Alvarado v. State

Citation912 S.W.2d 199
Decision Date15 November 1995
Docket NumberNo. 71779,71779
PartiesSteven Brian ALVARADO, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
OPINION

MANSFIELD, Judge.

An El Paso County jury found appellant, Steven Brian Alvarado, guilty of two counts of capital murder, to wit: the September 22, 1991, murders of Refugio Carmen Sustaita and her adult son, Manuel Sustaita. 1 At the punishment stage of appellant's trial, the jury answered affirmatively, as to each count, the special issues submitted to it under Article 37.071, § 2(b), 2 and it answered negatively, as to each count, the special issue submitted to it under Article 37.071, § 2(e). 3 The trial court then sentenced appellant to death on each count. Direct appeal to this Court was automatic. See Article 37.071, § 2(h). We will affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Appellant argues fourteen points of error in his brief on appeal. We will address his evidentiary insufficiency points of error first and then address his remaining points in chronological order.

In point of error number seven, appellant contends that, with respect to his conviction for the murder of Carmen Sustaita, he has been denied his liberty without due process of law, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, because the evidence adduced at his trial was insufficient "to connect [him] to the death of Carmen Sustaita, either as the primary actor or as a party." The State responds that "the evidence is sufficient to show appellant guilty as the primary actor in the murder of Manuel Sustaita, and [from his] killing [of] that victim, the one who could best defend the two victims, the jury could conclude that appellant was guilty as a party to the murder of Carmen Sustaita."

Count two of the indictment charged appellant with "intentionally caus[ing] the death of ... Refugio Carmen Sustaita in the course of committing and attempting to commit the offense of robbery." The jury charge at the guilt/innocence stage of trial authorized the jury to find appellant guilty of the capital murder of Carmen Sustaita either alone or as a party. 4 The key prosecution evidence 5 at the guilt/innocence stage of trial was as follows:

Martha Reyna testified that she had been a neighbor of Carmen and Manuel Sustaita on Wilshire Street in El Paso. She testified further that on September 23, 1991, she received a telephone call from Blanca Sustaita, who had tried without success to contact Carmen. At Blanca's urging, Reyna walked to the Sustaita residence and knocked on the door. There was no answer, so Reyna peered through the windows of the residence to determine whether anyone was at home. She saw Carmen's motionless body through a bedroom window and telephoned the police.

El Paso Police Officer Ernest Wade testified that police officers found Carmen and Manuel Sustaita's bodies at 10301 Wilshire Street in El Paso on September 23, 1991. According to Wade, the residence "appeared as [though] it had been ransacked," and "three different sets of ... bloody shoe prints" were seen leading away from the residence.

El Paso Police Officer Dale Fernandez testified that Manuel Sustaita's body was found just inside the entrance to the Sustaita residence. He also testified that a baggie of marihuana was found on Manuel Sustaita's person.

Blanca Sustaita testified that she was Carmen Sustaita's daughter and Manuel Sustaita's sister, and that she knew before their deaths that they were selling marihuana and cocaine out of their residence at 10301 Wilshire Street in El Paso.

Norma Nieto testified that she, too, was a daughter of Carmen Sustaita and a sister of Manuel Sustaita, and that she visited them at their residence on September 22, 1991. She testified further that she saw Manuel and appellant arguing at the Sustaita residence around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. on that day.

Joshua Salcido testified that late on the evening of September 22, 1991, he went to David Cameron's residence in El Paso to visit Cameron. When Salcido arrived at the residence, he saw appellant, Cameron, and Augustin "Augie" Avila preparing to leave. They soon did leave, but Salcido remained behind to watch television. Appellant, Cameron, and Avila returned to the Cameron residence about 45 minutes later, covered with blood. They carried with them a small duffel bag containing three kitchen knives, a small quantity of marihuana and cocaine, and $80 in cash. The cocaine was divided among the four of them. While the cocaine was being divided, Avila, who was trembling, stated that he, Cameron, and appellant had "just took somebody out." Salcido then asked to whom Avila was referring, and Cameron, who was also trembling, responded that it had been "Manny and his mom." Appellant then said, "It felt fucking good." Salcido testified further that Cameron, Avila, and appellant placed their bloody clothes and knives into a white plastic trash bag, and that later that night, after a cousin of Salcido arrived at the Cameron residence, they all rode in a car to Transmountain Road, where they dumped the trash bag.

