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People v. Zaragoza

Supreme Court of California

July 11, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
LOUIS RANGEL ZARAGOZA, Defendant and Appellant.

         Superior Court San Joaquin County, No. SP076824A Thomas Teaford Judge

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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         Michael R. Snedeker, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

         Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette and Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Stephanie Mitchell, Sean M. McCoy and Peter H. Smith, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


         CUÉLLAR, J.

         In February 2001, a San Joaquin County jury found defendant Louis Rangel Zaragoza guilty of the 1999 first degree murder of David Gaines and the robbery of William Gaines. (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 189.)[1] The jury found true the robbery-murder and lying-in-wait special circumstances - making defendant eligible for the death penalty (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(15), (17)(A)) - and also concluded that defendant personally used a handgun and caused a death in the commission of the murder and robbery. (Former §§ 12022.5, subd. (a), 12022.53, subd. (d).) Following the penalty phase trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. This appeal is automatic. (§ 1239,

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subd. (b).) We reverse the death judgment because of error in the death-qualification of the jury, but otherwise affirm.

         I. Facts

         The judgment of death under review rests on the jury's finding that defendant murdered David Gaines in the commission of a robbery and while lying in wait. The prosecution's theory was that defendant and his brother, David Zaragoza, together committed the robbery murder and that defendant was the shooter. The brothers were originally charged in a single information. After David Zaragoza was found incompetent to stand trial, defendant was tried alone.

         A. Guilt Phase

         1. The Prosecution's Case

         The murder victim was 36-year-old David Gaines. He worked with his father, William Gaines, 87, at Gaines Liquors in Stockton. On Friday, June 11, 1999, David Gaines arrived for work in the afternoon, as usual. William Gaines returned to the store around 7:00 p.m., bringing food his wife Mary had prepared. Mary usually packed a meal and salad for her son on Friday nights because there was no time for him to go out for a sandwich. The salad was in a fluted Pyrex glass bowl with a blue lid.

         After closing the store at 11:00 p.m., David and William Gaines drove in separate cars back to their home, located at 1122 Cameron Way, in an unincorporated area of Stockton. David Gaines parked his car in the garage; William parked his in front of the house. When William Gaines got out of the car, he was holding a brown paper bag in one hand and his keys in the other. On rare occasions, William Gaines would bring home the day's receipts, but the paper bag on this day contained only the Pyrex bowl. As soon as William Gaines shut the car door, a man punched him in the chin and shoulder. With his other hand, the man grabbed the bag containing the Pyrex bowl. William Gaines briefly fell to one knee. When he got back up, he called out "David" to his son. The assailant, later identified by William Gaines as David Zaragoza, took off running in an eastbound direction.

         David Gaines rushed outside with a canister of Mace and said, "Hey." David Zaragoza was already 10 to 30 feet down the street, with his back to William Gaines. Suddenly, William Gaines heard gunshots, so he ducked behind his vehicle. He did not see any muzzle flash coming from the fleeing David Zaragoza before he lost sight of his assailant. Seconds later, when the gunfire had ceased, William found his son on the driveway in a pool of blood.

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David Zaragoza and another man were running down the street. The men were 50 to 100 feet away, one trailing about 10 feet behind the other. William Gaines entered the house to tell his wife what had happened and to call 911. The 911 call came in at 11:16 p.m.

         Carol Maurer, who lived across the street and a little to the east of the Gaines residence, testified that she looked outside her bedroom, the room closest to the Gaines residence, after hearing gunfire. She saw two young men, medium build and "not too tall, " heading east. The men were running fast and only a few feet apart. The one in back was wearing white. Maurer had told neighbor David French at the scene that she saw two young people running down the street after the shots were fired, and French in turn relayed that information to 911. Cindy Grafius, who lived east of the Gaines family home on Cameron Way, heard four loud "pops" and then saw a person run by her driveway. She did not recall seeing anything in this person's hands. By the time she walked outside her home, she looked west and then east but did not see anyone.

         David Gaines was not breathing and had no pulse when the paramedics arrived. He suffered four gunshot wounds: one each to his head and wrist, and two to his chest. The presence of soot indicated that these must have been contact wounds, except for the wound to the head, where the muzzle would have been no more than 18 inches away. The three bullets that could be recovered were so damaged as to preclude the conclusion that they were fired by any particular gun, but the criminalist was able to determine that they all could have been fired by the same gun.

         The prosecution theorized that the first shot, a defensive wound, hit David Gaines's wrist and caused his watch to shatter and spread pieces over a large area. The remaining shots, which were fatal, spun David Gaines around. Based on the trajectory of the bullets, the northwesterly direction of the blood spatter, and the recovery of a spent bullet in the next-door neighbor's yard to the east, the prosecution argued that David Gaines must have been facing south, away from the fleeing David Zaragoza but toward his killer, at the time he was shot. According to the prosecution, this was the only explanation for the downward trajectory of the bullets that entered David Gaines, who was taller than defendant or his brother and was on a driveway that sloped up from the street toward the house.

