzman-Mercado. Eventually, Ruiz said Delatorre shot Guzman-Mercado. At the end of the interview, Ruiz was still denying he had a relationship with defendant. Ruiz and Delatorre were the only ones charged with the Guzman-Mercado murder at that time.

Ruiz was reinterviewed in the fall of 2007. An attorney was present during part of the interview. During this interview the police learned for the first

Page 570

time about the Hernandez shooting and about Ruiz’s conversation with Primo about the shooting off Highway 4.

According to Beckwith, a few months after the shooting in the car, defendant left for Mexico because he had a warrant for his arrest. Later, Timothy Covey drove her to Mexico to meet him. At some point, defendant returned to the United States and was eventually arrested in Petaluma in 2007.

D. Attempted Murder of Jose Hernandez-February 21, 2005.

On February 21, 2005, Jose Hernandez lived with his daughters at 1815 Roosevelt Avenue, Richmond, in one unit of a four-unit apartment complex where his parents also lived. He was walking downstairs with his sleeping daughter in his arms when he was shot three times. He identified defendant as the shooter.

Hernandez lived next door to Alejandro Figueroa, who was having a party that day. A wooden-slatted cyclone fence separates the two properties. Hernandez had to walk outside to take his daughter downstairs to his apartment and saw defendant urinating on the fence. Hernandez deposited his daughter at his apartment. On his way back to his mother’s apartment, he heard defendant say, “[H]ey, just stop and look to your left.” Hernandez turned to see defendant about six or seven feet away pointing a gun at him. Defendant smiled and shot Hernandez in the left hand, the hip, and the calf. Hernandez yelled for help and a number of family members came to assist him. Police and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter. A live.38-caliber bullet was found at the scene. Police officers observed four suspected bullet holes in the fence between the two residences. Hernandez subsequently identified defendant from a photographic lineup at the hospital the next day. He recognized defendant as someone he had seen once or twice before.

Hernandez knew Alejandro Figueroa’s brother, Rudolfo. He also knew Ricardo Ruiz, who used to go to Alejandro’s house “lots” and went to Hernandez’s house “sometimes.” He was not sure if defendant was the person known as Calacas, but he was sure defendant shot him. Initially, Hernandez went back to living at his apartment on Roosevelt. However, a couple of years later, the police contacted him out of the blue. At first he did not want to talk to them or testify, but now felt safe to testify, because he got help to move out of the Roosevelt Avenue residence.

Hernandez testified that he had previously asked Alejandro to sell him cocaine, and Alejandro had arranged for him to buy the drugs from defendant; that was when Alejandro told Hernandez who defendant was. On that

Page 571

day, he also saw a gun defendant was carrying in the car. He had seen defendant at Alejandro’s house a couple times.

Alejandro Figueroa confirmed he hosted a family barbeque at his house on February 21, 2005, which was attended by Rudolfo and Ruiz. Alejandro knew defendant as “Calacas” and “Carlos” and identified him in court. Defendant showed up at the barbeque uninvited. He first passed by the residence in a Cadillac, in which he was a passenger. The car went around the block and, shortly thereafter, defendant walked up to Alejandro and asked if he could urinate on the side of the house. Alejandro said he did not mind, and defendant walked to the side of the house. Suddenly, Alejandro heard shots and saw defendant come out running. He was holding a gun. Defendant was the only one on the side of the house when the shots were fired. His friend and neighbor, Hernandez, had been shot. The police came, but Alejandro did not tell them what he saw because he was scared.

According to Ruiz, Alejandro invited him to the barbecue. Primo showed up later, as did defendant. Defendant was dropped off by one of Coby’s friends, Bubba, who was driving a Cadillac.[8] He looked serious. He said hello to Alejandro and then went to the side of the house closest to a fourplex next door. Ruiz heard gunshots and saw defendant start running, then hop a fence. Ruiz knew Hernandez, who lived in the fourplex. A few weeks earlier, Ruiz heard Sergio say that the man who lived at the apartments (i.e., Hernandez) was “snitching.”

At that time, Alejandro owned a gold Lexus he had purchased from Ruiz. Before he bought it, he had seen Primo driving it with Ruiz. He later learned from a newspaper account that the Lexus had been used in the Mercado-Guzman shooting.

In March 2008, Alejandro was indicted for conspiracy, robbery, burglary, and two murders, one of which involved Guzman-Mercado. He was facing life in prison. He believed he was indicted for the Guzman-Mercado murder because defendant told the police someone named Alejandro was responsible for it. After he learned that, he spoke to police for the first time about the Hernandez shooting.

Alejandro pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of section 32, accessory to a crime; the remaining charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to time served. He was not the Alejandro involved in the shooting of Guzman-Mercado and he was not a gang member. So far as he knew, in 2004

Page 572

and 2005, Ruiz used to hang around with the RST gang, but he did not know if Ruiz was a gang member.

On February 21, 2005, Clayton Cates went from his sister’s house in Cordelia to Bush Street in Richmond with defendant in a silver Cadillac. Tim Covey was driving. They parked on the street in a residential neighborhood and defendant got out of the car. Cates and Covey stayed in the car. Defendant returned about 45 seconds later holding a gun. He appeared nervous and said emphatically, “Go” or “Let’s leave.” They left, returning to his sister’s house. A couple weeks later, defendant said he had shot “the guy that snitched on him.”

According to Stacey Taylor, in the late afternoon of February 21, 2005, defendant, Tim Covey, and Cates were at Taylor’s home. The three drove off. When they returned, Covey and Cates seemed nervous. Defendant was excited; he said he had “shot the rat.” Sometime before that day, defendant said that Sergio had “found out who was telling.”

Timothy Covey testified that on February 21, 2005, he met defendant at Stacey Taylor’s house in Cordelia, where Covey was living at the time. Defendant came with his girlfriend, Jamie. Phillips was in jail. Defendant asked Covey to give him a ride to collect some money and directed him where to go. Covey drove Sergio’s silver Cadillac to Richmond. Clayton Cates went with them. Defendant directed Covey to park on a street in a residential neighborhood, and defendant jumped out and went around the corner. About five minutes later, defendant returned with a gun in his hand. He told Covey to “[g]o, ” and Covey “[w]ent. Drove fast.” They returned to Cordelia. A few months earlier, Covey heard defendant say a “rat” was informing on him or his brother. A couple days later, defendant said, “I got the rat.” At some point, defendant told Covey that Sergio knew “who the rat was.”

A short time after the shooting occurred, Sergio told defendant in Covey’s presence that defendant was going to be indicted for murder. Defendant then fled to Mexico. About two weeks later, Covey drove Jamie Beckwith to Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where they met defendant. Covey saw defendant after he returned to the United States, but he was not aware when defendant returned because at the time he was not on “talking terms with anybody... directly in the gang” due to his romantic involvement with Stacey Taylor.

E. Gang testimony.

Vallejo Detective Todd Tribble testified as an expert on street gangs, generally, and White street gangs and White prison gangs, specifically. In

Page 573

addition to receiving hundreds of hours in formal and informal training, Tribble had interviewed numerous gang members belonging to FAIM, a White supremacist gang. The symbol used by the gang is a shamrock, and they associate themselves with the color green. The Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang, also uses the shamrock as a symbol.

FAIM boasts more than 60 members. Tribble opined that FAIM was a criminal street gang and that its primary activity was the sales of significant quantities of methamphetamine. FAIM members interact with other groups and persons in the Bay Area criminal subculture to obtain their methamphetamine. Members of FAIM are involved with firearms, often possessing them illegally. Gang members regularly carry firearms because of the violent nature of drug trafficking.

Coby Phillips, Matthew Donohue III (Mattie Boy), Jason Donohue (Matthew’s brother), and Thomas Covey (Bubba) founded FAIM in 1995 or 1996 in west Contra Costa County. Phillips and Matthew Donohue later expanded the gang in the state prison system.

