People v. Hernandez, No. S020244.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtKENNARD, J.
Citation30 Cal.4th 835,134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602,69 P.3d 446
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Jesus Cianez HERNANDEZ, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date02 June 2003
Docket NumberNo. S020244.

134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602
30 Cal.4th 835
69 P.3d 446

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Jesus Cianez HERNANDEZ, Defendant and Appellant

No. S020244.

Supreme Court of California.

June 2, 2003.

As Modified August 13, 2003.


134 Cal.Rptr.2d 607
Fern M. Laethem and Lynne S. Coffin, State Public Defenders, under appointments by the Supreme Court, Alison Pease and John Fresquez, Deputy State Public Defenders, for Defendant and Appellant

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, David P. Druliner, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Assistant Attorney General, Ward A. Campbell, Louis M. Vasquez and Robert P. Whitlock, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

KENNARD, J.

A jury convicted defendant Jesus Cianez Hernandez of one count of murder (Pen. Code, § 187).1 The jury found that defendant had personally used a firearm in the commission of the offense (§ 182), and it found true a special circumstance allegation that the murder was intentional and committed for financial gain (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(1)). The jury also convicted defendant of conspiracy to commit murder (§ 12022, subd. (b)), and it found true a special circumstance allegation that the object of the conspiracy was murder for financial gain. At the penalty phase, the jury returned a verdict of death. Defendant's appeal to this court is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

As we shall explain, we affirm the murder and conspiracy convictions as well as the financial gain special circumstance based on the murder conviction, but we strike the special circumstance based on the conspiracy conviction. We also conclude that numerous errors at the penalty phase of trial require reversal of the judgment of death.

I. Facts

A. Guilt Phase—Prosecution's Case

Alfredo Padilla and Brenda Prado were heroin and cocaine dealers who lived in a house in Grayson, a small town in Stanislaus County. Also living in the house (hereafter the Grayson house) were Betty Lawson and her boyfriend, Dallas White.

The murder victim, Esther "Cussy" Alvarado, was a heroin addict and prostitute, who would buy heroin from Padilla and Prado and occasionally stay at their house. They later banned her from the house

134 Cal.Rptr.2d 608
because she had not paid for drugs they had given her, and they suspected she had stolen a radio from the house

On January 4, 1988, between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., Anthony Ybarra (Ybarra) and his brother Gilbert came to the Grayson house. Gilbert, who was drunk, brought a lawn mower that he had stolen earlier in the day from Johnny Alvarado (no relation to murder victim Esther Alvarado) and which he hoped to exchange for drugs. Ybarra also wanted to buy drugs, but he knew Padilla and Prado would not sell to him because they suspected him of being a police informant.

When Ybarra and Gilbert arrived at the house, they saw Dallas White outside. Ybarra told White he wanted to buy heroin. While they were standing outside talking, Johnny Alvarado drove up, retrieved his lawn mower from Gilbert, and headed home. Gilbert accompanied him, apparently hoping to persuade him not to report Gilbert's theft of the lawn mower to the police. Ybarra remained outside the Grayson house.

As Ybarra and White continued their conversation, Ybarra saw defendant, whom he had known for many years, drive up to Guzman's Bar, some 500 feet away. A woman with long hair was with defendant. After dropping off the woman at the bar, defendant drove to the Grayson house. Ybarra feared defendant because, while working for the police, Ybarra had "set up" the boyfriend of defendant's sister and had testified against him. He therefore hid behind a car as defendant and White entered the house.

Ten to 15 minutes later, Ybarra saw defendant, Padilla, and Prado go out the back door of the house and enter a small trailer. Ybarra crept through a hole in a fence and peeked through a window of the trailer, hoping to find out where Padilla and Prado hid their drugs so he could steal them. Ybarra heard defendant say, "that bitch, Cussy [Alvarado]" was waiting for him at Guzman's Bar, and Prado and Padilla complained that Alvarado had "ripped them off." Defendant offered to beat up Alvarado, and when Prado and Padilla expressed interest, he said he would kill her "for the right price." Prado replied she would give defendant two grams of heroin and an eighth of an ounce of cocaine to kill Alvarado. Defendant said, "Consider it done," and he and Padilla shook hands. Defendant, Prado, and Padilla then left the trailer and returned to the house. Shortly thereafter, Ybarra watched as defendant left the house and got in his car, drove back to Guzman's Bar, picked up Alvarado, and drove off with her between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m. Dallas White then gave Ybarra a ride home.

According to Lorenzo Guzman, the owner of Guzman's Bar, Esther Alvarado left his bar between 11:30 and midnight, after staying 15 to 20 minutes. Guzman saw her enter the passenger side of what he thought was a tan Oldsmobile car.

Between midnight and 1:00 a.m., Rudy Galvan was driving home from work when he saw a body lying by the road. He drove to Guzman's Bar, about a mile away, and asked Guzman to call the police. Stanislaus County Sheriffs deputies responding to the call found Esther Alvarado's body. She had been shot to death. Alvarado's right fingers were muddy, and what appeared to be scratch marks were in the mud next to her body. A thick track of mud was on the road, made by two wheels of a car.

Later that night, Homicide Detective Michael Dulaney drove to the nearby town of Patterson. At the home of Guadalupe Porter, defendant's sister, Dulaney saw a black and gold Oldsmobile, which belonged to defendant and his sister. The car had a

134 Cal.Rptr.2d 609
large quantity of wet mud on the left side and the rear bumper; there also was mud on the gas pedal. On the dashboard was a box of Winchester .22-caliber cartridges. On the floor of the car was a similar .22-caliber bullet, and an expended .22-caliber casing was under the seat. On the ground near the car were two shotgun shell casings. The police entered Porter's house and arrested defendant

Later that morning, Deputy Sheriff Richard McFarren questioned defendant. Defendant said that during the previous night he had taken a woman named Ana (identified by other witnesses as Ana Najera) to a motel in Modesto, dropped her off, and returned to his sister's house. He denied going to the Grayson house. When asked about the mud on the car, defendant said that after dropping off Najera, he had driven through mud on his way to the Candyland apartments to buy drugs. He claimed the bullets in the car were there when it was purchased. He did not say when he had bought the car.