         Later that night, William Gaines scooped up some papers from the ground near his car door. He assumed they must have fallen out of his shirt pocket when he was accosted. The next morning, after looking at the papers, he realized they were not his and called the San Joaquin County Sheriff's

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Department. The papers included a number of items that bore David Zaragoza's name or fingerprints, including a Medi-Cal identification card, a transit card, and a San Joaquin County Medical Facility interoffice memo.

         Meanwhile, at the crime scene, the sheriff's department had already recovered a torn book-and-release form and another piece of paper with the words "Mr. Zar" on it. Further research revealed that the form belonged to David Zaragoza. The next morning, June 12, 1999, Detective Jerry Alejandre went to the board and care home where David Zaragoza resided; David was not home. Alejandre interviewed the caretakers and was shown photographs of David Zaragoza and his family, including a single photo of defendant. When Detective Alejandre returned to the board and care home in the afternoon, the photo of defendant was missing from the display.

         In his statement to police on June 12, 1999, David Zaragoza denied being with defendant on the previous evening. A clinical psychologist who examined David in January 2000 diagnosed him as suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia, polysubstance abuse (in remission because of his incarceration), and severe personality disorder with paranoid, antisocial, and schizotypal features. David had borderline intellectual functioning, a verbal IQ of 61, a second grade reading level, and a global assessment of functioning score indicating severe impairment and psychosis.

         On June 13, 1999, Detective Bruce Wuest went to 429 South Airport Way, where defendant lived with his sister, Nina Koker, and her disabled husband, John Koker, to search for evidence. In the garbage bin outside the Koker residence, Wuest found a fluted Pyrex glass bowl, which had been wrapped in a plastic bag from Grocery Outlet and placed in a white kitchen-size garbage bag. There was oil inside the bowl, which was consistent with its having contained a salad. Mary Gaines identified the bowl as the one she had used to pack dinner for her son on the day he died. Wuest also found a small white bag containing a receipt from a Jack in the Box on Pacific Avenue, which was less than a mile from the Gaines residence, and an empty pack of Marlboro 100 Lights. The Jack in the Box receipt was dated June 12, 1999, at 12:03 a.m. The garbage bin was otherwise empty, as the garbage had been picked up on Friday, June 11.

         Two days later, Wuest returned to the Koker residence and looked in the garbage bin again. This time, he found the blue lid to the fluted Pyrex bowl. The lid had been placed in a coffee can that was used for cigarette butts. Wuest recalled seeing the coffee can inside the house during his earlier visit. Mary Gaines identified the lid as hers.

         No Pyrex products were found inside the Koker residence. Yolanda Tahod, defendant's mother, confirmed that neither she nor her daughter owned any

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Pyrex bowls of the type found in the garbage at the Koker residence. Koker claimed that she sometimes would put plastic containers of dog food in the refrigerator, forget about them, and then throw them away when she was cleaning up. She did not know whether she had thrown any bowls away between that Friday, when the garbage was picked up, and that Sunday, when the police found the Pyrex bowl in the garbage can. Nor did she know how the blue lid to the Pyrex bowl came to be in the coffee can.

         On Sunday, June 13, 1999, defendant voluntarily went to the sheriff's department for a videotaped interview. The jury viewed excerpts from that interview, as well as excerpts from defendant's interview the next day following his arrest. During the first interview, defendant admitted that he had been with his brother on Friday night, but denied any involvement in the robbery or murder. According to defendant, David Zaragoza had called on Friday to ask whether he could spend the night at the Koker residence. Defendant secured permission from his sister and called his brother back to tell him that he would be picked up after their mother dropped off the car. (Koker, however, testified that she had not given permission for David to sleep over that night.) Defendant picked up David around 9:30 p.m. in front of the board and care home. David, who (according to defendant) often dresses "weird, " was wearing a white tuxedo vest and gray or blue pajama-style pants from the Stockton State Hospital.[2] Defendant complained that his hands were numb and tingling from his work as a welder, and asked David to rub some ointment on his hands and feet. After David did so, defendant fell asleep. When defendant woke up between 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., David was gone. Defendant estimated that he must have fallen asleep between 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. David called the next morning to explain that he had decided to leave the previous night because he was hearing voices. Defendant said he left for work on Saturday morning around 4:45 a.m., but was told when he arrived that there was no work for him.

