People v. Mora

Decision Date02 July 2018
Docket NumberS079925
Citation235 Cal.Rptr.3d 92,420 P.3d 902,5 Cal.5th 442
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Joseph Adam MORA and Ruben Rangel, Defendants and Appellants.

Michael J. Hersek, State Public Defender, San Francisco, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Peter R. Silten, Deputy State Public Defender, San Francisco, for Defendant and Appellant Joseph Adam Mora.

Tara K. Hoveland, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Malibu, for Defendant and Appellant Ruben Rangel.

Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Sacramento, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Joseph P. Lee, and John Yang, Deputy Attorneys General, Los Angeles, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


This automatic appeal arises from defendants Joseph Adam Mora and Ruben Rangel's 1999 convictions and death sentences for the attempted robberies and murders of Andres Encinas and Antonio Urrutia. Mora and Rangel contend that several errors occurred during the guilt and penalty phases of their trial. With one exception, we disagree. The exception consists of a guilt phase instructional error permitting the jury to find the multiple murder special circumstance true without finding that Mora or Rangel intended to kill or actually killed either victim. We nonetheless find the error harmless because of the overwhelming evidence supporting the jury's conclusion that each defendant actually killed the victim he shot, and both defendants were found guilty of two first-degree murders. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.


Defendants Joseph Adam Mora and Ruben Rangel were charged by information with two counts of murder ( Pen. Code, 1

§ 187), two counts of attempted robbery (§§ 211, 664), the special circumstances of multiple murder (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(3) ) and felony murder while in the commission of robbery (§ 190.2, subd. (a)(17) ), and various enhancements.

On February 5, 1999, the jury found Rangel and Mora guilty of the first degree murders and the attempted second degree robberies of both Encinas and Urrutia, and determined that both Rangel and Mora used a firearm in the commission of each offense. The jury also found true the multiple murder and felony murder special circumstances with regard to both Mora and Rangel. On February 18, 1999, the jury imposed the death penalty on both defendants. The court denied Rangel's and Mora's motions for a new trial and modification of the verdicts of death on May 27, 1999, and on that date sentenced Rangel and Mora to death.

A. Guilt Phase
1. The Murders

In the early morning hours on August 24, 1997, Andy Encinas, Anthony Urrutia, and Fidel Gregorio drove to meet Encinas's girlfriend, Paula Beltran, at a gas station in Wilmington, where she and two friends were awaiting assistance to repair a flat tire on Beltran's car. Encinas and his friends had attended a party in Wilmington that night, where Beltran had been headed before she got a flat tire. Beltran, along with friends Mayra Fonseca and Yesenia Jimenez, had spent time at a nightclub earlier that evening. Beltran paged Encinas to tell him she would be delayed meeting him; Encinas insisted on driving the one block from the party to meet her where she was awaiting roadside assistance. Once Beltran's tire was repaired, the two cars planned to caravan to Beltran's home in Norwalk. On the way there, Jimenez asked to be taken to her home on Castlegate Avenue in Compton, and Beltran obliged. Encinas followed Beltran's car. When they arrived at Jimenez's home, Encinas said he would follow her into Jimenez's home because he needed to use a restroom.

Once their car was parked outside Jimenez's home, the three women and Encinas went into Jimenez's home for a few minutes. Jimenez then walked Beltran, Fonseca, and Encinas to her front gate. As the group walked toward Beltran's car, Beltran saw two men—later identified as Rangel and Mora2 —approach along the sidewalk from down the street. Rangel asked Encinas, "Do you want to go to sleep?" Encinas did not respond. Rangel repeated the question, urging Encinas to respond. Encinas and Beltran each told one another to go to their respective vehicles. Fonseca began screaming at Beltran to open the car door, and Beltran did. Beltran and Fonseca got into Beltran's car. Encinas walked to his car, a Toyota 4Runner, with Mora and Rangel following him.

Encinas got into the driver's seat of the 4Runner. Urrutia and Gregorio had been waiting in the passenger seat and passenger-side backseat, respectively. As Encinas entered the car, he said "let's get the hell out of here," but Rangel had followed Encinas to the driver's side of the vehicle, and Mora stood at the passenger side.

Parked just behind Encinas, Beltran momentarily looked away from the two men standing outside Encinas's car to look, unsuccessfully, for her cell phone and call for help. Fonseca observed that Rangel stood immediately next to the driver's side of Encinas's car, holding a 12-inch-long metallic or "chromed" gun. Frightened, Fonseca lowered her seat to a reclined position while she screamed at Beltran to leave. When Beltran glanced back up she saw Mora and Rangel both pointing firearms into Encinas's vehicle. Beltran drove quickly away to find a payphone to call 911. Beltran and Fonseca remained at the phone until police officers arrived in response to her call.

From his vantage point in the backseat of Encinas's car, Gregorio could see both shooters. Rangel stood outside the driver's side door of Encinas's car and said to Encinas, "check yourself, check yourself, give me your wallet." As Encinas reached for his wallet, Rangel shot into the driver's side of the vehicle. Mora, on the other side of the car, also asked Urrutia for his wallet, and Urrutia told him he had no money but would give Mora his wallet anyway. Mora then shot into the passenger side of the vehicle, striking Urrutia's face and throat, and ultimately penetrating a large blood vessel that caused Urrutia to bleed to death. Rangel fired two more shots at Encinas; at least one entered Encinas's chest, fatally striking his lung and aorta. Mora and Rangel fired a total of four shots—all within seconds.

