United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION THAT THE COURT DENY
PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (DOC. 1)
K. OBERTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Benito Sanchez Salas, is a state prisoner proceeding, with
counsel, with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his petition, Petitioner
presents five claims for habeas relief: (1) insufficient
evidence of specific intent to kill for the charge of
attempted murder; (2) insufficient evidence of premeditation
and deliberation for the charge of attempted murder; (3)
insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation for
the charge of first degree murder; (4) the first degree
murder convictions were inconsistent, in violation of the
Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments; and (5) ineffective
assistance of counsel. Petitioner requested the Court hold an
evidentiary hearing on his claims. The Court referred the
matter to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1) and Local Rules 302 and 304. Having reviewed the
record and applicable law, the undersigned recommends that
the Court deny habeas relief and decline to hold an
evidentiary hearing on Petitioner's claims.
Procedural and Factual Background
case arises out of an altercation between members of two
families, the Mendez family and the Salas family, who lived
on the 4600 block of East Turner Avenue in Fresno. Petitioner
is a member of the Salas family. The Mendez family, Maria
Arceli Mendez (“Maria M.”) and her husband, Jose
Mendez (“Jose M.”), lived at 4677 East Turner
Avenue with their children. The Salas family lived two
addresses directly east of the Mendez family residence.
Petitioner lived in the guest house of 4681 East Turner
Avenue. Petitioner's father, Alberto Salas, Sr.
(“Alberto S.”), his mother, Maria Nativad Sanchez
(“Maria S.”), and one of Petitioner's
brothers lived in the main house at 4681 East Turner Avenue.
Two of Petitioner's brothers, Fabian Salas (“Fabian
S.”) and Antonio Sanchez Salas (“Antonio
S.”) and a nephew lived at 4687 East Turner Avenue.
Mendez and Salas families had been neighbors for years, but
the relationship between the families began to deteriorate in
late 2008 or early 2009 largely due to problems between a
Mendez son and Fabian and Antonio S. On March 8, 2009, a
fight broke out between Fabian S. and a Mendez son and ended
with Petitioner becoming involved and hitting and kicking
Jose M. The Mendez son was hospitalized after Antonio S.
struck him in the head. During this fight, the police were
called, but no arrests were made.
trial, Petitioner testified that on March 8, 2009, he was
sitting on his front porch and saw Fabian S. exchange words
with members of the Mendez family. The individuals began
fighting. During the fight, Jose M. threw a beer bottle at
Petitioner, who was standing next to Alberto S,
Petitioner's father, which caused Petitioner to join the
fight. Petitioner knocked Jose M. down and Jose M. threatened
Petitioner, stating he was going to kill Fabian S., Alberto
S., Maria S., and Petitioner.
threatened after this fight, Petitioner borrowed a gun from a
friend. Petitioner stored the gun in his house, but later hid
it in a cabinet in his mother's, Maria S.'s, kitchen.
the fight, Maria M. unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a
restraining order against Petitioner, Fabian S., and Antonio
S. Trouble between the families continued and the Mendezes
called the police on multiple occasions.
11, 2009, children from both families participated in an
elementary school graduation. Members of each family were
present at the ceremony. After the ceremony, Fabian S.
approached a Mendez son and the two began arguing. Fabian S.
called the son names and threated him, telling the Mendez son
he was going to kill him and he should “watch”
when he got home. Maria M. called the police, and Fabian S.
accused her of being a snitch.
the graduation ceremony, Maria M. arrived home with several
of her children, planning to hold a barbecue to celebrate her
daughter's graduation. Fabian S. and his parents, Alberto
S. and Maria S., were standing in front of the Salas home
when Maria M. arrived, but did not engage with her. However,
when Jose M. arrived home, Fabian S. insulted him and told
him “I'm going to fuck you guys all up. You guys
are done.” Jose M. refused to fight with Fabian S. and
told him to calm down. Maria M. called the police, who
arrived, talked to both families, and left.
the police left, Fabian S. yelled at the Mendezes, called
them names and tried to get them to come outside of their
house to fight. While standing on his front porch, Fabian S.
waived a gun around and told Jose M. that the gun was for
him. Maria M. called the police again. Officers arrived,
spoke with the Salases, and then told Maria M. everything was
going to be fine, her family should continue their barbecue,
and police would be patrolling the area.
Mendezes continued their barbecue. Family members and friends
arrived and entered the backyard for the barbeque. After
eating, many of the Mendez family and friends moved to the
front yard to talk and watch their children play.
the large number of individuals involved in the events and
the chaos surrounding the events on that day, witness
testimony varied as to what happened once the Mendezes moved
from the backyard to the front yard of the Mendez family
home. The Court will summarize relevant witness testimony.