Chris Carillo testified that late on the evening of September 22, 1991, he drove his car to the Cameron residence in response to a telephone call from his cousin, Joshua Salcido. After Carillo arrived at the residence, appellant, Salcido, and Cameron got into Carillo's car and all four "cruised around" El Paso, eventually finding their way to Transmountain Road, where they threw a bag off the side of the road. Later that night, while the four were still driving around, either Cameron or appellant stated that they had "fucked some people up"--which Carillo interpreted to mean they had killed some people--because an unnamed woman had cheated them in a drug deal.

El Paso Police Detective Joe Laredo testified that a police search of the area adjacent to Transmountain Road in late September 1991 turned up a plastic bag, some clothing, a box of baggies, and two kitchen knives.

Betty Ann Cranford testified that she was David Cameron's mother and that on September 25, 1991, she noticed that two kitchen knives were missing from the Cameron residence. She testified further that the knives found by police off Transmountain Road were identical to the knives that were missing from her home.

El Paso Police Detective Alfonso Marquez testified that on September 24, 1991, he and several police officers arrested appellant at a residence in El Paso for the murders of the Sustaitas. The officers apprehended appellant as he was attempting to flee out the back door of the residence. Appellant had several open wounds on both of his hands.

El Paso Police Detective Antonio Leyba testified that appellant gave a statement, which was reduced to written form, after he was arrested. The statement (State's exhibit number 126) 6 read, in relevant part, as follows:

... I am 17 years of age. I am high school drop out. I last attended the 9th grade at Andress High School. At this time I am in the Crimes Against Persons office where I am under arrest for 2 counts of Capital Murder dealing with the murder of a friend of mine Manny whose last name I don't know and his mother who I also don't know her name.... I met Manny a short while ago I don't remember exactly when and I also don't remember when I found out that he dealt drugs.

On Sunday night Sept. 22, 1991 David I don't know his last name and Auggie I don't know his last name either decided to go to Manny's house to pay him some money that I owed him from a previous drug deal. All 3 of us went to Manny's house to pay him the money and I was going to make another purchase. I don't remember who knocked on the door. Manny answered the door and he let all 3 of us in. I then gave him the money for the previous deal. Manny then started to complain that the money wasn't the right amount. Manny told me This isn't the right amount of money. I then told him fuck you that is the amount that I always pay. I then gave him the money to the other purchase. Rather I gave him the money all at once. Manny then said I'm going to keep all of your money. I then told him no man fuck you just give me my money. Manny then said no I'm going to fuck you up. Manny then pulled out a knife from the back of his waist. He then proceeded to come towards me with the weapon. I defended myself by using his own weapon against him. He cut his own throat. I then got the knife away from him and I started to stab him. I don't remember how many times I stabbed him but I know that it was more than once. I don't know what happened to the mother but I remember seeing her laying floor unconscious. All of us then started to look for the stuff. By stuff I mean anything worth of value that you can carry. I didn't take anything because I didn't find anything. I looked for the stuff just here and there. All 3 of us left the house and walked to David's house. I know my way around but I don't pay attention to the streets.

When we got to David's house I then noticed that they had some stuff from Manny's house. I believe that Auggie was the one who had it. We then washed up and took our clothes off because they had blood on them. We then just kicked back. Later a friend of our who I don't know what his name is came over and picked up our stuff which was our clothes that had the blood on them. He then took with the clothes and David and I stayed there. I believe that Auggie went home. We stayed there until the guy who took our clothes came back. Then we went with him in his car. We just went cruising, Auggie was no longer with us when we were in the car. We stayed all night in the car.

On yesterday Tuesday afternoon I called my girlfriend Joelynn and told her that we were in a bit of a jam and asked her if we could...

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