Pena v. State, 03-13.

Decision Date06 October 2004
Docket NumberNo. 03-13.,03-13.
PartiesChon Ascension Gonzales PEÑA, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellant: Kenneth M. Koski, State Public Defender; Donna D. Domonkos, Appellate Counsel; Ryan R. Roden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Roden.

Representing Appellee: Patrick J. Crank, Wyoming Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Dee Morgan, Assistant Attorney General; Theodore E. Lauer, Director, and Eric Phillips, Student Intern, of the Prosecution Assistance Program. Argument by Mr. Phillips.


GOLDEN, Justice.

[¶ 1] Chon Ascension Gonzales Pena (Pena) appeals his conviction for first and second degree murder. Pena argues that the district court erred in denying two separate motions to suppress and that there was insufficient evidence to support the premeditation requirement of first degree murder. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.


[¶ 2] Pena presents three issues for this Court's review:

I. Whether the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress his statement in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 11 of the Wyoming Constitution.
II. Whether the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress the search of his mobile home, in violation of his rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 4 of the Wyoming Constitution.
III. Whether there was insufficient evidence to support appellant's conviction for first degree murder based upon the essential element of "premeditation."

The State rephrases the issues as:

I. Did the district court properly deny appellant's motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement officers made on March 14, 2001, at the Limon, Colorado, Correctional Facility?
II. Did the district court properly deny appellant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the search of the mobile home occupied by appellant and the two victims, in which the two victims were killed?
III. Did the State present sufficient evidence to permit the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant killed Yensena Gonzales Mancha Fierro purposely and with premeditated malice?

[¶ 3] Pursuant to our standard of review, the following are the facts viewed in the light most favorable to the State. In July 1996, Pena lived near Powell, Wyoming, in a mobile home with his wife, Yensena Gonzales Mancha Fierro (Yensena), Yensena's two brothers Manuel and Jose, and Pena's 13 year-old daughter, Stephanie. On July 23, 1996, Pena and Yensena became involved in an argument. The argument continued over several hours and escalated as it continued. The argument involved only Yensena and Pena, not any of the other residents of the household.

[¶ 4] Yensena started packing her bags to leave the home. Yensena, crying, walked out of the mobile home. Pena retrieved a rifle from his bedroom, loaded it with at least seven hollow-point bullets, and angrily followed her. As he went after her with his rifle, he yelled out that he was going to kill her. Yensena returned to the mobile home and told her brothers to pack because they were leaving for Mexico. Pena was still following her carrying the rifle. Yensena was still crying. Pena and Yensena went into the bathroom. Pena sat on the edge of the bathtub holding the rifle. Still crying, Yensena gave Jose clothes to pack. Yensena handed Jose three bunches of clothes, which Jose put on Yensena's bed. Because Yensena and Pena were still arguing, Jose left them and went and sat on the couch and started watching TV. Within a few minutes Manuel, Jose and Stephanie, who were all sitting in the living room watching TV, heard a gunshot, then a woman scream and felt the trailer shake as Yensena fell. Pena shot Yensena twice in the back. About thirty minutes had elapsed since the time Pena retrieved his rifle, loaded it, and told Yensena he was going to kill her.

[¶ 5] Manuel, upon hearing the gunshots, headed towards the bathroom with Jose close behind him. Pena saw Manuel in the hallway and shot Manuel. Jose ran from the mobile home and hid. Jose heard several more shots as he was running. Stephanie heard one shot coming from the bathroom, and then heard the initial shots that hit Manuel and saw Manuel fall. She then witnessed Pena shoot Manuel in the face at close distance as Pena was standing over Manuel's body. Pena shot Manuel at least three times. Pena, still holding the rifle, told Stephanie to run and she ran to her aunt's nearby mobile home. Pena fled and was not found until March of 2001 when he was located in the Limon, Colorado, Correctional Facility. Further facts will be developed as necessary in the discussion of the issues.