Mendez family members saw Petitioner's father, Alberto
S., arrive at the Salas house either carrying a gun, or
carrying a bag that the Mendezes suspected contained
guns.After Alberto S.'s arrival at the Salas
family house, members of the Mendez family and the Salas
family started arguing in the street. Members of the Mendez
family claimed to see Antonio S. holding a gun during this
argument, while others claimed to see Fabian S. holding a
Mendez (“Juan M.”) asked for Fabian S. to put the
guns down and “fight like a man.” Fabian S.
replied, “fine, we'll fight, ” and handed his
gun to Antonio S. Fabian S. lunged towards Jose M., the two
started fighting, and others joined in. Shortly after the
fight began, shots were fired.
to one witness, after the fight began, Petitioner shot into
the air approximately four times as he walked toward the
crowd. As Petitioner walked toward the street where the crowd
was gathered, the Mendez family moved toward him, looking
angry. The Mendez family surrounded Petitioner, he fired the
gun, and two people dropped to the ground.
contrast, Maria M. testified her husband, Jose M., was on top
of Fabian S. when Antonio S. came up and shot Jose M. and
another Mendez family member, Pablo Mendez (“Pablo
M.”). Antonio S. then handed Petitioner the gun.
Petitioner immediately began firing “at all the
people.” While Petitioner was firing, his mother, Maria
S., yelled at her sons to kill everybody, including Maria M.,
and not let anybody live.
different witness saw Fabian S. hovering over one of the
Mendezes, hitting him, when Petitioner ran up with a gun.
Petitioner was “shooting all over the place” as
the shooting, a Mendez family guest, Hector Balladeres
(“Hector”), retrieved his shotgun from his
vehicle. Hector saw two people with guns and heard three
shots, but did not see who fired them. Hector heard someone
say “Shoot the mom” or “Get the mom,
” then saw Petitioner trying to shoot first Eulalia
Mendez (“Eulalia M.”) and then Juan M. Wanting to
stop Petitioner from firing his gun, Hector fired his shotgun
up into the air.
witness accounts varied as to whether Antonio S. shot Jose M.
and Pablo M. and then handed the gun to Petitioner, or
whether Petitioner shot Jose M. and Pablo M himself.
Nonetheless, after Jose M. and Pablo M. were shot, witnesses
saw Petitioner trying to shoot Eulalia M. and then Juan M, as
the two tried to help victims of the shooting.
M. saw Antonio S. shoot Jose M. and Pablo M. As Jose M. lay
on the ground, Eulalia M. ran to him, and heard Maria S. say
“kill the mother, ” referring to Maria M. Eulalia
M. saw Petitioner pointing a gun at her. As he fired, Eulalia
M. turned her head, and the shot flew by her, between her
shoulder and her ear.
was lying face down on the ground when he heard three shots
and then a big boom. He looked up and saw people running
everywhere and Pablo M. lying next to him. As Juan M. got up
from the ground, he saw Petitioner point a gun at him. He
looked away, heard a bang, and thought he was hit, but he was
not. He did not remember if Petitioner specifically fired at
him, but Petitioner was firing towards all the people at the
Mendez home. Juan M. later told police that Petitioner shot
at him, but Juan M. ducked and was not hit.
arrived after receiving a report of men arguing, and were led
by members of the Mendez family to Petitioner, who was
standing in the front yard of the Salas house, without a
weapon. A gunshot residue examination that was subsequently
conducted on Petitioner was consistent with Petitioner having
fired a firearm.
and Pablo M. died from their gunshot wounds. Pablo M. was
shot in the left side of the head. A bullet also grazed the
left side of his back. Pablo M.'s cause of death was
listed as “perforation of the brain due to gunshot
wound to the head.” Jose M. suffered a gunshot wound to
the left frontal region of his head. His cause of death was
listed as “penetration of the brain due to gunshot
wound to the head.”
trial, Petitioner testified that on June 11, he arrived home
after running some errands and spoke to Fabian S. about the
confrontation Fabian S. had with members of the Mendez family
at the elementary school graduation. Later in the afternoon,
Petitioner noticed a lot of male family members and friends
at the Mendez house, which concerned him based on the
volatile history between the two families.
evening, Petitioner walked out of the Salas family home and
saw a group of 40 people he believed were heading to the
Salas family home to kill Alberto S. Petitioner also saw
Fabian S. in the middle of the street with seven to eight
people surrounding him. The group was arguing and appeared
ready to fight. Petitioner did not see anyone with a weapon,
and walked toward the group that was arguing. As Petitioner
got closer to the group, he noticed a male with what
Petitioner believed was a rifle, walking by the
for Fabian S.'s life, Petitioner ran back to the Salas
house and grabbed the gun he had previously stowed in Maria
M.'s kitchen cabinet. As Petitioner ran back outside, he
fired two or three shots in the air. Looking for the
individual with the rifle, Petitioner saw Fabian S. being
beaten up and fired at Jose M. and another individual who was
kicking Fabian S. Petitioner believed he fired five or six
rounds at the people beating up Fabian S., but he wasn't
sure as to the exact number of times he fired, because he
“was just shooting.”
firing his first five or six shots, Petitioner told everyone
to get back and panned the gun so people knew he was serious.
