People. v. Amezcua, 022819 CASC, S133660

Docket Nº:S133660
Opinion Judge:CORRIGAN, J.
Party Name:THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. OSWALDO AMEZCUA and JOSEPH CONRAD FLORES, Defendants and Appellants.
Attorney:Janyce Keiko Imata Blair, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Oswaldo Amezcua. David H. Goodwin, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Joseph Conrad Flores. Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chie...
Judge Panel:We Concur: CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C. J. CHIN, J. LIU, J. CUÉLLAR, J. KRUGER, J. O'ROURKE, J.
Case Date:February 28, 2019
Court:Supreme Court of California
 
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THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,

v.

OSWALDO AMEZCUA and JOSEPH CONRAD FLORES, Defendants and Appellants.

S133660

Supreme Court of California

February 28, 2019

Superior Court Los Angeles County No. KA050813 Robert J. Perry Judge

Janyce Keiko Imata Blair, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Oswaldo Amezcua.

David H. Goodwin, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant Joseph Conrad Flores.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Assistant Attorney General, Joseph P. Lee and Viet H. Nguyen, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

CORRIGAN, J.

A jury convicted codefendants Oswaldo Amezcua and Joseph Conrad Flores of the first degree murders of George Flores, John Diaz, Arturo Madrigal, and Luis Reyes and found true multiple-murder and drive-by-murder special circumstance allegations.[1] The jury also convicted defendants of multiple counts of attempted willful, deliberate, premeditated murder, some of them relating to peace officers;[2] multiple counts of false imprisonment[3] in a hostage-taking incident; custodial possession of a weapon;[4] and various other offenses and enhancement allegations, including that many of the offenses were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang.[5] The jury returned death verdicts for both defendants. The trial court sentenced each defendant to death for the murder convictions and imposed determinate and indeterminate sentences for the noncapital convictions. This appeal is automatic. We affirm the judgment in its entirety.

I. Facts

A. Guilt Phase

1. Prosecution

a. April 11, 2000: Murder of John Diaz

The city of Baldwin Park is the home of the Eastside Bolen Parque (ESBP) gang. Defendants were members of ESBP. Not long after midnight on April 11, 2000, Paul Gonzales was riding a bicycle on Merced Street in Baldwin Park. His half-brother, John Diaz, rode on the handlebars. Diaz was a member of the Monrovia gang and had a “Monrovia” tattoo above his right knee. Gonzales was not a gang member. They passed a black sport utility vehicle (SUV) sitting at a red light. The SUV made a U-turn and came back toward the brothers on the opposite side of the street, then made another U-turn and pulled alongside them. Two people were in the car. As the SUV pulled past them, the passenger shouted, “Where you from?” Gonzales saw gunfire coming from inside the vehicle, jumped off the bicycle and crouched behind a parked car. The SUV sped away. Diaz approached Gonzales, told him to call an ambulance, and fell to the ground. He died at the hospital.

Sheriff's Sergeant Kenneth Clark processed the scene. He found five expended nine-millimeter shell casings, and a bullet hole in a residence on Merced Street. Gonzales described the shooter as being between ages 18 and 22, short-haired or bald-headed with a light complexion.

Doctor Vladimir Levicky, M.D., performed the Diaz autopsy. Diaz suffered a fatal gunshot wound to his left side, which perforated his liver and inferior vena cava. A second fatal wound to the back perforated his liver, stomach, and aorta. A third wound to the buttocks perforated his bladder. The bullet from Diaz's back was retrieved and booked into evidence.

In a recorded conversation with the trial prosecutor on February 21, 2002, defendants admitted they did the shooting.[6] Flores described how Diaz had been on the handlebars of a bicycle that his “friend or his brother” had been riding and noted that five nine-millimeter shell casings should have been found at the scene. In another recorded conversation with the prosecutor on March 28, 2002, defendants again admitted shooting Diaz. Flores said he did not kill the victim's brother because he was not a gang member.

After these interviews Gonzales identified a photo of Flores as the shooter. He did the same at trial.