Coby Phillips sported a small shamrock tattoo on his right cheek and a large shamrock tattoo with the letters FAIM tattooed inside the shamrock covering the back of his head. Phillips was validated as a member of FAIM by California's Department of Corrections in 1998. He was also associated with the Aryan Brotherhood. Richard Ahlquist, Timothy Covey, Steve Buchanan, and Scott Schweiger (known as Shovelhead) were members of FAIM in 2004. All but Ahlquist were currently inactive members. Stacey Taylor, Clayton Cates, and Melissa Wright were associated with the gang.

Tribble was asked to assume the following hypothetical facts: Phillips was involved in selling methamphetamine to Grockett, which he obtained from defendant and his brother, Sergio; Phillips arranged to meet Grockett on Crockett Boulevard off the Cummings Skyway, and during that meeting, Phillips, defendant, and defendant’s cousin, Primo, killed Grockett. Tribble opined that the killing was committed in association with FAIM because Phillips was a leader of the FAIM gang and was involved in the sales of methamphetamine, which he obtained from the Vega-Robles brothers and cousin. In his opinion, “There was a noted association between those men, and the sales of the methamphetamine at the time was an activity that further promoted the gang FAIM.” Assuming Grockett posed a threat to a member of FAIM, killing him would benefit FAIM. Tribble testified, “You no longer have a threat that’s not only physically threatening a member or more than a member of the gang but that same physical threat would entail the threat of future sales of methamphetamine which is the primary activity of the gang. So it would benefit the gang twofold.”

Page 574

San Pablo Police Detective Robert Brady testified as a gang expert on Hispanic gangs in Contra Costa County. Sureños were active in west Contra Costa County from 2000 to 2006. The Sureños gang in west Contra Costa County is broken up into small groups, and RST is a subset of the Sureño gang in that part of the county. The primary activities of the Sureños include “drug sales, violent acts, assaults, assault[s] with firearms, murders, and car theft.” The primary activities of the RST were the same as those of the Sureños in 2004 and 2005. Brady opined that Delatorre was a Sureño in 2003 and 2004. He was asked to assume the following hypothetical facts: a drug dealer with ties to trafficking in Mexico, and who is running short of money, learns there is another dealer who has possession of a few pounds of methamphetamine. He makes plans with two RST members to rob that dealer, and the RST members ride in car with the dealer to rob him. Brady opined that in those circumstances the robbery or attempted robbery could benefit the gang financially.

II. Defense Evidence.

The defense presented witnesses to impeach the testimony of Stacey Taylor and Timothy Covey. On January 13, 2010, Thomas Covey (Timothy’s brother) was charged with the murders of Guzman-Mercado and Grockett and the attempted murder of Hernandez. Timothy Covey denied having any knowledge of the attempted murder to a defense investigator. The investigator met with Covey and saw no physical resemblance between him and his brother.

The attorney who represented Phillips in a domestic violence case recalled Stacey Taylor testified the incident was an accident; two witnesses brought to the defense by her also testified it was an accident. The attorney believed her. Phillips was acquitted.

The defense called Ralph Nash, a former member of the Nazi Low Riders, a prison gang. Nash was in prison in protective custody at the time of trial, and was called to show Phillips killed Grockett for personal reasons not related to a drug conspiracy. Nash testified Grockett was an Aryan Brotherhood gang member. Grockett told Nash he was going to kill Phillips, and that he had put a gun to Phillips’s head. Nash was ordered by the Aryan Brotherhood to kill Phillips because Phillips wore a shamrock tattoo he was not authorized to have, and because Phillips failed to carry out an order to kill a snitch. Nash gave a statement to Detective Pate in October 2009 but it was not true, and he recanted to prison officials a few days later. Nash denied receiving a call from Phillips in which Phillips told Nash, “Dude, I killed him [Grockett], it’s over.”

Page 575

Nash’s October 2009 tape-recorded interview was played to the jury. In it, Nash told Detective Pate and Officer David Berna, a gang investigator at California State Prison, Corcoran, that FAIM was a “street gang banging” “clique” started around 1994 to protect White gang members from Blacks in Richmond and “sell drugs and make money.” Older members wore shamrock tattoos. Nash knew Calacas, who was “real tight” with Phillips, “one of his boys.” He met Sergio twice. All of them carried guns. He knew Clayton Cates through Bubba “and all them.... They just all together sellin’. It’s, like, one big family.” He knew Sally Sinclair from dropping off drugs from Phillips at her house.

Nash was a close friend of Phillips and Grockett. Phillips and Grockett were cellmates at Pelican Bay State Prison. In 2004, Phillips asked Nash to “set up” Grockett so Phillips could kill him. He wanted Nash to lure Grockett to a house in Rodeo. Nash did not want to be “dragged in no murder, ” so Nash twice warned Grockett that Phillips was “gunnin” for him. Nash did not mention he was supposed to set Grockett up. Grockett just “shook it off.” The day after Grockett’s death, Phillips called Nash and said, “It’s over, man.... I killed [Darrell]. It’s done.... That punk’s over.... It’s over. Come over. We need to talk.” Nash did not know of anybody else involved in Grockett’s killing. Nash owed Phillips $8, 000 for methamphetamine. Phillips was his main source. Sometimes Phillips would send Bubba to him with the drugs.

Nash said he was supposed to kill Phillips because Phillips had failed to kill witnesses against an Aryan Brotherhood member, and wore the shamrock on his face without permission.

A day or two after the interview, Nash contacted Berna and said he did not want anything more to do with Inspector Pate; he did not want to testify because he had family in Contra Costa County and that worried him. Nash did not say he lied during the interview.

The defense presented evidence to show that no physical evidence connected defendant to the robbery and murder of Guzman-Mercado. No fingerprints or DNA matching defendant or Delatorre were found at Guzman-Mercado’s apartment. No blood or bullet holes were found in a four-door Lexus processed by police. However, there was a dimple in the passenger side rear door. No blood or bullet holes were found in a two-door Lexus, also processed.

Gilberto Gutierrez admitted to Detective Goldberg he removed items from Guzman-Mercado’s apartment and repaired the front door of the apartment on December 4.

The defense also presented evidence that other people unconnected to defendant had motives to kill Grockett. Robert Lott was incarcerated at a

Page 576

federal prison at the time of trial on a federal drug indictment. He was indicted on February 6, 2008 for the murders of Grockett and Guzman-Mercado, and the attempted murder of Hernandez and eventually reached a deal in this case. He testified he had never met defendant. He had his own Mexican connections for drugs.

Grockett was Lott’s childhood best friend who nevertheless robbed him of money and drugs at gunpoint in 2003. He knew Grockett to be violent and prone to violence, and testified that Grockett committed assaults, robberies, and shootings. Grockett was also a drug seller and user who usually took his drugs forcibly from someone else. He was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. A FAIM member called Shovelhead came to Lott’s house to collect money a friend of his owed FAIM member Mattie Boy.

On October 8, 2004, deputies located a burned-out van near the location where Grockett’s killing took place. The van had been stolen from one of Lott’s drug customers.

According to Detective Pate, Stacey Taylor told him Phillips told her that he and Grockett were supposed to do something for the Aryan Brotherhood gang they did not do, and Phillips was worried Grockett was going to try to kill him over it. Taylor also said Phillips told her either he or Josue (Primo) shot Grockett in the head, but she “got a feeling that all three of them [Coby, Josue and defendant]” were involved in the shooting.

On February 14, 2007, Detective Goldberg interviewed defendant in Sonoma County jail. Defendant was advised of his constitutional rights and said he understood them. Defendant admitted knowing Ricardo Ruiz and Juan Antonio Delatorre and identified photographs of them. Defendant said Guzman-Mercado was “set up” by his own cousin and a drug dealer named Alejandro. Alejandro asked defendant whether he wanted to be involved and defendant declined, although defendant’s cousin Primo agreed to participate.

