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People v. Melendez

Supreme Court of California

December 8, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
ANGELO MICHAEL MELENDEZ, Defendant and Appellant

         Superior Court of San Joaquin County, No. SP081070B, Terrence Van Oss, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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         Saor E. Stetler, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

         Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Sean McCoy and A. Kay Lauterbach, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


         Chin, J., expressing the unanimous view of the court.

          [384 P.3d 1207] [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 55] --A jury convicted defendant, Angelo Michael Melendez, of the first degree murder of Koi Wilson under the special circumstance of murder in the commission of robbery, of the attempted premeditated murder of Ricky Richardson, and of first degree residential robbery. It also found true personal firearm-use allegations. After a penalty trial, the jury returned a verdict of

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death. The court denied the automatic motion to modify the verdict and imposed a judgment of death. This appeal is automatic. We affirm the judgment.

         I. The Facts

         A. Guilt Phase

         1. Overview

         During the night of December 12 to 13, 2000, defendant and Latroy Taylor entered the Stockton home of Ricky Richardson [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 56] and Koi Wilson. Within a few minutes, Wilson was fatally shot, Richardson was shot and seriously wounded, and money and marijuana were taken from the house. At a joint trial, the prosecution theory was that defendant and Taylor committed the robbery together and, based largely on Richardson's testimony, that defendant alone shot the two victims. Defendant admitted he was present during the robbery, but he claimed Taylor was the shooter, and he did not know that Taylor intended to commit a robbery. [1]

         2. Prosecution Evidence

         Ricky Richardson was the only surviving eyewitness to the events in the house that night other than defendants themselves. He testified that he is a rap artist who made and marketed compact discs. He wrote his own lyrics. He also sold marijuana and had a part-time job. Koi Wilson was his fiancé e and the mother of their infant daughter. He and Latroy Taylor were good friends and saw each other on a regular basis. Richardson had known defendant since he was four or five years old. Defendant was more than 20 years older than Richardson and had been a friend of Richardson's father. Richardson called defendant " Uncle Angelo."

         Richardson and Wilson were at their Stockton home the evening of December 12, 2000. Their baby was sleeping in a back bedroom. At some point, Taylor came to the house. Richardson was not surprised to see Taylor, and he opened the front door to let him in. As he did so, to his surprise, he also saw defendant outside. Richardson let both of them in the house. Defendant asked to use the bathroom and went inside the bathroom. Richardson and Taylor went into the den, where Taylor asked for some marijuana. Wilson was sitting on a couch. Richardson also sat down, with Wilson sitting between Richardson and Taylor. Richardson and Taylor smoked some marijuana. Richardson saw that Taylor had a gun, but that did not surprise him because Taylor often carried a gun.

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         Defendant came out of the bathroom and asked Taylor whether he had gotten " what he came for." Defendant then shot Richardson in the abdomen, causing him to " fl[y] back on the couch." Richardson saw defendant point a smoking gun at him. Wilson started screaming, and defendant shot her twice. Richardson heard a total of three shots.

         Richardson pretended to be dead because he feared he might be shot again. But he was able to perceive Taylor taking items from the house. He heard activity in the back bedroom and the baby crying. Later, Richardson [384 P.3d 1208] heard activity outside and was able to observe Taylor and what appeared to be another person rolling out two safes. Defendant was still pointing the gun in the den.

         At one point, Richardson heard Taylor tell defendant, " 'Make sure they dead.'" Defendant responded, " 'Oh, yeah. They dead.'" About three to five minutes after the first shot, Taylor and defendant left. Richardson heard a car driving away. He immediately called 911 on his cellphone and told the dispatcher he had been shot. Police and other responders were dispatched at 1:08 a.m., December 13, 2000, and arrived within minutes.

         Wilson was dead at the scene, having been shot twice through the chest. Richardson was shot once in the abdomen. He required emergency medical care, multiple surgeries, and a lengthy hospital stay to [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 57] save his life. As of the time of trial, the bullet was still embedded in him, and he was paralyzed below the waist.

         Police officers testified that the house appeared ransacked when they entered it. The baby was crying in the bedroom. Three .45-caliber Speer shell casings were found on the floor and two spent bullets were found under Wilson's body. Criminalists testified that the three casings came from the same gun. The two bullets had also been fired from the same gun, possibly a .45-caliber handgun.

         Richardson testified that about $ 27,000 and four pounds of marijuana were taken from his home. Originally he had told the police about $ 20,000 had been taken, and he did not mention the marijuana. He did not want to admit to possessing the marijuana.

