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People v. Shorts

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Sacramento

March 6, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
TERRY GLEN SHORTS, Defendant and Appellant.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County No. 12F02050, Michael A. Savage, Judge. Affirmed.

          Mark David Greenberg, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Eric L. Christoffersen and Jessica C. Leal, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          NICHOLSON, Acting P. J.

         Defendant Terry Glen Shorts sexually assaulted and murdered 13-year-old Jessica S. in 1996, shooting her in the head and leaving her half-naked body in a park in the middle of the night. Sixteen years later, he was connected to the crime when his DNA was identified in samples taken from Jessica's body. At trial, defendant conceded that he had sexual relations with Jessica, but claimed he did not kill her. Instead, he argued that Sammy Rodriguez did it. The jury convicted defendant of the murder and sex offenses, and the trial court sentenced him to life without possibility of parole, as well as other terms.

         On appeal, defendant contends the trial court: (1) improperly admitted evidence of his prior sex offenses against J.P., his ex-girlfriend, over his Evidence Code section 352 objection, (2) improperly excluded evidence of Rodriguez's propensity for violence, and (3) improperly admitted lay opinion testimony that Rodriguez did not commit the murder. Finding no prejudicial error, we affirm.


         On the morning of February 12, 1996, 13-year-old Jessica S.'s body was found in Florin Creek Park in Sacramento. She was five feet, one-and-a-half inches tall, and she weighed 90 pounds. Jessica died of a single gunshot contact wound to the head. She also had injuries consistent with being hit in the head with the butt of a gun and being strangled. Her pants and underwear were off, and her bras (she wore two) were hiked up, exposing her breasts.

         Jessica's mother said that Jessica left their home the night before at around 11 p.m. or midnight with a 14-year-old boy to go to her grandmother's house. Between 2 and 4 a.m., a woman who lived adjacent to Florin Creek Park heard a “horrible scream” from a female. She also heard a man say “stop” and “don't, ” as well as more screaming from the young female. About 10 minutes after the first scream, a gunshot rang out, and the screaming stopped.

         Vaginal, rectal, and oral swabs were taken during an autopsy of Jessica's body. Sperm was found on the vaginal and rectal swabs but not on the oral swab. No trauma was noted to Jessica's vagina or anus.

         Sixteen years after the murder, in 2012, the vaginal and rectal swabs were analyzed again, and defendant's DNA was collected from the sperm. Additionally, three sperm heads were found on the oral swab, but the sample did not contain enough DNA to identify or exclude defendant.

         Defendant was interviewed after his DNA was identified from Jessica's autopsy. He denied knowing Jessica. When told that his DNA was found, he offered a hypothetical about girls in an abandoned house “putting themselves in situations.” He said: “[W]e're all capable of things that we don't believe we would do, ” but he did not admit killing Jessica.

         The prosecution presented evidence under Evidence Code section 1108 that defendant sexually assaulted his ex-girlfriend, J.P., less than three years before the murder of Jessica. He dragged J.P. to a car and took her to a park. Pointing a gun at her and threatening her, he strangled her, beat her, and forced her to have oral and anal sex with him.

         The defense conceded that defendant had sexual relations with Jessica but claimed that he did not kill her.

         A man who lived with Jessica's mother at the time of Jessica's murder testified that another man threatened to shoot at the house if he was not allowed to sleep with Jessica.

         Mainly, however, the defense sought to cause the jury to have doubt about defendant's guilt by introducing evidence incriminating Sammy Rodriguez, also known as “Coyote, ” who was 18 years old at the time of the murder. Rodriguez testified that he had sex with Jessica once or twice before December 1995. She had told him that her name was Veronica and that she was 17 years old. In December 1995, Jessica said she was a gang member at a party, and she was beaten. Rodriguez stayed away from her after that because he believed that the boyfriend of Jessica's mother was angry with him because Jessica blamed Rodriquez for the beating.

         After Jessica's murder, Jessica's mother told the police that Rodriguez had set up Jessica to be jumped in December 1995. Rodriguez heard that Jessica's family was blaming him, so Rodriguez's attorney had him write down who he was with the weekend of Jessica's murder so that he would not forget.

         Rodriguez had a.22-caliber handgun at the time Jessica was murdered.

         The district attorney charged defendant by information with the following:

         • Count one-murder (Pen. Code, § 187; hereafter, unspecified code citations are to the Penal Code).

         o Special circumstances-murder while committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(E)); murder while committing sodomy on a child (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(D)); and murder while ...

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