People v. Martinez

Decision Date18 August 2003
Docket NumberNo. S032832.,S032832.
Citation31 Cal.4th 673,74 P.3d 748,3 Cal.Rptr.3d 648
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Omar Fuentes MARTINEZ, Defendant and Appellant.

Kathy M. Chavez, Berkeley, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Tara Mulay for Defendant and Appellant.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gary W. Schons, Assistant Attorney General, William M. Wood and Carlson M. LeGrand, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Certiorari Denied May 17, 2004. See 124 S.Ct. 2160.


Defendant Omar Fuentes Martinez appeals from a judgment of the Riverside County Superior Court imposing the death penalty following his conviction of first degree murder (Pen.Code, § 187; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated), conspiracy to commit murder (§ 182), attempted murder (§§ 187, 664), discharging a firearm at an inhabited dwelling (§ 246), and assault with a deadly weapon (§ 245, subd. (a)), accompanied by a prior murder-special circumstance finding (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(2)). Defendant's appeal is automatic. (§ 1239, subd. (b).)

The special circumstance finding was based on defendant's 1980 Texas murder conviction following a guilty plea. Prior to trial on the charged offenses, a hearing was held to determine whether the Texas conviction was "punishable as murder" in California, as required by section 190.2, subdivision (a)(2). Although the trial court refused to bind defendant over for trial on the prior murder special circumstance, the Court of Appeal reinstated the allegation, holding that the Texas murder conviction was for an offense that, under Texas law, included all elements of second degree murder, as defined by California law, thereby satisfying section 190.2. (People v. Martinez (1991) 230 Cal.App.3d 197, 281 Cal.Rptr. 205 (Martinez).) We unanimously denied review.

As will appear, the prior murder issue constitutes the centerpiece of defendant's appeal. We conclude that defendant's contention is barred by the doctrine of law of the case. On the merits, we further conclude that defendant's prior Texas murder conviction based on his guilty plea to unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally shooting his victim, was punishable as second degree murder under California law. As none of defendant's other contentions has merit, we will affirm the judgment in its entirety.


The present murder count was based on the 1988 murder of Victor Castillo. Castillo and Jose Manuel Meza performed casual labor for defendant, putting roofs and trusses on buildings in the Riverside area. Defendant's friend Jose Abel Camacho also worked with these men. Defendant owed back wages to Castillo, Meza and some other laborers, but when confronted by these men, defendant showed hostility and reluctance to pay. On a least two occasions, defendant displayed firearms, including a machine gun. About a week before the murder, Raul Ibarra confronted defendant and told him to pay "all those guys" the money he owed them. Defendant pointed a firearm at Ibarra and told him to mind his own business, an act that led to a weapons assault charge against defendant. On the day before Castillo's murder, Meza filed a complaint for back wages with the Labor Commissioner.

On the evening of November 4, 1988, Castillo joined Meza, Jose Borquez, and others talking and drinking beer outside a Victoria Street home where Meza's brother lived. Defendant drove by in his blue Toyota automobile, with Camacho his passenger. Castillo approached the car, and when he was about five feet away, defendant shouted "Here you are, motherfucker," raised his AK-47 rifle, and fired at Castillo two or three times, killing him. Camacho was also armed with a rifle, but he pointed it at no one, perhaps because he had difficulty lowering the car window. After defendant drove away, the remaining men heard multiple gunshots from several blocks away.

Defendant next drove to Ibarra's home on Grove Street, where Leonardo Armenta was visiting. Armenta heard gunshots and went outside, where he saw defendant driving his blue Toyota. Someone else was with him, probably Camacho. As defendant approached the house, he raised an AK-47 rifle and commenced firing at Armenta, who ran inside. Armenta thought he could distinguish two different rifles being fired. Approximately 45 bullets were fired into the house, but no one was harmed—although one bullet missed Armenta by only a foot. This incident led to the attempted murder and firearm discharge counts against defendant.

Officers Kilmer and Lino spotted defendant's car headed away from Riverside. One taillight was out and the car was weaving from side to side. The officers ordered defendant and Camacho to stop and exit the car. Defendant was unsteady and appeared to be intoxicated. The officers handcuffed the men and noticed the car's left and right rear windows were shattered. They discovered loaded firearms in the car and numerous spent casings scattered throughout. The officers performed a field sobriety test on defendant and concluded he was intoxicated. The officers arrested and transported defendant and Camacho to county jail.

