People v. Mateo

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Citation779 N.Y.S.2d 399,2 N.Y.3d 383,811 N.E.2d 1053
PartiesTHE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Respondent, v. ANGEL MATEO, Appellant.
Decision Date24 February 2004

Kevin M. Doyle, Capital Defender, Albany (Barry J. Fisher, Beverly Van Ness and Andrew C. Shear of counsel), for appellant.

Howard R. Relin, District Attorney, Rochester (Wendy Evans Lehmann and Arthur G. Weinstein of counsel), for respondent.

Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General, New York City (Luke Martland, Peter B. Pope, Daniel Smirlock and Robin A. Forshaw of counsel), in his statutory capacity under Executive Law § 71.

Bennett L. Gershman, White Plains, amicus curiae.

Judges Ciparick, Graffeo, Read and R.S. Smith concur with Chief Judge Kaye; Judge G.B. Smith dissents and votes to reverse and order a new trial in a separate opinion; Judge Rosenblatt dissents and votes to reverse and order a new trial in another opinion.


Chief Judge KAYE.

Defendant's case, here on direct appeal from a jury verdict of guilt of first degree murder and a jury sentence of death, has a complex history that we know well (see People v Mateo, 93 NY2d 327 [1999]

; Matter of Relin v Connell, 92 NY2d 613 [1998]). Implicated in four murders and other violent crimes in Rochester, on December 19, 1996, defendant was charged in a 22-count indictment with, among other things, three counts of first degree murder.1 Count 10 of the indictment, contested in this appeal, alleged that on or about November 2, 1996, in the course of and in furtherance of first degree kidnapping, defendant intentionally caused the death of Juan Rodriguez-Matos, or, intending Matos' death, commanded another—his wife, Monica Szlekovics—to kill him (Penal Law § 125.27 [1] [a] [vii]). In either circumstance, the cause of death was alleged to be a gunshot wound.

Counts 11 and 12 of the indictment charged defendant with first degree murder on a serial killer theory that he acted "in a similar fashion" when, within a 24-month period, he intentionally murdered four individuals, including Matos. On defendant's motion, the trial judge dismissed those counts (175 Misc 2d 192 [Monroe County Ct 1997, Connell, J.]), and the Appellate Division affirmed (249 AD2d 894 [4th Dept 1998]). We affirmed, concluding that the evidence presented to the grand jury was insufficient to establish that the killings at issue were "committed in a similar fashion" under Penal Law § 125.27 (1) (a) (xi) (People v Mateo, 93 NY2d 327 [1999]).

Prior to trial, relying on United States v Jackson (390 US 570 [1968]), defendant challenged the plea provisions of New York's recently enacted death penalty statute (L 1995, ch 1). He argued that those provisions2 created a two-tiered system of punishment for the same offense, because only those who went to trial faced the death penalty while those who waived a jury trial and pleaded guilty did not. This scheme, he argued, impermissibly burdened his Fifth and Sixth Amendment trial rights. The trial judge, adhering to Jackson, held the plea provisions unconstitutional, but the Appellate Division subsequently declared them constitutional (Matter of Relin v Connell, 251 AD2d 1041

[4th Dept 1998]). Defendant thereafter went to trial, while an appeal of the Appellate Division ruling was pending in this Court. Ultimately, bound by Jackson, we reversed, struck the plea provisions as unconstitutional and, in a consolidated appeal, severed them from the statute (Matter of Hynes v Tomei; Matter of Relin v Connell, 92 NY2d 613 [1998]).


The facts of defendant's case, elicited at trial, are no less complicated than its legal history. The main participants in the events of October 8 through November 6, 1996 were defendant (then age 27), his wife (Monica, 20), his estranged girlfriend (Janette Sanchez, 25) and his brother (Victor Cordero, 16). Forty-nine witnesses, many of them civilians who had crossed paths with defendant, testified for the People. The defense called one witness, to testify regarding a bullet wound in defendant's leg.

Though married to Monica, defendant had been living with Janette since November of 1995 in what was, to say the least, an abusive relationship. Janette told the jury that soon after she and her three young children moved in with defendant, he began terrorizing her: he hit her in the face, beat her in front of her children, threatened to stab her, and more than once aimed a gun at her and threatened to pull the trigger. At one point, he shot a round into the floor of their bedroom in front of her.