According to defendant, Guzman-Mercado’s cousin told Guzman-Mercado to come to a certain car wash with crystal methamphetamine and get in the car with Primo, Ruiz, and Delatorre. Guzman-Mercado did as instructed. Defendant said Ruiz was driving, Primo was sitting in the front seat, and Delatorre was in the back seat. There was an argument in the car, a little bit of a struggle, and Delatorre shot Guzman-Mercado. Defendant said he was in a nearby Denny’s restaurant when the shooting occurred. There is a Denny’s at the corner of San Pablo Dam Road and Interstate 80. Defendant said he had been “working together” with Alejandro and that he did not know the name of Guzman-Mercado’s cousin who was involved.

Defendant adamantly denied being in the car when Guzman-Mercado was shot. Defendant said “he knew about this whole plot and the scam, the way it

Page 577

was supposed to happen and the details of it. He just said he wasn’t present in the actual vehicle itself.” He also said Delatorre went into the apartment and obtained methamphetamine from it.

Defendant was worried that his name would come out in Detective Goldberg’s report, and Goldberg told him to get past that; it was a given that his name would be in the report. Defendant said he wanted to make a deal.

Defendant admitted he knew Coby Phillips, who was his “home-boy.” He said he “served” Phillips, meaning he sold drugs to Phillips. Defendant also knew Bubba.


I. Murder Liability Instructions Premised on Natural and Probable Consequences Were Erroneous.

While defendant’s appeal was pending in this court, the California Supreme Court decided Chiu, supra, 59 Cal.4th 155, concluding “an aider and abettor may not be convicted of first degree premeditated murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. Rather, his or her liability for that crime must be based on direct aiding and abetting principles.” (Chiu, at pp. 158–159.) Judicial decisions are generally fully retroactive. (People v. Carter (2005) 36 Cal.4th 1114, 1144 [32 Cal.Rptr.3d 759, 117 P.3d 476].)

In a supplemental brief, defendant argues that, because his jury was instructed under the natural and probable consequences doctrine that he could be convicted of first degree murder, his first degree murder convictions must be reversed for Chiu error. The Attorney General concedes error as to both murders, and further concedes the error was prejudicial as to the Grockett murder. The Attorney General contends, however, the error was harmless as to the Guzman-Mercado murder, citing the felony-murder instructions and defendant’s conviction for attempted robbery. In light of Chiu, we agree the instruction was erroneously given. “When a trial court instructs a jury on two theories of guilt, one of which was legally correct and one legally incorrect, reversal is required unless there is a basis in the record to find that the verdict was based on a valid ground.” (Chiu, supra, 59 Cal.4th at p. 167.)

With respect to the Grockett murder, whether defendant was a direct perpetrator of first degree murder, or a direct aider and abettor of first degree murder committed by Phillips, or whether the murder was “a natural and probable consequence of the common plan or design of the conspiracy” that “further[ed] the common plan” under CALCRIM No. 417, or a natural and probable consequence of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to sell drugs (the

Page 578

“target offense”) under CALCRIM No. 402, were factual questions for the jury to decide. (Chiu, supra, 59 Cal.4th at p. 162.) The prosecutor argued all of these theories, and tended to conflate the natural and probable consequences prongs of conspiracy liability and aider and abetting liability under the general umbrella of forseeability. In addition, natural and probable consequences were prominently displayed in the slide show he used during closing argument. Finally, the jury asked for a rereading of Jamie Beckwith’s testimony, which bore in part on the meeting between defendant, Phillips and Primo at The Dead Fish Restaurant just prior to Grockett’s murder. Under these circumstances, we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt the jury based its verdict on one of the legally valid theories before it-that defendant was either the direct perpetrator, or directly aided and abetted the premeditated murder of Grockett by Phillips-rather than on the invalid theory that first degree murder was a natural and probable consequences of conspiracy to sell drugs. Therefore, we agree with the Attorney General that defendant’s first degree murder conviction for the Grockett murder must be reversed.

We also agree the error was harmless with respect to the first degree murder verdict in the Guzman-Mercado matter. In addition to instructions on conspiracy, direct aiding and abetting, and natural and probable consequence liability for murder, the court gave complete instructions on felony murder, [9] attempt, [10] and robbery.[11] With respect to count 3 (the Guzman-Mercado killing), the jury was also instructed on criminal liability for attempted robbery premised on an uncharged conspiracy to commit robbery.[12] The jury did find defendant guilty of attempted robbery. The general verdict does not reveal which of the several theories of liability presented to the jury actually undergirds the attempted robbery or murder verdicts. Nor was the jury required to unanimously agree on the theory of liability. (People v. Smith (2014) 60 Cal.4th 603, 618 [180 Cal.Rptr.3d 100, 337 P.3d 1159].) However, once the jury decided defendant was guilty of attempted robbery, under the felony murder instructions given here, the Guzman-Mercado killing was first degree murder, unless “a logical connection between the cause of death and the robbery or attempted robbery” was missing. Under the facts of this case, there is no basis to so conclude because there was a logical connection: Guzman-Mercado was targeted for robbery because he was known to possess a large quantity of methamphetamine, and he was killed―whether intentionally, accidentally or negligently―in the process of separating him from his property. There is also no basis in the appellate record to conclude the jury misunderstood, ignored, or refused to apply the felony murder instructions. Under these circumstances, we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt the

Page 579

erroneous instructions on natural and probable consequence liability for murder played no role in the verdict. Therefore, reversal of defendant’s first degree murder conviction for the killing of Guzman-Mercado is not required.

II. Substantial Evidence Supports the Conspiracy Conviction.

Defendant argues the evidence adduced at trial is insufficient to support his conspiracy conviction, since the evidence showed multiple conspiracies rather than a single one. “ ‘To determine whether sufficient evidence supports a jury verdict, a reviewing court reviews the entire record in the light most favorable to the judgment to determine whether it discloses evidence that is reasonable, credible, and of solid value such that a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.’ [Citation.]” (People v. Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at p. 617 (Smith).) Following Jackson v. Virginia (1979) 443 U.S. 307, 319 [61 L.Ed.2d 560, 99 S.Ct. 2781], we assess the verdict on appeal based on the sufficiency of the evidence. “The evidence need not be such that it excludes every hypothesis but that of a single conspiracy...; rather, it is enough that the evidence adequately supports a finding that a single conspiracy exists.... [T]his Court would have to be able to say that no rational trier of fact could have found a single conspiracy on this evidence before we could disturb the jury’s finding, implicit in its guilty verdict, that a single conspiracy had been proved.” (U.S. v. Kenny (9th Cir. 1981) 645 F.2d 1323, 1335, citation omitted.) As we discuss below, the record contains ample evidence to support defendant’s conspiracy conviction.

Although defendant was tried alone, the indictment jointly charged defendant, Sergio Vega-Robles (his brother), Juan Delatorre, Josue Lemeli (Primo, his cousin) and Alejandro Figueroa with conspiracy, alleging defendant conspired with Sergio, Primo, Delatorre, Alejandro Figueroa, Coby Phillips, Thomas Covey, Robert Lott, and Tara Sander to sell narcotic and non-narcotic controlled substances. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11352, 11378.) Nineteen overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy were alleged: overt acts Nos. 1 and 2 involved sales of methamphetamine to Lott and Sander, respectively; the remaining overt acts involved the killings of Darrell Grockett and Marcelino Guzman-Mercado, both drug dealers, and the attempted murder of Jose Hernandez, a suspected police informant. Ricardo Ruiz was named as a coconspirator in three overt acts. [13]

A conspiracy is an agreement by two or more persons to commit any crime. (§ 182, subd. (a)(1).) “A conviction of conspiracy requires proof that

Page 580

the defendant and another person had the specific intent to agree or conspire to commit an offense, as well as the specific intent to commit the elements of that offense, together with proof of the commission of an overt act ‘by one or more of the parties to such agreement’ in furtherance of the conspiracy.” (People v. Morante (1999) 20 Cal.4th 403, 416 [84 Cal.Rptr.2d 665. 975 P.2d 1071].) The prosecution need not prove that each conspirator knew the identity of all the other members of the conspiracy, or their exact functions. (Blumenthal v. United States (1947) 332 U.S. 539, 557 [92 L.Ed. 154, 68 S.Ct. 248]; People v. Van Eyk (1961) 56 Cal.2d 471, 479 [15 Cal.Rptr. 150, 364 P.2d 326].) If the defendant conspired with only one person instead of many, as charged, he is still guilty of conspiracy. (People v. Collins (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 626, 633-634 [51 Cal.Rptr. 604].)