A follow-up investigation produced additional circumstantial evidence further linking defendant with the crimes. We will discuss additional facts of record material to specific guilt phase issues in the course of resolving those issues.

The defense attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution's version of the shootings. Witnesses Meza and Borquez, contrary to their earlier testimony, now indicated they did not see defendant shooting at them or Castillo. The defense also called Camacho, who denied that he or defendant fired shots at anyone, contrary to his earlier testimony at his own trial that defendant had fired his rifle at the Victoria and Grove Street locations. Camacho testified that on the day of the shootings, defendant and some other men spent two hours shooting and drinking beer. Camacho indicated that they had been drinking earlier as well, and that defendant drank many more beers than the other men. Later that day, defendant drank more beer and also used cocaine and speed.

Following the guilt verdicts, the prosecution presented uncontradicted evidence on the special circumstance allegation. The jury found true the allegation that defendant, on May 16, 1980, had been convicted of the crime of murder of Antonio LeFosse, in violation of section 19.02, subdivision (a)(1), of the Texas Penal Code, a special circumstance within the meaning of California Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (a)(2). At the penalty phase, the People introduced the evidence underlying defendant's Texas homicide conviction. In brief, this evidence showed that defendant shot and killed cabdriver LeFosse during a fare dispute. Defendant signed a statement to Texas police indicating he shot LeFosse when the latter appeared to be reaching underneath the seat for a weapon. To shoot LeFosse, defendant admitted he first had to remove his pistol from his back pocket, pull back the slide, load a clip of bullets, extract a shell, then pull the slide forward to ensure it was ready for firing.

The People also introduced evidence of defendant's pointing a firearm at an apartment manager, Michael Pluim, in Riverside, and his possession of a homemade metal "shank" concealed in a mattress cover in his jail cell. The defense introduced evidence of defendant's Mexican background, his poverty and difficult upbringing, and his life in the United States.

On rebuttal, the prosecutor introduced evidence of defendant's disciplinary problems in a Texas prison, his transfer to a Mexican prison, and his failure to report to authorities while on limited leave from that prison.

A. Validity of Prior Murder Special Circumstance

California Penal Code section 190.2, subdivision (a)(2), allows a death sentence to be imposed if "[t]he defendant was convicted previously of murder in the first or second degree.... [A]n offense committed in another jurisdiction, which if committed in California would be punishable as first or second degree murder, shall be deemed murder in the first or second degree." In the present case, the prosecution introduced evidence showing that in 1980 in Texas defendant pleaded guilty to "unlawfully intentionally and knowingly causing the death of Antonio LeFosse, by shooting him with a gun." (See Tex. Pen. Code, § 19.02, subd. (b)(1).)

Prior to trial, defendant contended his Texas offense, as defined by Texas law in 1980, did not include California's requisite element of express or implied malice, and therefore would not have qualified as "punishable as ... murder" in California. As noted, defendant prevailed in this argument before the trial court, but the Court of Appeal reached a contrary conclusion. (Martinez, supra, 230 Cal.App.3d 197, 281 Cal.Rptr. 205.) Nonetheless, defendant reasserts the issue here. Before reaching the merits of defendant's claim, we first examine the Court of Appeal's decision and then address the Attorney General's contention that the claim is barred by the doctrine of law of the case.

1. Court of Appeal Decision

The Martinez court noted that the trial court's decision was based on its conclusion that Texas law failed to recognize the doctrine of imperfect self-defense announced in People v. Flannel (1979) 25 Cal.3d 668, 674, 160 Cal.Rptr. 84, 603 P.2d 1, a doctrine that conceivably could have reduced defendant's crime to manslaughter. (Martinez, supra, 230 Cal.App.3d at pp. 200-201,281 Cal.Rptr. 205.) In other words, the lower court relied on the possibility that defendant's Texas murder would not have been punished as murder at a trial held here. The Court of Appeal disagreed with that approach, finding Flannel irrelevant in determining whether...

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