People v. Navarro

Citation285 Cal.Rptr.3d 861,497 P.3d 935,12 Cal.5th 285
Decision Date28 October 2021
Docket NumberS165195
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Anthony NAVARRO, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)

Richard I. Targow, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Sebastopol, for Defendant and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Xavier Becerra and Rob Bonta, Attorneys General, Gerald A. Engler and Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Julie L. Garland and James William Bilderback II, Assistant Attorneys General, A. Natasha Cortina, Christine Friedman and Christine Levingston Bergman, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

Opinion of the Court by Cantil-Sakauye, C. J.

A jury convicted defendant Anthony Navarro of the first degree murder of David Montemayor and of conspiracy to commit his murder ( Pen. Code, §§ 182, subd. (a)(1), 187, subd. (a) ),1 as well as participation in a criminal street gang ( § 186.22, subd. (a) ). The jury found true the special circumstance allegations that the murder was committed in the course of a robbery ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(A) ) and in the course of a kidnapping ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(B) ) and was committed to further the activities of a criminal gang ( § 190.2, subd. (a)(22) ).

Following the penalty phase of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of death. Defendant moved for a new trial and for modification of his sentence to life without the possibility of parole. The trial court denied those motions and sentenced defendant to death. This appeal is automatic. ( § 1239, subd. (b).)

We affirm the judgment.

A. Guilt Phase Evidence
1. Prosecution evidence

The murder victim, David Montemayor, was the manager and part owner of a trucking company, Interfreight Transport, located in Rancho Dominguez. Montemayor's sister, Deborah Perna, who also worked at Interfreight, disliked her brother. She believed that Montemayor was embezzling funds from the company and storing the cash in coffee cans in his garage.

In early 2002, Perna hired Edelmira Corona to work as an office assistant at Interfreight. Around May that year, Perna asked Corona if she knew anyone who could have Montemayor killed.2 Corona put her off, but Perna was persistent. At some point, Perna gave Corona a handwritten note bearing Montemayor's home address and telephone number and asked again whether Corona could arrange for Montemayor's killing. Corona was again noncommittal and stashed the note in her desk.

According to Corona, she introduced defendant to Perna in August 2002, when he came to Interfreight to deliver methamphetamine to Corona.3 Soon after, Perna suggested that Corona give defendant the note with Montemayor's address and phone number and ask him to kill her brother. When Corona saw defendant later and he inquired about Perna, Corona told him that Perna had seen his tattoos and suggested Corona hire him to kill Montemayor. Defendant merely laughed.

In mid-August, defendant drove Corona to northern California to visit her father, an inmate at the state prison at Pelican Bay, and her then-boyfriend, who was jailed in Humboldt County. Corona told defendant that her father was a leader in the Mexican Mafia, a southern California prison gang. During the drive, Corona received a call from Perna. When Perna learned Corona was with defendant, she asked whether Corona had mentioned the killing of Montemayor. When Corona told defendant about the conversation, he asked for Montemayor's address, but Corona did not have the address with her.

Corona and defendant made plans to meet about another matter a week later, and defendant asked Corona to bring Perna's handwritten note to the meeting. Before giving defendant the note that day, Corona wrote "one hand" on it, indicating that Montemayor was an amputee. She also told defendant that Perna said he could keep anything he found in Montemayor's home, in particular the cash Perna believed was hidden in the garage. When Corona told defendant that Perna wanted him to make Montemayor "disappear," he responded, "yes."

During a later phone call, Corona asked defendant about the note. He said he had lost it and asked her to get him the information again, but she never did so. In early September, Perna asked Corona when defendant was going to kill Montemayor. Corona told her defendant had lost the note and "wasn't doing anything." Corona never again spoke with defendant about Montemayor's killing, she testified. Although Perna continued to talk to Corona about having Montemayor killed, Corona "would just laugh at her." Corona ceased working at Interfreight soon after, on September 17, 2002.