The evidence supports defendant’s conspiracy conviction based on an ongoing conspiracy to sell drugs. The People’s case presented substantial evidence defendant was involved in a vertical chain operation that distributed illegal drugs to complicit distributors in west Contra Costa County. Jamie Beckwith, defendant’s girlfriend from 2003 to 2007, testified defendant made his living as a drug dealer; he told her he obtained the drug he mainly sold, crystal methamphetamine, from Mexico. Ricardo Ruiz, who worked for defendant and Sergio Vega-Robles in the drug trade, corroborated that defendant’s product came from Mexico. Defendant dealt in quantities of drugs as large as 30 pounds and handled as much cash as $400, 000. He worked in tandem with Sergio but, according to Beckwith, defendant was “more of the leader.” Ruiz placed defendant “higher on the food chain than a street dealer.”

Several members of the conspiracy testified that Coby Philips, a close friend and business associate of defendant, and a cofounder and member of the FAIM gang, bought methamphetamine from defendant and Sergio, sometimes in quantities as large as 10 pounds. Philips resold “sales quantities” (as opposed to “street level quantities”) to other FAIM members. When Phillips was incarcerated, Timothy Covey took over Phillips’s business operation and started getting drugs directly from defendant. Defendant would “front” Covey a pound or two of methamphetamine, which Covey would resell to “mostly sellers” and then pay defendant back from the sales proceeds.

Ruiz, Ruiz’s childhood friend Delatorre (both Sureño-affiliated gang members), Clayton Cates (Phillips’s brother-in-law), Timothy Covey (Thomas “Bubba” Covey’s brother), and Primo did pick-ups and deliveries of drugs for the distribution chain. Cates drove to Los Angeles on several occasions to pick up the product and bring it to the Bay Area. He got drugs from Phillips and delivered drugs to FAIM member Stephen Buchanan. Ruiz knew Phillips because he and Phillips’s family members were neighbors. He

Page 581

also went with defendant and Sergio a few times to drop off drugs at Phillips’s house in Vallejo, and he personally negotiated a sale from Sergio to Phillips on another occasion.

There was circumstantial evidence to support factual findings, as alleged in the overt acts, that defendant also enlisted the aid of coconspirators lower on the distribution chain to provide backup support, or more, when defendant needed assistance to repel or rob competitors and silence informers. Phillips’s wife and defendant’s girlfriend both testified to a rendezvous between Phillips, defendant, and Primo at The Dead Fish Restaurant prior to the killing of Darrell Grockett, a troublesome drug dealer who threatened Phillips with bodily harm and bought drugs from Phillips but did not want to pay what Phillips charged. Before leaving for the restaurant, Phillips told his wife he was going to meet with Grockett to shoot him. Grockett’s business partner in the drug trade, Sally Sinclair, confirmed that Grockett received a phone call at 8:00 p.m., and immediately thereafter left for a meeting on the night he was found dead. After the killing, Primo told Ruiz about it, and Covey overheard defendant and Primo joking about it in Spanish.

In December 2004, defendant told Phillips’s wife Stacey Taylor, his girlfriend Jamie Beckwith, and Timothy Covey he knew someone he could rob of drugs or money. Later, Primo and Delatorre picked up Ruiz and Rodolfo Figueroa and drove to a rendezvous with defendant and another unidentified person. Primo talked that evening about “jacking” (i.e., robbing) someone. Primo told Ruiz to drive to a place where they were to pick up a package from a drug dealer. According to Ruiz, Delatorre shot Guzman-Mercado in the car. The next day, defendant told Ruiz, “Good job. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.” A week later, Delatorre told Ruiz it “wasn’t supposed to happen like that. They were just going to tie him up.” Afterwards, Delatorre and others went to Guzman-Mercado’s apartment and got “pounds of crystal meth.” Delatorrre said defendant kept the drugs. Later, defendant admitted to Phillips’s wife he got the money or drugs and had shot someone in a car. He also admitted the shooting to Tim Covey. And, defendant’s girlfriend overheard a conversation between defendant, Primo, and Ruiz about pushing someone out of a car. According to Jamie Beckwith, defendant asked, “Did you finish it or did you do it?” Primo said they shot the person but he was not dead, and so they had to push him out of the car.

On February 21, 2005, the day Jose Hernandez was shot, defendant, Tim Covey, and Cates left from Phillips’s wife’s house; she saw them drive off together. Covey drove to a residential street in Richmond, where defendant alighted from the car and returned 45 seconds later holding a gun. Ruiz and Alejandro Figueroa, who lived next door to Hernandez, saw defendant go to the house next door to Figueroa’s. Hernandez identified defendant as the person who shot him.

Page 582

Weeks before the shooting, Sergio told Ruiz that Hernandez was “snitching.” Sometime before the shooting, defendant told Phillips’s wife that Sergio had “found out who was telling.” After the shooting, defendant told Cates he shot “the guy that snitched on him.” He also told Phillips’s wife “he had shot the rat.”

Based on the analogy made famous in Kotteakos v. United States (1946) 328 U.S. 750 [90 L.Ed. 1557, 66 S.Ct. 1239], defendant argues the evidence summarized above shows at most that defendant was the “hub in a wheel selling in larger quantities to the spokes, ” without evidence of “a rim connecting these spokes as might show a single ongoing plan or conspiracy.” “The nature of that ‘rim’ defies precise statement, but general principles are well established.... ‘The government need not show direct contact or explicit agreement between the defendants. It is sufficient to show that each defendant knew or had reason to know of the scope of the conspiracy and that each defendant had reason to believe that their own benefits were dependent upon the success of the entire venture.’ [Citation.] Once the existence of a conspiracy has been established, evidence of only a slight connection is necessary to convict a defendant of knowing participation in it.” (U.S. v. Kenny, supra, 645 F.2d at p. 1335.)

Where there is a variance between an indictment charging one conspiracy and proof at trial of multiple conspiracies, reversal is required only if the variance prejudicially affects the defendant’s substantial rights. (U.S. v. Kenny, supra, 645 F.2d at p. 1334; U.S. v. Castaneda (9th Cir. 1994) 16 F.3d 1504, 1509; Berger v. United States (1935) 295 U.S. 78 [79 L.Ed. 1314, 55 S.Ct. 629]; Kotteakos v. United States, supra, 328 U.S. at p. 757.) “[T]he review of such a case involves two inquiries: was there a variance, and if so, was it prejudicial.” (Kenny, at p. 1334.)

In this case we find no variance. “This [wheel] arrangement is a single conspiracy only when the activities of each of the spokes is interrelated, as when the success of each of the activities depends on the success of the others.” (U.S. v. Stroupe (4th Cir. 1976) 538 F.2d 1063, 1066.) In Kotteakos v. United States, supra, 328 U.S. 750. one person arranged fraudulent loans with numerous borrowers. (Id. at pp. 752–754.) “[E]ach separate agreement had its own distinct, illegal end. Each loan was an end in itself, separate from all others, although all were alike in having similar illegal objects. Except for Brown, the common figure, no conspirator was interested in whether any loan except his own went through. And none aided in any way, by agreement or otherwise, in procuring another’s loan. The conspiracies therefore were distinct and disconnected, not parts of a larger general scheme, both in the phase of agreement with Brown and also in the absence of any aid given to others as well as in specific object and result. There was no drawing of all

Page 583

together in a single, over-all, comprehensive plan.” (Blumenthal v. United States, supra, 332 U.S. at p. 558.)