Sheriffs Investigator Mike Clements interviewed Guadalupe Porter, defendant's sister. She said she had borrowed a shotgun and some ammunition from Brenda Prado, but when asked to locate them she could not do so.

That same morning, Ybarra learned from Esther Alvarado's brother that she had been killed. Some time later, Deputy David Nirschl questioned Ybarra about the lawn mower his brother Gilbert had stolen from Johnny Alvarado. When Ybarra volunteered that he had information about the murder, Nirschl took him to see Raul DeLeon, one of the deputies investigating the murder. Ybarra told De-Leon that he had overheard defendant, Prado, and Padilla planning to kill Esther Alvarado.

Dr. William Ernoehazy performed an autopsy on Esther Alvarado. Her body contained a .22-caliber bullet, as well as shotgun pellets, wadding, and a slug. The path of the slug through her body indicated that it had been fired downward into her back at a distance of roughly three feet while she was lying on the ground. Criminalist John Yoshida testified that the copper wash and the design of the bullet found in Alvarado's body were "exactly the same" as the Winchester cartridges found in defendant's car.

Shortly after the murder, Brenda Prado moved to Oklahoma, where she lived with her daughter, Valerie Castillo. Three months later, Castillo found a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun hidden in the springs of a couch Prado had brought with her. According to Criminalist Michael White, the two shell casings found in defendant's front yard the morning after Alvarado was killed were fired from this shotgun, the slug found in Alvarado's body was "probably" fired from the gun's right barrel, and the wadding found in Alvarado's body was "consistent with" the shells retrieved from defendant's front yard.

Eleven months after the murder, Deputy District Attorney Michael Stone and District Attorney Investigator Alan Fontes were preparing for the trial of Alfredo Padilla who, like defendant, was charged with Alvarado's murder. Looking closely at a slide projection of Alvarado's body taken at the crime scene, they discovered that what sheriffs deputies had thought to be scratch marks in the mud next to her body were letters spelling "Jesse" (defendant's first name). According to Dr. Ernoehazy, who performed the autopsy, Alvarado died some 15 minutes after being shot, and she could have remained conscious long enough to write defendant's name in the mud.

Deputy Daniel Cron checked defendant's car for fingerprints. On the outside

134 Cal.Rptr.2d 610
of the passenger's side window he found a latent print that matched Alvarado's right middle finger.2

B. Guilt Phase—Defense Case

Defendant presented an alibi defense, claiming that someone living at the Grayson house had killed Esther Alvarado and had framed him by writing "Jesse" in the mud next to Alvarado's body.

Fifteen-year-old Steven Rodrigues, Guadalupe Porter's son and defendant's nephew, testified that on the night of the murder, defendant left their house shortly after 6:30 p.m. to take Ana Najera home. Defendant returned an hour later and watched television with Steven until about 10:30 p.m., when they fell asleep in the living room. Defendant was still asleep at 6:30 the...

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157 practice notes
  • Barnett v. Superior Court, No. C051311.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 5, 2006
    ...Election on November 7, 1978, adopted the death penalty initiative approving Penal Code section 190.2. (People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 865-866, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446: People v. Teron (1979) 23 Cal.3d 103, 123-125, 151 Cal.Rptr. 633, 588 P.2d 773, dissenting opinion of......
  • People v. Dickey, No. S025519.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 23, 2005
    ...is a "`reasonable possibility'" the jury would have reached a different result had the error not occurred. (People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 877, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446, italics added; People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal.3d 432, 448, 250 Cal. Rptr. 604, 758 P.2d 1135.) Weaver ......
  • People v. Brooks, S099274
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 20, 2017
    ...the declarant's statement of his or her then existing state of mind "is itself an issue in the action." (See People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 872, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446 ["A murder victim's fear of the alleged killer may be in issue when the victim's state of mind is dir......
  • People v. Smith, S065233
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 21, 2018
    ...of special circumstance allegations in capital cases even when they were not raised at trial ( People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 863, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446 ), and we do so here.417 P.3d 695The claims, however, lack merit, as this court recently explained in People v. Sal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
157 cases
  • Barnett v. Superior Court, No. C051311.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 5, 2006
    ...Election on November 7, 1978, adopted the death penalty initiative approving Penal Code section 190.2. (People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 865-866, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446: People v. Teron (1979) 23 Cal.3d 103, 123-125, 151 Cal.Rptr. 633, 588 P.2d 773, dissenting opinion of......
  • People v. Dickey, No. S025519.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 23, 2005
    ...is a "`reasonable possibility'" the jury would have reached a different result had the error not occurred. (People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 877, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446, italics added; People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal.3d 432, 448, 250 Cal. Rptr. 604, 758 P.2d 1135.) Weaver ......
  • People v. Brooks, S099274
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 20, 2017
    ...the declarant's statement of his or her then existing state of mind "is itself an issue in the action." (See People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 872, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446 ["A murder victim's fear of the alleged killer may be in issue when the victim's state of mind is dir......
  • People v. Smith, S065233
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 21, 2018
    ...of special circumstance allegations in capital cases even when they were not raised at trial ( People v. Hernandez (2003) 30 Cal.4th 835, 863, 134 Cal.Rptr.2d 602, 69 P.3d 446 ), and we do so here.417 P.3d 695The claims, however, lack merit, as this court recently explained in People v. Sal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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