         After defendant was arrested and reinterviewed on June 14, 1999, he told police that David Zaragoza wanted to spend Friday night at the Koker residence, that defendant picked David up and brought him to the house between 9:45 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., that David was wearing a white vest and tennis shoes, that defendant asked David to massage a sports cream into his aching feet, that defendant fell asleep around 10:30 p.m., and that defendant woke up around 11:30 p.m. or 11:45 p.m. to find that David was gone. The following afternoon, David called defendant to explain that he had left because he was hearing voices and could not get any medication until Monday. When defendant asked David about his two visits with the police,

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David said, "I got nothing to worry about, because I ain't did nothing." Defendant admitted that he was the person who empties the trash at the Koker residence, but said he had no knowledge about the bowl that was found in the garbage can outside the house. He did point out, though, that his sister "throws a lot of bowls away." He also denied going to Jack in the Box that night. He added that his sister eats a "lot" of fast food.

         Defendant and his mother, Yolanda Tahod, told police that David Zaragoza did not drive and that they had never known him to drive. Stella Lee Tahod, defendant's sister-in-law, believed that she had seen David drive in 1985 or 1986; David, however, had been in prison for all but four months in 1985 and all but two months in 1986. Eddie Tahod, defendant's half brother, recalled that David had driven as a teenager, 20 to 25 years earlier. Yolanda Tahod testified at trial that David had driven a car before, but not since 1975. Yolanda Tahod also testified that she regularly let defendant use her car, a beige Honda, to drive back and forth to work and that she returned the car to defendant around 7:00 p.m. on the night of the murder.

         Billy Gaines, grandson of William Gaines and nephew of David Gaines, testified that defendant came into the liquor store in the early afternoon on the day before the murders to buy a beer. Defendant pointed to a "funny" ball behind the counter and asked what it was. Billy Gaines told defendant it was a camera. Defendant asked whether it worked and, before leaving, said "Cool, pretty neat." Defendant's timesheet, however, showed that he was at work in Tracy until 4:32 p.m. that day.

         Paul Banning, who worked evening shifts at the liquor store, testified that he had seen defendant there on occasion. He, like Billy Gaines, did not remember ever seeing David Zaragoza.

         Howard Stokes, who lived down the street from the Gaines family, testified that William Gaines came home from closing the store each night at the same time. On Monday, June 7, 1999, four days before the murder, Stokes was walking his dog when he saw a male, possibly Latino, with a stocky build, between five feet six inches and five feet eight inches tall, get out of a green minivan and walk towards the Gaines residence. When William Gaines drove up to the house, however, the man hid behind a tree. As Stokes and the man walked on opposite sides of Cameron Way in the same direction, Stokes saw what appeared to be some sort of coating on the man's face, which gave the man a "scary" look. Stokes was not sure whether the man had facial hair. (Defendant had a very full mustache at the time.)

         Stanley Monckton, who lived on Cameron Way near the Gaines family, testified that he was watering his lawn around noon on Saturday, June 12,1999,

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the day after the murder, and saw defendant driving a car - an older white or cream Honda, like the car defendant typically drove - that seemed to be out of place in the neighborhood. Defendant drove by slowly.

         In an effort to challenge defendant's claim that his sister, Nina Koker, must have visited Jack in the Box just after midnight on Saturday, June 12, 1999, the prosecution offered evidence that Koker and the man who became her fiancé, Raymond Padilla, visited Padilla's cousin, Marcus Anthony Ellsworth II, on June 11 for dinner at his home. Ellsworth testified that Koker realized at the end of the night that she had locked her keys in her car and had to call a locksmith, who took 30 to 45 minutes to arrive. Ellsworth estimated that Koker left between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.

         Koker, on the other hand, denied having anything to eat that night until she stopped at the Jack in the Box on her way home. Koker agreed that she and Padilla had gone to Ellsworth's house that evening for a barbecue, but claimed that there was no food because Ellsworth's parents had gone to Reno for their daughter's graduation. Koker said the three of them watched television all evening instead. She did not realize she had locked her keys in the car until it was time to leave. She was able to retrieve her keys 10 or 15 minutes before midnight, went to Jack in the Box, and got home around 12:25 a.m. Koker said she got up for work less than three hours later.

         Padilla could not recall whether they ate anything at Ellsworth's home. He said Koker left around midnight, between five and 20 minutes after the locksmith retrieved her keys from the locked car.

         The bookkeeper at Cecil's Security Systems testified that Koker's request for assistance with a locked car was received at 11:51 p.m., that a locksmith arrived at 11:59 p.m., and that the work was completed at 12:08 a.m. - five minutes after the time stamped on the Jack in the Box receipt. The Jack in the Box on Pacific Avenue was about a quarter-mile from Ellsworth's house.

         2. The Defense Case

         Detective Alejandre testified that William Gaines did not claim when interviewed at the scene to have observed two people running away after shots were fired. In fact, Gaines told Alejandre that he did not see anyone other than the man who assaulted him.