In our view, the conspiracy here is more like the illegal liquor distribution scheme to sell illegally priced whiskey to tavern owners through seemingly legitimate means in Blumenthal v. United States, supra, 332 U.S. at page 553, than it is like the fraudulent loan scheme in Kotteakos v. United States, supra, 328 U.S. 750. In Blumenthal, the evidence showed two agreements, one between X, the unknown owner of the whiskey, and the two defendants at the top of the distribution chain; and a second agreement to which X was not a party, between the top-end distributors and the other conspirators who carried out the actual sales. (Blumenthal, supra, 332 U.S. at p. 556.) In upholding the defendants’ single conspiracy convictions against variance and insufficiency of the evidence challenges, the Blumenthal court viewed the two agreements as steps or stages in the formation of a larger, more general, all-inclusive conspiracy directed to achieving a single unlawful end or result. (Id. at p. 558; see also People v. Elliott (1978) 77 Cal.App.3d 673, 684-685 [144 Cal.Rptr. 137].)

In our view, the evidence here showing a vertically integrated distribution scheme to get Mexican methamphetamine to end-users in west Contra Costa County was more than sufficient to establish an overarching conspiracy to sell illegal drugs for profit, as charged. Here, the evidence showed defendant obtained the methamphetamine―from Mexico or from less savvy drug dealers―and distributed it to others―Primo, Phillips, Covey, Ruiz, and Delatorre―who performed their parts in making sure defendant’s product was delivered to various levels of middlemen between defendant and the end-users. Sometimes their duties involved pickups and deliveries, and sometimes they involved shooting people who got in the way of the operation, but all contributed in one way or another to the success of the criminal enterprise. It was not also necessary for the prosecution to prove drug sales to Robert Lott, as defendant suggests. Evidence that defendant also sometimes dealt in small quantities, or that Phillips also bought product from others, or that Ruiz and Delatorre were also drug users, does not undermine the basic premise that defendant was a large scale supplier of methamphetamine to others in west Contra Costa County who knowingly sold drugs to middle- and lower-level dealers in the distribution chain, so that everybody in the chain could make some money from the drug sales. “When all inferences favorable to the prosecution are drawn, the evidence discloses the existence of a narcotics ring whose ultimate objective, shared in by a number of people performing various functions, was to bring narcotics into the possession of addicts for profit.... [¶] It has been held that persons can be prosecuted as conspirators if, by buying, selling, or doing some other act, they knowingly participated in a general plan to place narcotics in the hands of ultimate users.” (People v. Van Eyk, supra, 56 Cal.2d at pp. 478–479.) Such is the case here. No variance

Page 584

between the indictment and the evidence adduced at trial appears, and substantial evidence supports defendant’s conspiracy conviction.

III. Substantial Evidence Supports the Gang Enhancement Findings.

Defendant also contends the evidence was insufficient to support the gang enhancements alleged under section 186.22, subdivision (b)(1), given that neither defendant, Grockett nor Guzman-Mercado were members of FAIM or RST. He argues it is “simply speculative” to infer Phillips or Primo shot Grockett, and Delatorre shot Guzman-Mercado, in association with or for the benefit of a gang, or to further conduct by gang members. We disagree.

Section 186.22, subdivision (b)(1), provides in relevant part: “[A]ny person who is convicted of a felony committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members, shall, upon conviction of that felony, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which he or she has been convicted, be punished as follows....” (Italics added.) “ ‘[S]pecific intent to benefit the gang is not required. What is required is the “specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members....” ’ ” (People v. Leon (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 149, 162 [73 Cal.Rptr.3d 786].)

Phillips and Thomas Covey were cofounders of the FAIM gang, whose primary activity was drug dealing, according to Phillips’s wife Stacey and Thomas Covey’s brother Timothy. According to Timothy Covey, the gang was formed to provide “muscle” to “help our drug trade.” Tim Covey took over the reins of Phillips’s drug trade after Phillips was incarcerated. Defendant would “front” Covey a pound or two of methamphetamine, which Covey would then resell mainly to sellers, and pay defendant out of the sale proceeds. Gang expert Detective Tribble also opined that FAIM was a criminal street gang whose primary activity was selling large quantities of methamphetamine.

Although Covey was not directly involved in Grockett’s murder, Covey testified he later overheard defendant and Primo joking about it. Covey testified that, when defendant and Phillips returned after the Grockett killing, “everybody was pretty much let known that we needed to start carrying guns and we were all hanging around Coby’s house in Vallejo.” Other evidence established that Grockett was one of the drug dealers to whom Phillips’s organization resold the drugs, that he did not want to pay Phillips’s price for the drugs, and that Grockett had threatened Phillips’s life. Tribble opined that if Grockett was interfering with the FAIM gang’s drug sales, or threatening

Page 585

Phillips’s life, killing Grockett would financially benefit the gang. Tribble testified, “You no longer have a threat that’s not only physically threatening a member or more than a member of the gang but that same physical threat would entail the threat of future sales of methamphetamine which is the primary activity of the gang.”

Ruiz testified he and Delatorre were members of RST, a Sureños gang. According to Ruiz, one of the primary activities of the RST gang was selling methamphetamine and marijuana. Gang expert Detective Brady concurred that Delatorre was a Sureño gang member in 2003 and 2004, and that one of the primary activities of RST from 2000 to 2006 was selling drugs. Ruiz and Delatorre were part of defendant’s distribution ring and both participated in the robbery and murder of Guzman-Mercado. Brady opined that robbery or attempted robbery could benefit the gang financially.

The prosecutor conceded defendant was not a gang member. But under the circumstances presented here, an inescapable inference was that FAIM’s and RST’s drug trades benefitted from activities that advanced defendant’s enterprise, and vice versa: defendant used the gang infrastructure already in place to facilitate the sales; what was good for him was also good for the gang. Thus, a reasonable trier of fact could find from the facts presented that defendant orchestrated the robbery of Guzman-Mercado, and participated in the murder of Grockett, in association with members of RST and FAIM, with the specific intent to promote, further or assist in the gangs’ primary criminal activity-selling methamphetamine. In short, substantial evidence supports the conclusion that defendant acted in concert with members of the RST and FAIM criminal street gangs with the requisite intent by using gang members to pick up and deliver drugs, collect monies and, on occasion, rob and kill other drug dealers, and by distributing his drugs through the gang networks already in place.

IV. Defendant's Invocation of Counsel Was Equivocal[*]

V. There Was No Double Jeopardy Violation.

Defendant claims reversal of the entire judgment is required because the court erroneously denied his motion to dismiss the conspiracy count on state and federal double jeopardy grounds. We disagree.

In May 2009, the Oakland Branch of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California filed a superseding information charging defendant with knowingly and intentionally using a communication

Page 586

facility (a telephone), on November 22, 2005, to facilitate the commission of a drug trafficking felony in violation of Title 21 United States Code section 841(a)(1). (21 U.S.C § 843(b).) On May 11, 2009, defendant pleaded guilty “to Count One of the captioned superseding information charging [him] with knowingly and intentionally using a communication facility (a telephone) to facilitate the distribution of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 843(b).” (Italics added.) In the plea agreement, defendant acknowledged the elements of the offense were identical to the allegation set forth above. [15]

The trial court found no violation of double jeopardy, because the federal charge to which defendant pleaded guilty was not based on the same act or acts as the conspiracy to sell methamphetamine in Contra Costa County. The trial court was correct. The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not preclude multiple convictions in different sovereign jurisdictions for the same criminal act. (Heath v. Alabama (1985) 474 U.S. 82, 93 [88 L.Ed.2d 387, 106 S.Ct. 433].) Thus, even if the act of using the telephone to negotiate a drug debt for one kilogram of cocaine on November 22, 2005 had been charged in California as a violation of California law, the California prosecution would not have violated federal constitutional law.