Baldwin Park Police Sergeant David Reynoso, testifying as a gang expert, opined the shooting was committed for the benefit of ESBP. Based on defendants' recorded conversations with the prosecutor, Reynoso believed defendants shot Diaz because he was a rival gang member in territory claimed by ESBP, and the shooting was intended to promote ESBP's reputation.

b. May 25, 2000: Murder of Arturo Madrigal and Attempted Murder of Fernando Gutierrez

On May 25, 2000, Arturo Madrigal was parking his Chevrolet Blazer near the corner of Rexwood Avenue and Maine Avenue in Baldwin Park. Madrigal's friend Fernando Gutierrez, who lived nearby, sat in the passenger seat. A car stopped next to the Blazer and someone inside said, “Where you from?” Gutierrez replied loudly, “We're not from nowhere.” Someone in the other car started shooting and Gutierrez ducked under the dashboard. When the shooting stopped, he heard blood dripping from Madrigal. Gutierrez got out of the car and ran for help.

Gutierrez told police there had been four Hispanic men in the car. All were between 20 and 25 years old, with shaved heads. He testified neither he nor Madrigal belonged to a gang. He saw the assailants only briefly and was unable to identify anyone at trial.

Police Detective Mike Hemenway responded to the scene to find the Blazer parked near the corner of Maine and Rexwood Avenues with its engine running. Madrigal was dead behind the wheel; blood flowed from his ears and head. Lisa Scheinin, M.D., testified in lieu of the pathologist who performed the autopsy. She reported his conclusions that Madrigal died from a gunshot wound to the head that severed his brain stem. Several bullets were recovered and given to investigators. Madrigal also suffered a grazing wound to one knee.

A sheriff's deputy recovered four expended nine-millimeter cartridge casings and one expended bullet near the Blazer along with one expended bullet from inside the driver's door. All had been fired from outside the vehicle and from the same gun. All four bullets from the Madrigal autopsy showed six lands and grooves with a right twist, consistent with having been fired from a nine-millimeter Smith and Wesson semiautomatic pistol.

Prosecution gang expert Reynoso testified that the Madrigal shooting was committed for the benefit of ESBP. He noted that Madrigal's head was shaved, creating a perception he was a rival gang member present in ESBP territory in an act of disrespect. The shooting added to the gang's notoriety.

In a recorded conversation on March 28, 2002, defendants provided trial prosecutor Levine and Detective Kerfoot with details of the shooting. Defendants were “driving around [the] neighborhood looking for people to kill.” They saw “a gang member [that was] in the wrong area, ” driving an “older model Blazer.” Amezcua was driving. Flores, using a nine-millimeter pistol, fired “two to three shots” that hit the victim in the face and neck. The passenger fled. Asked why they went out and started shooting people, defendants explained it was their “job.” Flores said, “[W]e were trying to better the gang and [instill] fear to the rest of the gangs.” He explained that the victim should not have been driving in “our hood”; he could have driven “the long way, ” but they had caught him taking “the short way, ” and Flores “domed him.”

c. June 19, 2000: Murder of George Flores and Attempted Murders of Joe Mayorquin, Robert Perez, Jr., and Art Martinez

Katrina Barber[7] knew both Amezcua and Flores. About 11:30 p.m. on June 18, 2000, she was parked in front of her mother's house in a stolen Toyota Corolla. Defendants asked her for a ride. She drove around Baldwin Park and Alhambra until the Corolla broke down. Barber then stole a Toyota Cressida and drove to the home of Flores's mother in Hemet. They arrived about 3:00 a.m. and stayed the night. When they left the next morning, defendants carried two black duffle bags. One bag held Flores's clothes. There were about 10 firearms in the other duffle.

Barber drove defendants to the La Puente home of ESBP member Luis Reyes. The four watched television and used crystal methamphetamine, then left the house in two vehicles. Barber took Flores in the Cressida; Reyes drove Amezcua in his Monte Carlo. Parked near each other in a hotel lot, Barber saw Reyes talking with and giving something to a person in another car.

Barber then got on the freeway to go to her mother's house in La Puente. In Baldwin Park, Barber drove past some men sitting on a wall in front of a house on Ledford Street. At Flores's direction, Barber turned back toward the men and stopped. The Monte Carlo with Reyes and Amezcua drove up and also stopped in front of the Ledford Street house. Flores said to the men, “Well, well, well, what do we have...

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