Montemayor's weekday routine was to leave his Orange County home at 6:00 a.m., drive to Interfreight in his Ford Expedition, and open the business. On the morning of October 2, the business was already open when the other employees began to arrive, but Montemayor was not there. Around 6:45 a.m., a neighbor spotted Montemayor's Expedition driving down the street near his home, followed closely by another SUV. A few minutes later, shortly before 7:00 a.m., near an intersection about a half-mile from Montemayor's home, several gunshots were heard. Police found Montemayor's body lying near his Expedition, along with spent bullet casings. He had been killed by a gunshot to the head.

At the time of the shooting, the driver of a vehicle near the intersection saw two men running around a vehicle, one of them firing a handgun. The two men entered a blue Chevrolet Blazer with a license plate containing "3L" and drove off. Soon after, a police officer driving an unmarked car spotted a Chevrolet Blazer matching the description of the vehicle seen at the site of the shooting. After a high-speed chase, during which two firearms were thrown from the Blazer, police arrested the three occupants, Armando Macias, Alberto Martinez, and Gerardo Lopez. One of the handguns thrown from the vehicle was later matched to the bullet that killed Montemayor, and the other gun was linked to a bullet and spent casings found at the scene of the shooting.

As he was being apprehended, Macias threw a cell phone into nearby bushes; police later found that the cell phone was registered to defendant's girlfriend.4 The phone dropped by Macias was determined to have been in contact with a cell phone used by defendant 18 times in the hour and one-half surrounding the killing. Macias was also found to have a business card in his wallet. Handwritten on the back was defendant's gang moniker and the number of another cell phone linked to defendant. Martinez's wallet contained a piece of paper with "Anthony Navarro" written on it, along with defendant's auto club membership number.

On the day before Montemayor's killing, Macias had rented a car. Investigating police found Macias's rented car parked in front of defendant's home. The Blazer used by the three was registered at the address of defendant's home, although not in defendant's name. Around 9:00 a.m. on the morning of the killing, defendant's wife called police to report that the Blazer had been stolen, but a subsequent search of the Blazer revealed keys in the ignition and no signs of forced entry. The registered owner of the Blazer never sought its release from police impoundment after the killing.

In subsequent testimony, defendant acknowledged that he maintained a series of cell phones for the use of gang members who worked with him.5 Telephone records showed that one of the cell phones linked to defendant, with a number ending in "1600," was in repeated contact with cell phones linked to Corona, defendant's wife, defendant's girlfriend, Macias, and Martinez in the hours preceding Montemayor's killing. In particular, the records show that Corona called the 1600 phone at 5:00 p.m. on the evening prior to the homicide. Later that evening, the phone was used to make repeated calls to defendant's wife and Corona. Beginning around 11:00 p.m., the 1600 phone recorded multiple calls to Macias and Martinez, followed throughout the night by more calls to Corona, Macias, and defendant's wife. Early the following morning, the 1600 phone was used to call Macias and Corona. The next day, a person who identified herself as "Mrs. Johnston" called customer service of the Nextel mobile phone company and changed the number assigned to the 1600 cell phone; defendant's wife's cell phone records reflected calls to Nextel around that time. In addition, Corona attempted to call Macias four times around 6:30 a.m. on the morning Montemayor was killed. Her last call connected and lasted for a minute.

Two weeks later, police stopped defendant while he was driving a Lexus vehicle. In the glove compartment of the Lexus were Perna's handwritten note with Montemayor's address and phone number and a CD case containing a photograph of Corona. During the stop, defendant confirmed to a detective that he was "an older member or elder member" of the Pacoima Flats street gang. Following his arrest in connection with Montemayor's murder, defendant wrote several letters from jail suggesting his involvement in gang activities. Among these were letters to both Macias and Martinez expressing affection and discussing personal matters.

A local police detective, Nathaniel Booth, testified as an expert concerning matters relating to street gangs. Booth was a member of the gang unit of the Buena Park police department and had participated in a search of defendant's home during its investigation of the Montemayor killing. He testified that gang members are expected to "put[ ] in work" for the gang by committing crimes or violence for the benefit of the gang. Older members of the gang "often are more like supervisors," with younger members committing "the majority of the violent crime" in order to prove their mettle.

Booth testified that gangs generally acquire a name, which often refers to the neighborhood in which they operate, and individual members are given monikers used within the gang. Graffiti is used to promote the...

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