However, California provides greater double jeopardy protection by statute than that afforded by the federal Constitution. (People v. Comingore (1977) 20 Cal.3d 142, 145 [141 Cal.Rptr. 542, 570 P.2d 723]; §§ 656, 793.)[16] The trial court rejected defendant’s state double jeopardy claim because “a conviction in this state is not barred where the offense committed is not the same act that involves an element not present in the prior prosecution. [¶] I do not read People v. Belcher [(1974) 11 Cal.3d 91 [113 Cal.Rptr. 1, 520 P.2d 385]] as only... raising the argument that California courts use a transactional approach [to] a prior jeopardy. In fact, in Belcher the courts made it clear that they rejected a course of the conduct rule and have adhered to a strict same acts rule. I think that what occurred in all of the materials that I reviewed was that there was a conflating of investigation and complaints with acquittal or

Page 587

conviction. And despite the fact if there had been some overlap, even if there had been an entire overlap between the state and the federal investigation, there was not an acquittal nor a conviction of conspiracy in this case.”

Under sections 656 and 793, “ ‘a defendant may not be convicted after a prior acquittal or conviction in another jurisdiction if all the acts constituting the offense in this state were necessary to prove the offense in the prior prosecution [citation]; however, a conviction in this state is not barred where the offense committed is not the same act but involves an element not present in the prior prosecution. [Citation.]’ [Citation.]” (People v. Comingore, supra, 20 Cal.3d 142, 146; People v. Candelaria (1956) 139 Cal.App.2d 432, 440 [294 P.2d 120]; People v. Belcher, supra, 11 Cal.3d at p. 99; People v. Bellacosa (2007) 147 Cal.App.4th 868, 873-878 [54 Cal.Rptr.3d 691].)

To illustrate, in People v. Belcher, supra, 11 Cal.4th 91, a federal narcotics agent and an undercover Oakland police officer were robbed at gunpoint by the defendant. In federal court, Belcher was acquitted of assault on a federal officer, but he was subsequently convicted in state court of assault with a deadly weapon and two counts of robbery. (Id. at pp. 94-95.) The California Supreme Court reversed the assault conviction because it was based on the same act-“the same assault upon the same person, ” at issue in the federal case. (Id. at p. 99.) The robbery convictions were affirmed because they involved additional acts, the taking of personal property, not necessary for proof of the federal assault charge. (Id. at pp. 100–101.) In doing so, the court reaffirmed that section 654’s “course of conduct” rule does not apply under section 656 (Belcher, at p. 98). While a defendant may not be convicted in this state after a prior acquittal or conviction in another jurisdiction “if all the acts constituting the offense in this state were necessary to prove the offense in the prior prosecution, ” he may be convicted where the offense “is not the same act [because it] involves an element not present in the prior prosecution.” (Id. at p. 99.)

Recently, our Supreme Court developed the limits of section 656 and its double jeopardy protection in People v. Homick (2012) 55 Cal.4th 816 [150 Cal.Rptr.3d 1, 289 P.3d 791]. Homick was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of first degree murder with special circumstances (murder for financial gain and lying in wait were alleged as the special circumstances). His death sentence was affirmed. Homick was previously acquitted in federal court of a charge of murder for hire (a violation of 18 U.S.C. former § 1952A, which has since been renumbered to § 1958) involving the same victims in the state prosecution. (55 Cal.4th at p. 837.) Our high court held the application of section 656 “turns on whether the California charges against defendant required proof of conduct that was not required for conviction of the earlier federal charges.” (55 Cal.4th at p. 843.)

Page 588

As to the lying in wait allegation, the court concluded section 656 did not bar the state prosecution. Simply stated, the elements for lying in wait are not required as elements and proof to convict in the crime proscribed by Title 18 United States Code former section 1952A, Homick’s federal offense.

Here, even if defendant admitted as part of his federal plea agreement that he used the telephone frequently to negotiate drug transactions, and to discuss drug trafficking with his associates, those facts do not establish the federal and state offenses were the same charge. The federal and state convictions here did not share any of the same elements or acts. The state conspiracy charge here required proof of an agreement, which was not required to prove a violation of Title 21 United States Code section 843(b). The telephone call, which was the basis of the charge in federal court, occurred eight months after all of the overt acts charged in state court under the conspiracy count. “If... the offenses require proof of different physical acts, then the California prosecution is not barred even though some of the elements of the offenses may overlap.” (People v. Bellacosa, supra, 147 Cal.App.4th at p. 874.) Accordingly, defendant’s state double jeopardy claim is not well taken.

Finally, the trial court did not err in rejecting defendant’s request for an evidentiary hearing on the theory the “federal authorities colluded with state authorities to permit imposition of a federal prison term as a sham separate sovereign; this was done knowingly to permit the expansive state conspiracy count to go forward to help prove murders on top of the federal charge.” The trial court “found nothing alleged nor any evidence that supports an inference that the state and federal authorities engaged in the conspiracy to trap the defendants by allowing them to plead to federal offenses that would not protect them from a subsequent state prosecution. And in fact it was quite clear that the state had information and that they would be prosecuting, and the feds chose to ultimately step aside and get a very narrow plea for both defendants.” [17]

Defendant does not challenge the prosecutor’s declaration or otherwise present any basis for this court to override the trial court’s determination.

Defendant cites People v. Westbrook (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 220 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d 1], U.S. v. Montgomery (9th Cir. 1998) 150 F.3d 983, and Bartkus v. Illinois (1959) 359 U.S. 121 [3 L.Ed.2d 684, 79 S.Ct. 676] in

Page 589

support of his claim, but those cases do not assist him. In Westbrook, the court termed the “ ‘sham separate sovereign’ ” argument a “narrow exception” to the rule that prosecutions undertaken by separate sovereigns are permissible. (Westbrook, at pp. 224–225.) In that case, as here, a prosecuting attorney averred that the prosecutions were separate, and the court of appeal rejected the claim they were not. (Id. at p. 225.) Similarly, in Bartkus, supra, the United States Supreme Court rejected a showing of cooperation between federal and state prosecutors as supporting “the claim that the State of Illinois in bringing its prosecution was merely a tool of the federal authorities, who thereby avoided the prohibition of the Fifth Amendment against a retrial of a federal prosecution after an acquittal.” (Bartkus v. Illinois, supra, 359 U.S. at pp. 123–124.)

Finally, United States v. Montgomery, supra, 150 F.3d 983 is inapposite, as it did not involve convictions in different jurisdictions. It involved a single federal prosecution in which two counts of conspiracy-one to manufacture methamphetamine and one to distribute methamphetamine-were joined for trial. (Id. at p. 989.) Although double jeopardy principles prohibit splitting one conspiracy into multiple violations of one conspiracy statute, the Montgomery court rejected the defendant’s claim the two conspiracies were actually only one conspiracy. (Ibid.)

In sum, the trial court did not err by denying defendant’s double jeopardy claims.

VI. Bifurcation of Gang Allegations Was Not Required.[*]

VII. Severance of the Murder Counts or Overt Acts Related to Attempted Murder Was Not Required.

Prior to trial, the defense moved for severance of counts, requesting separate trials “for the two homicide and assault cases” on grounds of undue prejudice. Before ruling on the motion, the court asked defense counsel: “If the Court severed the attempted murder count, you mentioned that you would be prepared to go forward on the two homicides but what I’m trying to get clear in my mind is if I severed the attempted murder but I did not sever the conspiracy charge in Count One, would you be prepared to go forward and address overt acts 17, 18 and 19? It’s not a charge, it’s simply overt acts. You understand where I am going?” Counsel responded: “ I understand where you’re going, yes. Um... I think so. Just an act. I think so.” Following

Page 590

further argument, and in light of ongoing discovery problems, the court ordered severance of the attempted murder charge, but not of the related overt acts. The court denied the motion with respect to the two murder counts.

On appeal, defendant argues the trial court abused its discretion based on the facts before it in denying the severance motion as to the murder counts, or at least as to the overt acts alleging the attempted murder.[18] Defendant also argues the joinder of counts and overt acts resulted in gross unfairness at trial amounting to a denial of due process and requiring reversal. (People v. Carasi (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1263, 1296 [82 Cal.Rptr.3d 265, 190 P.3d 616].) We disagree.

