Guevara v. State

Citation152 S.W.3d 45
Decision Date20 October 2004
Docket NumberNo. 0424-03.,0424-03.
PartiesJames George GUEVARA, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

Nancy B. Barohn, San Antonio, for Appellant.

Daniel Thornberry, Asst. District Atty., San Antonio, Matthew Paul, State's Atty., Austin, for State.


PRICE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which KELLER, P.J., and MEYERS, WOMACK, JOHNSON, KEASLER, HOLCOMB, and COCHRAN, JJ., joined.

The appellant challenges his conviction for murder, claiming that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction as a party to the offense. The State challenges the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to the Court's harm analysis on jury-charge error. We conclude that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the appellant's conviction under Texas Penal Code Sections 7.02(a)(2) and 19.02(b). And we hold that the correct standard of review for jury-charge error is Article 36.19 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We therefore affirm the Court of Appeals on the former issue and reverse on the latter.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

On May 26th, 1993, Minnie Salinas, the appellant's mistress, shot and killed Velia Guevara, the appellant's wife. Sometime before 9:00 a.m., Kathleen Cadena, the property manager at the appellant's apartment complex, received a call from an answering service, which reported several calls about a car with its lights on that belonged to the tenant in apartment 424, the appellant's apartment. At 9:00 a.m., Cadena received another similar call, and Shelley Selzor, the leasing agent, took another call about fifteen minutes later. Cadena told Selzor to contact Velia.

Cadena said a woman, later identified as Minnie Salinas, came by the office at about 8:45 a.m. The office was not yet open, so the woman returned between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. The woman asked to use the phone. Cadena offered the office phone, but the woman asked for a pay phone. Cadena directed the woman to the pay phone at the back of the club house. The woman was gone for a short time, and then came back through the leasing office without stopping. George Garza, the maintenance man, also recalled seeing the woman. At about 10:00 a.m., Velia came to the leasing office to say her car lights were not on. That was the last time she was seen alive.

The appellant had left the apartment early that morning and played golf until about 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Then he spent the next three hours at the San Antonio Light career services office pursuing prospective employment opportunities. At about 4:00 p.m., he returned to his apartment, where he found his wife inside the apartment, lying dead on the hallway floor.

During the trial, there was no dispute by either the appellant or the State that Salinas was the principal actor in the commission of the murder. There was also no dispute that the appellant had an alibi for the time when Velia was shot. Since the appellant had an alibi for the time of the murder, the State had to prove that he was criminally responsible for Salinas's actions in committing the murder.

The Texas Penal Code provides three separate ways by which a person can be criminally responsible for the conduct of another.1 The first way encompasses a situation in which a person causes an innocent person to engage in criminal conduct.2 The second situation occurs when a person "solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid" another person in committing an offense.3 The last situation allows a person to be convicted of a crime if he does not make a reasonable effort to prevent the commission of an offense when he has a legal duty to prevent the commission of that offense.4

The State relied on Section 7.02(a)(2) of the Penal Code to show that the appellant was criminally responsible for Salinas's actions in murdering Velia. The State's theory of the case was that Salinas and the appellant together plotted to kill Velia.

There was no evidence presented at trial that suggested the State relied on the legal-duty theory to find the appellant to be criminally responsible in the death of his wife. However, in the abstract portion of the jury charge, the party-liability instruction included both the aiding language from Section 7.02(a)(2) and the legal-duty language from Section 7.02(a)(3). From the record, it appears that neither the appellant nor the State requested or objected to the inclusion of the legal-duty language in the charge.

On direct appeal, the appellant challenged, inter alia, the legal sufficiency of the evidence and the inclusion of the legal-duty language in the jury charge. The appellant argued that the inclusion allowed the jury to convict him for conduct that was not illegal since he had no legal duty to prevent the murder of his wife, and moreover, the misstatement of the law deprived him of a fair and impartial trial.

The Court of Appeals held the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to convict the appellant on the aiding theory of being a party to an offense.5 Therefore, the Court declined to address the sufficiency of the evidence under a legal-duty theory of liability.

In addressing the jury-charge error, the Court of Appeals initially found it to be harmless. However, on the appellant's motion for rehearing, the Court of Appeals en banc held that the error was harmful based on its opinion in Bagheri v. State.6

The Court of Appeals determined that the harm analysis should be conducted under Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 44.2(b). Under Rule 44.2(b), a non-constitutional error must be disregarded unless it affects a defendant's substantial rights. Using this analysis, the Court of Appeals determined that the submission of the legal-duty theory affected appellant's substantial rights, and therefore remanded the case for a new trial.

We granted both the State's and the appellant's petitions for discretionary review to determine (1) whether the evidence presented was sufficient to support the verdict, (2) whether the Court of Appeals applied the correct harm analysis to the jury-charge error, and, if so, (3) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the appellant was harmed.7

II. Legal Sufficiency of the Evidence

First, we address the appellant's assertion that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the conviction due to the impermissible stacking of inferences or alternatively, because the conviction rested on conduct which was not illegal.8

A. Standard of Review

The Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process of law prohibits a criminal defendant from being convicted of an offense and denied his liberty except upon proof sufficient to persuade a rational fact finder of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.9 In assessing the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, we consider all the record evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict and determine whether, based on that evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom, a rational jury could have found the accused guilty of all of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.10 Furthermore, when the trial court's charge authorizes the jury to convict on more than one theory, as it did in this case, the verdict of guilty will be upheld if the evidence is sufficient on any one of the theories.11 The law does not require any further speculation as to the guilt of the appellant. If, given all of the evidence, a rational jury would necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, the due process guarantee requires that we reverse and order a judgment of acquittal.12

B. The Aiding Theory

The appellant contends that the evidence was legally insufficient to convict him due to the impermissible stacking of inferences. The evidence used to convict the appellant was solely circumstantial. However, the lack of direct evidence is not dispositive of the issue of a defendant's guilt. Circumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing the guilt of an actor.13 Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to establish guilt.14 Furthermore, the standard of review on appeal is the same for both direct and circumstantial evidence cases.15

In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we should look at "events occurring before, during and after the commission of the offense and may rely on actions of the defendant which show an understanding and common design to do the prohibited act."16 Each fact need not point directly and independently to the guilt of the appellant, as long as the cumulative effect of all the incriminating facts are sufficient to support the conviction.17

Motive is a significant circumstance indicating guilt.18 Intent may also be inferred from circumstantial evidence such as acts, words, and the conduct of the appellant.19

The evidence demonstrated that the appellant had a motive to kill his wife. The appellant was involved in a long-standing affair with Salinas, which was consummated three days before he married Velia. Three years after the affair began, and one month before the murder, Salinas issued an ultimatum to the appellant that they would separate "if something didn't happen by June." The appellant was distressed over this, and stated that he "didn't want to give Minnie [Salinas] up and couldn't think of a way to end it." The appellant apparently did not want to divorce Velia because he did not want to cause his family distress.20 He and Salinas also talked about getting married, but the appellant stated that he "didn't see how it was possible." Velia had a substantial retirement account that was to go to the appellant in the event of her death. Once the money was certain to go to the appellant,21 Salinas and the appellant almost immediately got married in Las Vegas. These facts show that the appellant had a strong motive for murdering his wife.

Attempts to conceal incriminating evidence,...

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