         When Deputy Sheriff Daniel Anema spoke to Carol Maurer around 12:30 a.m. on June 12, 1999, Maurer was very shaken up and did not give her name. Anema found it difficult to get information out of her. Maurer said she heard four shots and then saw two White males running down the street. A

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defense investigator, Wilson Stewart, talked with Maurer in May 2000. Maurer told Stewart that she heard the shots and then saw two "Mexican boys" fleeing. Stewart also talked with Howard Stokes, who said that David Zaragoza's photograph was "consistent" with the person he had seen on June 7, 1999, who did not have a mustache like the one depicted in defendant's newspaper photograph.[3]

         Antoinette Duque, defendant's former girlfriend, testified that defendant called her three times between 6:24 a.m. and 10:42 a.m. on Saturday, June 12, 1999. In the early morning of June 14, 1999, defendant called to say that he believed he was going to be arrested.

         James Allen, a caretaker at the group home where David Zaragoza lived, testified that David was absent from the home during the evening of the murder but returned sometime during the 10 o'clock news. Allen stated that the weekend curfew at the group home was between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Ernie Williams, who was David's roommate at the group home, told Detective Wuest that David came home near the end of the Late Night with David Letterman show, which began at 11:00 p.m.

         Kimberly Kjonaas, a senior psychiatric technician for the San Joaquin County Mental Health Department, testified that David Zaragoza came to the clinic in the morning of June 13, 1999. He claimed that he was sick and needed to be admitted for treatment. Although David strained to defecate in his pants and then smeared feces on his shirt, Kjonaas did not have a basis to commit him at that time.

         David Zaragoza's mother testified that David had a temper and that what he said sometimes did not make any sense.

         The defense commissioned an animated recreation depicting its version of the events surrounding the murder and showed it to the jury. The depiction assumed that David Zaragoza knew how to drive, that David Zaragoza took the car from the Koker residence without permission, that he returned to the group home between 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., that he drove from there to the Gaines residence, that a number of identifying papers spilled out of his pocket when he pulled out a gun and shot David Gaines, that he placed the

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bag containing the Pyrex bowl into the garbage can at the Koker residence around 11:30 p.m., and that he left the car there and walked back to the group home, which was over two miles away. The animation did not explain how the bag containing the bowl was placed in a Grocery Outlet bag or how the lid got into the Koker residence. The information underlying the animation came from defense counsel, not from transcripts of the trial or statements made by defendant.

         Nina Koker told police that she smoked Marlboro Lights, which was the brand of the empty pack that police found in the Jack in the Box bag. When defendant was interviewed by police on June 14, 1999, he was smoking Camel cigarettes.

         3. Rebuttal

         Psychiatrist Kent Edward Rogerson, who evaluated David Zaragoza in 2000 and found him incompetent to stand trial, testified that David was intellectually disabled, had reduced activity in the parts of the brain associated with executive functioning, and was very easily led. Rogerson opined that David's illness was "variable" and that he was capable of goal-directed behavior as well as great violence.

         B. Penalty Phase

         1. Prosecution Evidence

         The prosecution presented evidence of defendant's prior crimes as well as testimony from David Gaines's family about David's life and the effect of his murder.

         On September 21, 1975, defendant, then 15, and Daryl Thomas, 19, planned to rob a liquor store in Stockton. Upon arriving at the store, defendant recognized the clerk and decided not to commit the robbery. After a bite to eat, defendant and Thomas robbed a cab driver, Benny Wooliver. Thomas shot the driver behind the right ear and killed him. They took $50 and fled from the cab, which had jumped the curb and hit a tree and a house.

         Defendant and Thomas were picked up in a van driven by their friend Gilbert Renteria, who was with three male occupants. This larger group decided to rob a 7-Eleven store in north Stockton. One of the van occupants, Marcus Duron, took the money from the cash register. Before leaving the store, defendant fired twice, hitting the store clerk, Dale Sym, once in the small of his back. The other bullet passed through Sym's shirt and hit a slushie machine. Renteria and Duron got back to the van first and drove off at

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high speed. Police stopped the van shortly thereafter and arrested the occupants. Defendant, who had been left behind, stole a bicycle and rode home. The van's occupants implicated him in the robbery, and he surrendered to police three days later.

         Defendant admitted to first degree murder as an aider and abettor, was committed to the California Youth Authority, and was released five years later. During Thomas's trial for Wooliver's murder, defendant testified that he had shot the victim and that Thomas was not even in the cab at the time. Thomas was nonetheless convicted of first degree murder.

         On December 24, 1980, defendant was stopped while driving and was found in possession of stolen property. In addition, a.22-caliber pistol was found underneath the car's right rear seat, and a shortened rifle with a "banana ...

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