We review the court’s ruling for abuse of discretion based on the facts before it at the time the motion was made. (People v. Avila (2006) 38 Cal.4th 491, 575 [43 Cal.Rptr.3d 1, 133 P.3d 1076].) "If the court’s joinder ruling was proper at the time it was made, a reviewing court may reverse a judgment only on a showing that joinder ‘ “resulted in ‘gross unfairness’ amounting to a denial of due process.” ’ [Citation.] Even if the court abused its discretion in refusing to sever, reversal is unwarranted unless, to a reasonable probability, defendant would have received a more favorable result in a separate trial.” (Ibid.)

The touchstone of a successful severance motion is the clear showing of “a substantial danger of prejudice” from joinder, and the party seeking severance bears that burden. (People v. Vines (2011) 51 Cal.4th 830, 855 [124 Cal.Rptr.3d 830, 251 P.3d 943].) """"The determination of prejudice is necessarily dependent on the particular circumstances of each individual case, but certain criteria have emerged to provide guidance in ruling upon and reviewing a motion to sever trial.” [Citation.] Refusal to sever may be an abuse of discretion where: (1) evidence on the crimes to be jointly tried would not be cross-admissible in separate trials; (2) certain of the charges are unusually likely to inflame the jury against the defendant; (3) a “weak” case has been joined with a “strong” case, or with another “weak” case, so that the “spillover” effect of aggregate evidence on several charges might well alter the outcome of some or all of the charges; and (4) any one of the charges carries the death penalty or joinder of them turns the matter into a capital case. [Citations.]’ ” ’ ” (Ibid.)

We have already determined the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction for a single over-arching drug conspiracy. Although defendant maintains the conspiracy claim was unfounded, he acknowledges the single

Page 591

conspiracy claim provides the basis for cross-admissibility of evidence. Furthermore, we do not view the attempted murder facts as more inflammatory than the facts of the two murders “because it was the only street-shooting appellant assertedly committed himself.” The Grockett and Guzman-Mercado murders were no less disturbing, and there was some evidence defendant was one of the people who actually shot Grockett. Some charges were not weaker or stronger than others; all depended to some extent on the veracity of coconspirators’ statements. None of the charges carried the death penalty or turned the matter into a capital case. Finally, defense counsel expressed the view, prior to trial, she could defend against the overt acts if the attempted murder were severed. These were the facts before the court at the time it ruled. No abuse of discretion appears.

Defendant asserts “error and gross trial prejudice are indeed shown here” but fails to support that assertion with any specifics. Given that most if not all of the evidence presented at the unitary trial would have been admissible at seriatim separate trials for murder, we see no reasonable probability defendant would have received a more favorable result if he had separate trials. (People v. Avila, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 575.)

VIII. The Hearsay Statements Of Coconspirators Were Admissible.

Defendant asserts the trial court erred by admitting statements made by nontestifying declarants Phillips, Delatorre and Primo under Evidence Code section 1223.[19] He also asserts the error violated his constitutional rights.[20] We disagree.

Defendant reiterates his argument that none of the statements were admissible as statements made in the furtherance of a single, ongoing conspiracy to

Page 592

sell drugs, because the evidence did not support the existence of such a conspiracy. We reject this argument because, as we have explained elsewhere, there was ample evidence that defendant was the leader of an ongoing overarching conspiracy to distribute drugs for sale in west Contra Costa County during all relevant times.

Next, defendant argues even if there was an ongoing conspiracy, the statements were not admissible because they were (a) casual, and (b) made after the discrete crimes were committed. Because all of the discrete crimes, and all of the coconspirators’ statements, occurred while the drug distribution conspiracy was ongoing, the statements were not made inadmissible by their timing. Defendant does not identify which statements were “casual.” Warning Ruiz not to worry about the shooting of Guzman-Mercado, but to keep quiet, was not casual. Telling Ruiz the details of the plan to rob Guzman-Mercado and about the subsequent break-in at his apartment to steal methamphetamine was not casual either. Both statements furthered the conspiracy by instructing a trusted operative about how to act, and keeping him in the loop of the conspiracy.

Defendant’s third claim is that Coby Phillips’s statement to Stacey Taylor about his impending meeting with others to kill Grockett was admitted erroneously before there was any evidence, independent of the statement, of the conspiracy to kill him. However, Evidence Code section 1223 expressly vests in the trial court the discretion to vary the order of proof. That discretion was not abused here. Furthermore, there was ample evidence from which it could be inferred that the killing was part of the overall conspiracy to distribute and sell drugs, and furthered that conspiracy.

Defendant’s fourth claim is: “if admissibility based on smaller conspiracies to murder or rob were considered, there is no evidence independent of the statements appellant was a member of the smaller conspiracies (to kill Grockett or rob anyone) either.” Since admissibility was plainly based on the larger conspiracy to distribute drugs for sale, defendant’s fourth claim is not well taken.

Finally, defendant argues all his contentions apply with equal force to Sergio’s pre-offense statement that Hernandez was a snitch. For all the reasons we reject his earlier contentions, we reject this one as well. The conspiracy was ongoing, the statement was not casually made but rather spurred the attempt on Hernandez’s life, and the statement was made in the furtherance of the overarching conspiracy to distribute drugs for sale. No error appears.

Page 593

IX. The Instructions on Murder Liability Premised on Drug Conspiracy Were Correct.

The trial court instructed the jury on liability for murder under the doctrine of natural and probable consequences, an extension of aider and abettor liability. (CALCRIM No. 402) Defendant argues this instruction violates his state and federal rights to due process, a fair trial, and the right to a jury determination beyond a reasonable doubt on all issues because, unlike CALCRIM No. 417 on liability for coconspirators’ acts (which was also given), CALCRIM No. 402 does not limit liability to acts in furtherance of a conspiracy. Defendant acknowledges the rule he challenges is the law in this state. (People v. Brigham (1989) 216 Cal.App.3d 1039, 1045 [265 Cal.Rptr. 486].) Moreover, our Supreme Court recently discussed the differences between aider and abettor liability in its natural and probable consequences permutation and coconspirator liability, and explained the reasons for those differences in terms that are dispositive of defendant’s unfairness-based constitutional argument.

In Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th 603, the defendant was tried and convicted of two second degree murders on the theory he aided and abetted the actual shooters in committing the target crimes of disturbing the peace and assault or battery, and the murders were the natural and probable consequence of those target crimes. (Id. at pp. 611-612.) Under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, “[a]n aider and abettor is guilty not only of the intended, or target, crime but also of any other crime a principal in the target crime actually commits (the nontarget crime) that is a natural and probable consequence of the target crime. [Citations.] ‘Thus, for example, if a person aids and abets only an intended assault, but a murder results, that person may be guilty of that murder, even if unintended, if it is a natural and probable consequence of the intended assault.’ [Citation.]” (Id. at p. 611.)

The trial court in Smith instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 402, which included the following sentence: “If the murder... was committed for a reason independent of the common plan to commit the disturbing the peace or assault or battery, then the commission of murder... was not a natural and probable consequence of disturbing the peace or assault or battery.” (Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at p. 612.) The Smith court determined that sentence was incorrect, notwithstanding its inclusion in a CALCRIM instruction. (60 Cal.4th at p. 614.) “To establish aiding and abetting liability under the natural and probable consequence doctrine, the prosecution must prove the nontarget offense was reasonably foreseeable; it need not additionally prove the nontarget offense was not committed for a reason independent of the common plan to commit the target offense.” (Ibid.)

Page 594

The Smith court concluded the erroneous limitation on aider and abettor liability for natural and probable consequences in CALCRIM No. 402 was probably imported from case law involving coconspirator liability. (Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at p. 614.) Under a coconspirator theory of liability, each coconspirator “ ‘ “is responsible for everything done by his confederates, which follows incidentally in the execution of the common design as one of its probable and natural consequences, even though it was not intended as a part of the original design or common plan. Nevertheless the act must be the ordinary and probable effect of the wrongful act specifically agreed on, so that the connection between them may be reasonably apparent, and not a fresh and independent product of the mind of one of the confederates outside of, or foreign to, the common design.”’ ” (Ibid. quoting from People v. Kauffman (1907) 152 Cal. 331, 334 [92 P. 861] (Kauffman); see People v. Luparello (1986) 187 Cal.App.3d 410, 444 [231 Cal.Rptr. 832]; People v. Werner (1940) 16 Cal.2d 216, 223 [105 P.2d 927], see also Pinkerton v. United States (1946) 328 U.S. 640, 646 [90 L.Ed. 1489, 66 S.Ct. 1180]: Salinas v. United States (1997) 522 U.S. 52, 63-64 [139 L.Ed.2d 352, 118 S.Ct. 469].)