         Richardson, who was in considerable pain at the time, told the original dispatcher that Taylor had shot him, although he also told her that defendant was present. He testified that at the time he was primarily interested in getting help for himself and Wilson, and he felt betrayed by Taylor. He believed that, but for Taylor, defendant would never have come to his house. He explained, " The reason I kept saying Latroy was because I felt like he shot me ...,

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because I trusted him. ... [W]hen I woke up, I was still saying Latroy because it was ... just registered in my head that he was the one who set that up." Detective David Anderson, who investigated the case, spoke with Richardson briefly on December 19, 2000, in the hospital. At that time, Richardson said Taylor shot Wilson and defendant shot him. When Anderson next spoke with Richardson, on February 8, 2001, Richardson said defendant shot both of them. At trial, Richardson testified positively that defendant was the one who shot both him and Wilson. He also testified that he never saw Taylor pull out his gun.

         After the shooting, Taylor traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was arrested. Defendant was arrested in Seattle, Washington.

         3. Defense Evidence

         Defendant and the codefendant, Taylor, each presented evidence attempting to show that the other was the shooter.

         a. Defendant's Evidence

         On October 1, 2000, the police confiscated a .45-caliber handgun, loaded with Speer ammunition, from Taylor's possession. A criminalist testified that a gun of that caliber and with similar ammunition fired the shots in this case. The criminalist also testified that, due to gunpowder particles found on Wilson's tank top, at least one of the shots was fired from within a few feet of her. No gunpowder was found on Richardson's clothes, suggesting he was shot from farther away. The criminalist also testified about the direction of the shots and opined that the shooter was in the same room as the victims or in the entryway.

         Stockton Police Officer Eric Gauthreaux testified that he arrived at the scene of the shooting at 1:08 a.m., on December 13, 2000. Richardson told him that " Latroy" had shot him and Wilson. Richardson also said that " Angelo was with Latroy."

         Tino Yarborough, defendant's nephew and a distant relative of Taylor's, testified that in the early morning hours of the night of the shooting, defendant came to his house. He let defendant inside, and defendant paced back and forth in Yarborough's bedroom. About 45 minutes to an hour later, Taylor arrived. He had a gun with a clip like a .45-caliber gun and a bag. Defendant went outside. A short time later, Yarborough saw defendant and Taylor [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 58] " tussling" outside. Yarborough also [384 P.3d 1209] saw money in Taylor's hand. He said that Taylor was trying to give defendant some money but defendant " hit

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the money out of his hand" and it fell to the ground. Defendant then went back into the house. Yarborough gave Taylor his cellphone and the keys to his car, and Taylor left.

         Defendant testified. He said he was asleep the evening in question when Taylor called him on the telephone. Taylor said he wanted to speak with him about defendant's girlfriend. Taylor had called her a " bitch," and he indicated he wanted to discuss the situation with defendant. Defendant agreed to see him, and Taylor came to his house. Defendant got in the car and, with Taylor driving, they left. Eventually, they drove to Richardson's house. Defendant did not know where Richardson lived and was unaware it was his house. They entered the house, with Taylor saying he wanted some marijuana. Richardson hugged defendant and called him " uncle."

         Defendant asked to use the bathroom. While in the bathroom, he heard four to five gunshots. He opened the bathroom door and saw Taylor holding a pistol. He asked what was going on and ran out the door. He was " in shock and little bit [of] fear." He ran down the street, but then he returned, grabbed Taylor by the collar, and " slammed him" to the ground. He asked Taylor why he did these things. Taylor said, " They both dead." Defendant responded, " Who's both dead?" He punched Taylor and then asked him to take him home. They then drove away.

         While driving, Taylor said it would be " all right" and offered to give defendant money. Defendant said he did not want any money. At his request, Taylor drove him to his sister's home, where Tino Yarborough lived. He " cussed" Taylor and hit him again. Then Taylor left. Later Taylor returned to Yarborough's house. Defendant went outside to " kick his ass." Taylor again offered defendant money. Saying he did not want any, defendant slapped the money out of Taylor's hand and onto the ground. Eventually, Taylor left.