As Janette testified, on October 8, 1996, in a fit of rage over a busy telephone line, defendant hit her, and then began hitting her five-year-old daughter with a belt. Defendant locked them in the house, and left. Janette and her daughter escaped through a bedroom window. Janette then sought shelter at Alternatives for Battered Women, and remained there with her children. Three days later, on October 11th, defendant and Monica, in pursuit of Janette, showed up at 966 Avenue D, the home of Maria Sanchez (Janette's sister), Jose Roman (Maria's boyfriend) and Maria's four-year-old daughter. Jose explained to the jury that he opened the door and defendant pointed a gun at his forehead. Defendant handcuffed him behind his back, put the gun to the back of his head and told him to lie down. For more than three hours, defendant and Monica held the family hostage while defendant ordered Maria to keep phoning Janette. Finally, Maria reached her and after defendant spoke to her, he and Monica left.

Throughout October, defendant persisted in his efforts to find Janette. He sent Monica to the shelter to give Janette his pager number so that she could call him. On October 16th, while Janette was at the Department of Social Services, defendant and Monica appeared, and defendant coaxed Janette into going to his apartment, without Monica. Soon after, Monica appeared at the door with a gun. She left, and defendant told Janette that he wanted to kill himself. Instead, he pointed the gun at Janette's chest and said he would kill her because he could not allow her to be with anyone else. Janette later managed to return to the shelter. Two days later, defendant and Monica again accosted Janette on the street. When she ran to a nearby office, defendant followed her inside but security guards called the police. Between October 8th and October 24th, defendant kept calling and leaving messages for Janette at the shelter. On October 24th, fearful that defendant would harm Maria, Janette went back to defendant for six days. On October 29th, a social worker from Child Protective Services helped Janette and the children move to another shelter. No longer reachable at Alternatives for Battered Women, it seemed that Janette had disappeared.

As defendant later conceded to police, his attack on the child had ended his relationship with Janette. He admitted searching the city for her, and acknowledged that he would hurt anyone who got in his way. One unfortunate victim was Juan Rodriguez-Matos, age 20. On or about November 2, 1996, defendant was driving around the east side of Rochester with Monica and Victor, still looking for Janette. Defendant spotted Matos on the street, and remembered that he and Janette had a friend in common, Glyselle, who might have information about Janette. Defendant ordered Monica, who was driving, to circle the block so he could confront Matos. He then directed her to stop, got out of the car and approached Matos, demanding to know Glyselle's address. When Matos refused to answer, defendant forced him into the car at gunpoint and they drove to defendant's house. There, defendant handcuffed Matos, brought him into the bathroom and questioned him. Matos finally gave defendant an address, but by that time defendant had already decided to take him to the basement and execute him. Defendant told police that he made this decision and Monica and Victor were following his orders—Monica and Victor did what he told them to do.3

Defendant admitted to the investigators that while in the basement, he put a dark handkerchief over Matos' eyes, and then "shot the dude in the left side of his head as he stood there." Matos fell on the floor, but was still alive, so defendant put a plastic bag over his head. He died some time later. In the middle of the night, defendant, Monica and Victor wrapped the body in a blanket and some curtains and left it in an alley near where defendant used to work. A subsequent autopsy of Matos' body revealed that, although he aspirated gastric contents into his lungs, the cause of death was the gunshot wound to the head. Defendant later told police during questioning that he had handed the gun to Monica and that, in actuality, it was she who pulled the trigger and he was "surprised." For the most part, he insisted that he had fired the fatal shot, but he alternated back and forth. In a third version, defendant claimed that even though Monica had pulled the trigger, he was a "king" and would take the blame because he wanted the death penalty and could not "do a hundred years in jail." When police typed his written statement, defendant claimed to have pulled the trigger himself.

On November 6th, defendant, Monica and Victor carried out a second home invasion at 966 Avenue D. On that day, they went back to Maria and Jose's apartment house, but hid in the basement. Defendant still wanted to find Janette, and told Monica and Victor that Janette had filed a police complaint against him. Defendant later explained, "[t]hat was a lie and I was using them to help me get my girl back." After waiting about three hours, defendant said "let's go upstairs." Defendant told Monica to knock on the first floor apartment door (Maria lived on the second floor); when the occupant—Willie McWilliams—opened the door, defendant put a gun to his face.

McWilliams testified that defendant hit him on the left side of...

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