I. Motion to suppress statement

[¶ 6] Pena was contacted in the Limon, Colorado, Correctional Facility by two law enforcement officers from the Park County, Wyoming, Sheriff's Office: Dave Doyle and Tom Thompson. The officers conducted an interview with Pena regarding the deaths of Yensena and Manuel. On appeal, Pena argues that his statements from this interview should be suppressed because he affirmatively invoked his right to remain silent and that his statements were not voluntarily.

Standard of Review

[¶ 7] The State does not dispute that the statement was a result of a custodial interrogation. Thus, in reviewing the order of the district court denying Pena's motion to suppress, this Court is guided by a well-established body of law:

To comply with Miranda, law enforcement must advise an accused of his rights before any of the accused's statements, made during custodial interrogation, can be used against the accused at trial. Kolb v. State, 930 P.2d 1238, 1243 (Wyo.1996); Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Failure to comply with these procedural safeguards requires the court to suppress such statements. We review the record to determine whether the trial court could conclude, given the totality of the circumstances, that the police sufficiently followed Miranda. Kolb, 930 P.2d at 1240


Moreover, even when Miranda has been complied with, the United States Constitution, amendments V and XIV, as well as the Wyoming Constitution, art. 1, §§ 6 and 11, require admissions and statements to be voluntary. Doyle v. State, 954 P.2d 969, 971-72 (Wyo.1998); State v. Evans, 944 P.2d 1120, 1124 (Wyo.1997). To be voluntary, the defendant's statements must result from "free and deliberate choice rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception." Madrid v. State, 910 P.2d 1340, 1344 (Wyo.1996). Because we presume a defendant's statements to be involuntary, the burden rests on the State to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant's statements were voluntary. Evans, 944 P.2d at 1126-27. Once the State has met its burden and rebutted the presumption of involuntariness, the defendant may be required to present evidence demonstrating the involuntariness of his statements. Id. at 1126. If such statements resulted from coercion, then the statements are inadmissible at trial for any purpose because their validity is suspect. Id. at 1125.
Voluntariness is a legal question; thus, we review the ultimate issue, whether a defendant's statements were voluntary, de novo. Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 110, 106 S.Ct. 445, 449-50, 88 L.Ed.2d 405 (1985); Doyle, 954 P.2d at 972; Simmers v. State, 943 P.2d 1189, 1194 (Wyo.1997); Evans, 944 P.2d at 1124. On review, however, we will not disturb the trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. Id. We look to the totality of the circumstances to determine if the defendant's statements were voluntary. Vigil v. State, 859 P.2d 659, 664 (Wyo.1993).

Mitchell v. State, 982 P.2d 717, 720-21 (Wyo.1999).


[¶ 8] On appeal, Pena argues that he affirmatively invoked his right to remain silent and that the district court did not conduct the required totality of the circumstances analysis to determine if Pena's statements were voluntary. Specifically, Pena argues that, as a Mexican national whose native tongue is Spanish, he could not understand what the officers were saying to him. Pena also claims that, in the totality of the circumstances of the interview, the atmosphere was oppressive and coercive. Pena claims he affirmatively invoked his right to remain silent several times during the interview but the officers continued to question him and told him they would not leave until he talked to them.

[¶ 9] The interview was recorded on audiotape to which the district court listened. The following is the pertinent portion of the interview as quoted by the district court in its decision letter:

Thompson read Defendant his Miranda rights and Defendant clearly acknowledged that he understood these rights. Nonetheless, Thompson continued,
[Thompson]: Do you understand you don't have to talk to us? Okay? Do you wish to talk to us?
[Pena]: Not, not really.[1] [Thompson]: Not really? How do you mean not really? I mean, uh.
[Doyle]: Chon [Pena], you know, you know why we're here?
[Pena]: Yeah.
[Doyle]: In reference to a double homicide. And that's an open case that obviously we have to complete, and you are a big part of that. And that's why we're here, to talk with you about them.
[Pena]: Okay.
[Doyle]: We're going to proceed with that —
[Pena]: Uh, huh.
[Doyle]: — with or without you. But we're hoping, of course, for your cooperation in that, and that's why we drove all the way down here. Okay? Investigator Thompson has explained your rights to you, that are guarantee you, that are guaranteed to you under the Constitution. We're here to protect those rights, preserve your rights, and if you decide that you do not want to

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