Immediately after the shooting, Mora and Rangel ran away. Gregorio got out of the car and began knocking on doors in the neighborhood and yelling for help. No one opened their doors, but he was eventually approached by two men who told Gregorio they had called the police.

2. Mora and Rangel's Activities Before the Shootings

On the evening of August 23, 1997, Lourdes Lopez—Mora's ex-girlfriend and the mother of their three-year-old daughter—paged Mora to come to her house so he could provide protection for her after she was threatened while attending a child's birthday party earlier that day. Lopez lived on Castlegate. Several people were present at Lopez's home that evening, including her daughter and the two adults she lived with, Nancy Gonzalez and Jade Gallegos. Also present at Lopez's house were Ricardo Zavalos, Enrique Parra, Russell Tungett, Jose Jimenez, and Ramon Valadez.

Mora and Rangel arrived at Lopez's home between 11:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. When Lopez arrived shortly after Mora and Rangel, she observed both men in her kitchen drinking alcohol and using methamphetamine. Lopez joined Mora and Rangel, snorted two or three lines of methamphetamine, and consumed four or five beers in the space of about 20 minutes. While sitting with the two men in her kitchen, Lopez noticed a gun in Rangel's waistband. Lopez told police that night that she had also seen Mora with a gun, although she later testified that she was pressured into making that statement to police and never saw him with a gun.

Much of Lopez's testimony at trial differed from what she told police immediately following the shootings. What Lopez had told police is that in the early morning hours of August 24, 1997, she heard Rangel call Mora to go outside. Lopez also told police that Mora and Rangel were the only two people from the gathering at her house who had gone outside. However, at trial, Lopez claimed uncertainty regarding whether anyone went outside. She testified that she went into the bathroom right after she heard Rangel call to Mora to go outside, and testified that she saw both Mora and Rangel standing in her kitchen right before she entered the bathroom. Lopez testified that she heard gunshots two or three minutes later, while she was still in the bathroom.

In the statement she gave to police immediately after the shooting, Lopez said that she saw both Mora and Rangel run into the house through the kitchen door right after the shots were fired. Lopez testified inconsistently that she was in the bathroom for the moments before and after the shooting and did not see the two men run back into the house. Valadez, who had been at the gathering at Lopez's house, corroborated Lopez's statement to the police, testifying that he saw Mora and Rangel run into the house holding guns right after the shots were fired outside.

Prior to the gunshots she heard, Lopez recalled that Mora was not wearing a shirt, although he put a shirt on at some point that night after the shooting. Lopez testified that Rangel had been wearing a dark blue or black collared shirt that night, which he was still wearing when she exited the bathroom after the shooting. Lopez stated that Rangel took his shirt off at some point after the shooting.

Within minutes of the shots being fired, some commotion broke out at Lopez's house. Valadez testified that Mora and Rangel became excited, bragging that they shot two men and "blew their fucking heads off." Valadez observed that Mora was holding a black machine-gun style weapon; Rangel was holding a silver or chrome weapon with a bullet visibly stuck in the chamber. Rangel claimed he would have fired more shots but his gun had jammed. Rangel was advised by...

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  • Table of Cases null
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Table of Cases
    • Invalid date
    ...223 Cal. Rptr. 3d 616 (1st Dist. 2017)—Ch. 2, §11.2.2(1)(b)[2][b]; Ch. 3-B, §20.5.2; Ch. 5-E, §3.2.1(3)(h) People v. Mora and Rangel, 5 Cal. 5th 442, 235 Cal. Rptr. 3d 92, 420 P.3d 902 (Cal. 2018)—Ch. 1, §2.1.2(2); Ch. 4-B, §3.2; C, §1.4.3(1)(a)[1][a]; Ch. 5-E, §2.4; Ch. 6, §3.2.2; §6 Peopl......
  • Chapter 4 - §1. Overview
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Chapter 4 Statutory Limits on Particular Evidence
    • Invalid date
    ...anticipates it will call as a witness (e.g., a rebuttal witness). Izazaga, 54 Cal.3d at 375-76 & n.11; see People v. Mora (2018) 5 Cal.5th 442, 513. Other than the name of the victim or witness, no attorney shall disclose or permit to be disclosed to a defendant, members of the defendant's ......
  • Chapter 4 - §3. Specific types of impeachment evidence
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Chapter 4 Statutory Limits on Particular Evidence
    • Invalid date a showing that her testimony is inconsistent with common sense, experience, or established facts. See, e.g., People v. Mora (2018) 5 Cal.5th 442, 479 (defense witness's testimony that recording of her interview with police was stopped and started was impeached by playing unredacted inter......
  • Chapter 6 - §3. Application to specific evidence
    • United States
    • Full Court Press California Guide to Criminal Evidence Chapter 6 Discretionary Exclusion Under Evid. C. §352
    • Invalid date
    ...of confrontation). 2. Unduly prejudicial. Impeachment evidence can be objected to as being unduly prejudicial. See People v. Mora (2018) 5 Cal.5th 442, 479-80; see, e.g., People v. Lopez (2018) 5 Cal.5th 339, 358-60 (evidence that D had broken witness's leg and threatened to kill her was pr......
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