However, although aider and abettor and coconspirator liability both involve joining with others in a criminal enterprise, they are not coextensive or interchangeable. Citing People v. Brigham, supra, 216 Cal.App.3d 1039, with approval, our Supreme Court explained: “Because a conspirator can be liable for a crime committed by any other conspirator, and the defendant need not do (or even encourage) anything criminal except agree to commit a crime, it is reasonable to make a conspirator not liable for another conspirator’s crime that is ‘ “a fresh and independent product of the mind of one of the confederates outside of, or foreign to, the common design.” ’ (Kauffman, supra, 152 Cal. at p. 334.) But aiding and abetting is different. An aider and abettor is someone who, with the necessary mental state, ‘by act or advice aids, promotes, encourages or instigates, the commission of the crime.’ [Citation.] Because the aider and abettor is furthering the commission, or at least attempted commission, of an actual crime, it is not necessary to add a limitation on the aider and abettor’s liability for crimes other principals commit beyond the requirement that they be a natural and probable, i.e., reasonably foreseeable, consequence of the crime aided and abetted. If the prosecution can prove the nontarget crime was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the crime the defendant intentionally aided and abetted, it should not additionally have to prove the negative fact that the nontarget crime was not committed for a reason independent of the common plan. [¶] To be sure, whether an unintended crime was the independent product of the perpetrator’s mind outside of, or foreign to, the common design may, if shown by the evidence, become relevant to the question whether that crime was a natural and probable consequence of the target crime. In a given case, a criminal defendant may argue to the jury that the nontarget crime was the

Page 595

perpetrator’s independent idea unrelated to the common plan, and thus was not reasonably foreseeable and not a natural and probable consequence of the target crime. But that would be a factual issue for the jury to resolve [citation], not a separate legal requirement.” (Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at pp. 616-617; see Nye & Nissen v. United States (1949) 336 U.S. 613, 618 [93 L.Ed. 919, 69 S.Ct. 766].)

Here, the trial court’s adaptation of CALCRIM No. 402 included the same limiting language disapproved in Smith: “If the murder... was committed for a reason independent of the common plan to commit the crime of conspiracy to commit sale of controlled substances and/or attempted robbery, then the commission of murder... was not a natural and probable consequence of the crime of conspiracy to commit sale of controlled substances and/or attempted robbery.” Here, as in Smith, the erroneous language could only have helped defendant. (Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at p. 617.) In light of our Supreme Court’s explanation of the differences between aider and abettor and coconspirator liability, we reject defendant’s contention CALCRIM No. 402 is incorrect because it does not limit liability to acts in furtherance of a conspiracy. The two theories of liability are distinct, and engrafting an “in furtherance of” limitation onto aider and abetting liability is inconsistent with Smith’s holding and existing law.

Defendant argues the connection between an ongoing conspiracy to sell controlled substances and murder was too attenuated “to sustain the more serious conviction” because the prosecution did not make out its case for an ongoing drug conspiracy involving defendant and his confederates. To the extent defendant is re arguing the sufficiency of the evidence to support an overarching conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in the guise of instructional error, we have already rejected his contention and will not revisit that issue here.

Defendant also argues the evidence of defendant’s participation in a drug-distribution conspiracy did not provide an “adequate foundation” for instructions on coconspirator liability or aider and abettor liability under the natural and probable consequences doctrine. We disagree. In the context of evaluating whether there was a sufficient evidentiary foundation for giving an instruction, substantial evidence means “ ‘ “evidence sufficient to ‘deserve consideration by the jury.’ ” ’ ” (People v. Wilson (2005) 36 Cal.4th 309, 331 [30 Cal.Rptr.3d 513, 114 P.3d 758].) There was certainly enough evidence of an ongoing conspiracy to sell drugs, and a separate conspiracy to commit robbery, to warrant instructions on whether homicide was a natural and probable consequence of such conspiracies. It was for the jury to decide, as a factual matter, whether the murders were “a natural and probable consequence of the common plan or design of the conspiracy” that “further[ed] the

Page 596

common plan, ” as stated in CALCRIM No. 417, or a natural and probable consequence of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to sell drugs or rob a drug dealer (the “target crimes”), under CALCRIM No. 402. (Smith, supra, 60 Cal.4th at p. 617; Chiu, supra, 59 Cal.4th at p. 162.)

Defendant’s reliance on People v. Price (1991) 1 Cal.4th 324, 443 [3 Cal.Rptr.2d 106, 821 P.2d 610] (Price) and People v. Butts (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 817, 836-837 [46 Cal.Rptr. 362] (Butts), is misplaced. In Price, the defendant complained of the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that Myers, one of the witnesses against him, could be found vicariously liable as an aider and abettor for one of the murders with which defendant was charged. (Price, at pp. 441–442.) The court considered whether “the evidence before the jury plainly would have supported a finding that Myers intentionally aided the commission of an offense of which a crime such as the Barnes murder was a natural and probable consequence.” (Id. at pp. 442–443.) The court concluded no such instruction was required because, among other reasons, the “evidence that Myers assisted the AB by smuggling drugs and knives into state prisons and by carrying messages... show[ed], at most, that Myers aided and abetted illegal drug activity and in-prison violence; the killing of an AB defector’s relative, outside of prison, is not a natural and probable consequence of such crimes.” (Id. at p. 443.)

While the foregoing sentence appears to be categorical, in context it was clearly meant to summarize the evidence adduced at Price’s trial. It suggests, perhaps, that murder is not the natural and probable consequence of low-level assistance given by persons such as Beckwith or Taylor. We do not take it to mean that murder can never be a natural and probable consequence of drug smuggling by a principal player in the grander scheme. Here, there was ample evidence that defendant and his confederates were involved in a highly profitable, vertically integrated drug-selling scheme that depended on securing product to sell, by purchase or by robbery, and further depended on maintaining respect and control by punishing underlings and others who snitched, balked at paying full price, or otherwise threatened members of the organization.

In Butts, the Court of Appeal reversed the defendant’s conspiracy conviction for insufficient evidence, and then reversed his involuntary manslaughter conviction for a homicide committed by someone else, because Butts’s conviction was premised on coconspirator liability. (Butts, supra, 236 Cal.App.2d at p. 835.) Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal concluded Butts theoretically could be retried for the homicide on an aiding and abetting theory. (Ibid.) However, in dicta intended for the “guidance of the parties and the trial court, ” the appellate court observed: “In view of the present record, the possibility that the prosecution may muster up enough evidence to

Page 597

warrant jury consideration of Butts’ liability as an aider and abettor seems quite remote. Perhaps the prosecution has other testimony and other witnesses. In any event we do not preclude a retrial if the prosecution wants one.” (Id. at pp. 835-836 & fn. 3.) Here, by contrast, the evidence warranting the jury’s consideration of defendant’s derivative liability for the homicides of Grockett and Guzman-Mercado comfortably supported instructions on coconspirator and aiding and abetting theories of liability. The trial court did not err in instructing on coconspirator or aiding and abetting liability, except to the extent it incorporated Chiu and Smith errors.



The judgment is reversed as to count 2, the murder of Darrell Grockett. The matter is remanded for the People to decide whether to accept reduction of count 2 to second degree murder, or to retry defendant for the first degree murder of Darrell Grockett under theories other than natural and probable consequences. The trial court is directed to correct the indeterminate abstract of judgment to reflect the murders were committed in 2004 and transmit the amended abstract to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In all other respects the judgment is affirmed.

Margulies, Acting P.J., and Banke, J., concurred.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.