         Defendant stayed in Stockton for several days, then went to Seattle, where he was arrested. He had previously intended to go to Seattle. He testified that he did not report the incident to the police because Taylor's " Sutter Street gang members" had threatened him.

         b. Taylor's Evidence

         Taylor called as a witness Larry Rhodes, who had known defendant for about 40 years. On May 17, 2001, Rhodes spoke with Detective Anderson, the police investigator in this case, at Deuel Vocational Institute, where Rhodes was an inmate. Rhodes told Anderson that defendant had told him, " 'Yeah, I shot his black ass,'" referring to Richardson. But Rhodes testified at trial that he had lied to Detective Anderson, and defendant did not say that.

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(When he testified, defendant also denied making the statement.) Detective Anderson testified that Rhodes had wanted an early discharge from custody in return for his testimony, but Anderson refused to make any offer. Taylor's investigator testified that Rhodes had told him that if he, Rhodes, were called to testify, he would say that the statement was a lie.

         B. Penalty Phase

         1. Prosecution Evidence

         Koi Wilson's mother and sister testified about her and her death's impact on them. Additionally, the prosecution presented evidence of defendant's other violent crimes and felony convictions.

         Christine P. and Yolanda D. testified about an incident in September 1980, when [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 59] they were around 18 years old, in which defendant and Howard Gaines, armed with a shotgun and a rifle, took them to a field and then to Yolanda's apartment. In the apartment, Gaines raped Yolanda. Defendant tried to rape Christine, thrusting the shotgun under her throat and threatening to kill her in the process. But she successfully resisted, at one point inducing herself to vomit to discourage defendant. Defendant later threatened to kill Christine and her family after he got out of prison if she told anybody about what he had done.

         Shortly after this incident, on September 19, 1980, defendant and Gaines assaulted two other young girls, Lynette D. and Adela J. When Adela testified, she claimed not to remember much of what had occurred. Accordingly, [384 P.3d 1210] portions of her previous testimony were read into the record as prior inconsistent statements. She had testified that she, Lynette, Gaines, and defendant, went to a house in Sacramento. There, defendant demanded that Adela convince Lynette to have sex with Gaines, and said that she was to hit Lynette if necessary. Adela observed Gaines hit Lynette in the face. She heard defendant say " that if they didn't kill her [Lynette], they would go to the state penitentiary for beating her up."

         Defendant and Gaines then drove the girls to a cornfield. Defendant said they were going to kill Lynette. He had a knife, and he ordered Adela not to look or they would cut her throat. Gaines and defendant dragged Lynette, " crying and just screaming," away from the car. After a while, defendant returned, and then Gaines put Lynette back in the car. They drove to a house in Conway, where defendant obtained a gun. Defendant said he was going to shoot Lynette. When Adela started crying and pleading, he also threatened to shoot her in the head if she " didn't shut up." They drove to another location, where Gaines took Lynette out of the car. Defendant told Adela to " shut

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up ... or I was going to get what she got." Adela then saw Gaines shoot Lynette. Lynette grabbed her stomach and fell to the ground, where Gaines shot her " again and again."

         Lynette was shot once in the stomach and twice in the head, but she survived. She was in the hospital for 11 months, comatose much of that time. At the time of trial, some 23 years after the shooting, Lynette was in a " semi-coma," required care 24 hours a day, and was paralyzed from the neck down.

         For this incident, defendant was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and dissuading a witness.

         Loretta Beck testified that on November 18, 1988, she was in a relationship with defendant. At trial, she claimed not to remember what happened that day, so her previous statements to the police were admitted as prior inconsistent statements. She had told the police that defendant hit her in the face with his fist, took her into the house, continued to hit her in the face, and choked her with his hands. At trial, she denied that defendant had hit her.

         Raven Lee testified that on May 24, 1998, when defendant was her boyfriend, they quarreled. Defendant punched a hole in the wall of her house and, in the presence of her children, threatened to kill them all. He also grabbed her by the throat, inflicting visible marks.

         In 1980, defendant was convicted of shooting into an inhabited dwelling. In 1992, he was convicted of grand theft from the person. In 1994, he was convicted of possession of cocaine.

         2. Defense Evidence

         Defendant's mother, two sisters, and a brother testified about his difficult childhood [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 60] and good qualities. His daughter testified about her relationship with him and her love for him. Gwen Taylor testified about the help and good advice she received from defendant when she very much needed it. She had lived with him for a while, although she could not remember which years.

         Dr. Sammunkan Surulinathan, a psychiatrist, testified that defendant voluntarily came to see him on December 11, 2000, complaining of depression and hearing voices. Defendant said he had " paranoid delusions of being watched and followed." He also said he liked to play with his nieces and nephews. Dr. Surulinathan prescribed Prozac for his depression, as well as an antipsychotic medication.

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         II. ...

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