Petitioner did not want anyone around him and was looking for
the man with the rifle.
Petitioner was panning the gun, he saw the man with the
rifle. The man came from behind Hector's truck, lifted
the rifle, and fired it at Petitioner. Petitioner fired back
three or four times in the direction of the man. Petitioner
believed he may have fired one or two more shots afterwards,
but did not remember firing at Eulalia M. or Juan M.
stated if he had not started shooting, Fabian S. would have
died. Petitioner did not know where Antonio S. was at the
time of the shooting, but did not believe Antonio S. had a
the shooting, Petitioner ran to Antonio S.'s house and
hid the gun in the back of the garage. Petitioner came back
out into the front yard when police officers arrived and
turned himself in.
S. testified that he was not able to attend the graduation
ceremony, because he was working, so Fabian S. attended in
his place. Fabian S. telephoned Antonio S. several times
during the course of the day to tell Antonio S. that Fabian
S. was having problems with the Mendez family.
Antonio S. arrived home that evening, his son told him that
the Mendez family was beating up Fabian S. Antonio S. grabbed
his gun and ran outside. As he was running out of his house,
he heard shooting. Antonio S. saw a group of people and smoke
when he got outside, but did not see who was shooting or know
if anybody was shot. Antonio S. threw his gun in the garage
and ran away from the scene with his son. He did not stay to
find out what was happening, because there were a lot of
people around and he did not know who was shooting. The day
after the shooting, someone told Antonio S. that the police
were looking for him, so Antonio S. turned himself in to the
S. denied shooting anyone or passing a gun to Petitioner.
Antonio S. stated that he and Petitioner “didn't
talk” and did not have any kind of relationship.
Antonio S. was unaware that Petitioner had a gun.
convicted Petitioner of the first degree murders of Jose M.
and Pablo M. (Cal. Penal Code § 187(a)); and the
attempted premeditated murders of Eulalia M. and Juan M.
(Cal. Penal Code §§ 187(a), 664). As to the murder
counts, the jury found true a multiple-murder special
circumstance (Cal. Penal Code § 190.2(a)(3)). As to all
counts, the jury found Petitioner personally and
intentionally discharged a firearm (Cal. Penal Code §
12022.53(c)). Petitioner was sentenced to two consecutive
terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole,
plus two consecutive terms in prison with the possibility of
parole, plus 80 years.
S. was jointly charged with Petitioner on the murder counts,
and was alleged to have personally and intentionally
discharged a firearm, proximately causing death (Cal. Penal
Code § 12022.53(d)). Antonio S. was also charged with
the attempted premeditated murder of a Mendez family friend.
At Antonio S. and Petitioner's trial, the jury was unable
to reach a verdict on any of the charges against Antonio S.,
and a mistrial was declared.
December 16, 2013, the California Court of Appeal for the
Fifth Appellate District affirmed Petitioner's
conviction. On March 5, 2014, the California Supreme Court
denied Petitioner's Petition for Review.
18, 2015, Petitioner, through counsel, filed a petition for
writ of habeas corpus before this Court. Respondent filed a
response on August 17, 2015, and Petitioner filed a reply on
September 2, 2015.
Standard of Review
person in custody as a result of the judgment of a state
court may secure relief through a petition for habeas corpus
if the custody violates the Constitution or laws or treaties
of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Williams
v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 (2000). On April 24, 1996,
Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which applies to all
petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed thereafter.
Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 322-23 (1997). Under
the statutory terms, the petition in this case is governed by
AEDPA's provisions because it was filed after April 24,
corpus is neither a substitute for a direct appeal nor a
device for federal review of the merits of a guilty verdict
rendered in state court. Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 332 n. 5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring). Habeas
corpus relief is intended to address only "extreme
malfunctions" in state criminal justice proceedings.
Id. Under AEDPA, a petitioner can obtain habeas
corpus relief only if he can show that the state court's
adjudication of his claim:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); Lockyer v. Andrade, 538
U.S. 63, 70-71 (2003); Williams ...