People v. Sanchez

Decision Date11 December 2014
Docket NumberH037353
Citation181 Cal.Rptr.3d 360
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Gene SANCHEZ et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Counsel for Plaintiff/Respondent, The People: Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler Senior, Assistant Attorney General, Rene´ A. Chacon, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Nanette Winaker, Deputy Attorney General.

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Gene Sanchez: Law Offices of John P. Dwyer, John P. Dwyer.

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant,Samuel Castro: Under appointment by the Court of Appeal Kyle Gee.

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Michael Espana: Under appointment by the Court of Appeal David D. Martin, Alameda.

Counsel for Defendant/Appellant Orlando Rojas: Under appointment by the Court of Appeal J. Frank McCabe, San Francisco.

Premo, J.

This appeal follows a months-long trial of four defendants on 13 counts, including conspiracy to commit murder, murder, and attempted murder. All of the charges were based on a series of shootings that allegedly were carried out in retaliation for the killing of a member of the El Hoyo Palmas gang by a member of a rival Suren~o gang. The defendantsGene Sanchez, Orlando Rojas, Michael Espana, and Samuel Castro—were convicted of all counts against them. The jury also found true all of the special allegations, which included gang allegations, firearm allegations, multiple-murder allegations, and a robbery special circumstance allegation.

On appeal, each defendant raises or joins in numerous claims of error, including violations of the constitutional right to confrontation, erroneous evidentiary rulings, insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdicts, and instructional error. They also assert cumulative prejudice rendering the trial unfair.

We affirm defendant Sanchez's judgment of conviction. We reverse defendant Rojas's judgment of conviction for resentencing. We affirm defendant Espana's judgment of conviction. We reverse defendant Castro's judgment of conviction with directions and for resentencing.

A. El Hoyo Palmas and Affiliated Gangs

Over defendants' objections, John Mendoza testified as an expert in the area of Nuestra Familia, Nuestra Raza, and Norten~o criminal street gangs. Mendoza, a former member of the Nuestra Raza and Nuestra Familia gangs, testified in exchange for a reduction in his sentence. According to Mendoza, Norten~os (or Northerners) are members of street gangs that identify with Northern California. Nuestra Familia began as a prison gang and is at the top of the Norten~o gang hierarchy. Nuestra Raza, also a prison gang, is subordinate to Nuestra Familia. Norten~o street gangs, including El Hoyo Palmas (Palmas), fall under the Nuestra Familia umbrella. In prison, all Northerners report to Nuestra Familia. Mendoza testified that gang members gain respect by committing acts of violence, which they may brag about in custody. Suren~os, or Southerners, and Norten~os are rivals. Norten~os refer to Suren~os as "scraps," and "scrap hunting" refers to going out to attack or kill Suren~os.

Evidence was presented that defendants were Palmas members. For example, witnesses identified photographs in which defendants could be seen in front of Palmas graffiti, wearing clothing associated with the gang, or making gang signs. Police searches also found clothing associated with Palmas in defendants' possession. As discussed further below, San Jose Police Department Detective Anthony Kilmer testified over defendants' objection as an expert on Norten~o street gangs and Palmas in particular. He opined that all of the defendants were members of Palmas based on their tattoos, items found at their homes and on their computers, and/or police reports documenting their prior contact with law enforcement. Defendants did not dispute their gang membership at trial.

In addition to Mendoza, three other former gang members testified as part of plea bargains. Vince Tirri, a former Nuestra Raza member, testified as part of a plea deal that reduced his exposure from life to a range of seven to 19 years. As discussed in detail below, Tirri testified to several incriminating statements Espana made about the charged offenses while he and Tirri were in custody together. Tirri also testified to his impression that Sanchez, whom he met while neither was incarcerated, was a leader and influential member of Palmas who felt responsible for younger gang members.

Hector Delreal, a member of Palmas who was involved in some of the charged offenses, also testified as part of a plea deal. His testimony implicating the defendants is discussed below.

Joseph Abeyta, a former member of both Nuestra Raza and Palmas, testified to incriminating statements Espana made about the charged offenses while in custody. Specifically, he testified that Espana was being teased for being a virgin and another inmate and Norten~o joked, "Yeah, ... he's a virgin with hot ones under his belt," which Abeyta interpreted to mean Espana had committed murders. According to Abeyta, Espana did not deny the suggestion that he was a murderer. On cross-examination, Abeyta acknowledged that Espana could not have contradicted the inmate who made the "hot ones" comment due to their relative rank in the Norten~o hierarchy. Espana objected to the admission of Abeyta's description of the conversation on hearsay grounds. The court ruled the testimony was admissible as an adoptive admission.

B. Firearms Evidence

Police recovered three firearms, each of which was used in one or more of the charged offenses, which are described in detail below.

On March 1, 2007, police seized a .25–caliber pistol during a probation search of a residence. Delreal testified that another Palmas member left the gun in his car on February 28, 2007. As discussed below, that firearm was used in the shootings on Richmond Avenue (count 2), Hamilton Avenue (counts 3 & 4), and Waverly Avenue (counts 7 & 8).

On March 17, 2007, an officer investigating a loud party saw Castro, Espana, and a third man standing near a minivan. The officer seized a .357 revolver that he saw underneath the front tire of the minivan. The gun did not belong to the owner of the residence and minivan. That firearm was used in the Hamilton Avenue shooting (counts 3 & 4).

Castro, Espana, and Rojas were arrested on March 30, 2007. After Rojas, who fled from police, was apprehended, an officer located a nine-millimeter Smith & Wesson pistol along the path Rojas had taken when he fled. That firearm was used in the shootings on Waverly Avenue (counts 7 & 8), San Tomas Aquino Parkway (counts 9 & 10), Poco Way (counts 11, 12, & 13), Virginia Avenue (count 14), and Giusti Drive (count 15).

C. Murder of Palmas Member Cesar Gonzalez

Early on the morning of December 3, 2006, Cesar Gonzalez was shot and killed by, police suspect, a Suren~o gang member. According to Detective Kilmer, Gonzalez was a member of Palmas. Delreal testified that there was an emergency meeting of Palmas members at defendant Sanchez's house on the evening of December 3, 2006. That meeting was attended by defendants Castro and Rojas, Pete Washington, possibly defendant Espana, and others. According to Delreal, Sanchez asked who was willing to "go do stuff," which Delreal interpreted to mean shoot Suren~os in retaliation. Delreal testified that he, Castro, Rojas, and others volunteered. Following the meeting, Castro and Delreal met at a gas station where Castro told Delreal to go to the east side of San Jose and said he would go to the west side.

D. December 3 , 2006 Shootings
1. McCreery Avenue Shooting

Delreal testified that on the evening of December 3, 2006, following the meeting at Sanchez's house and his discussion with Castro, he and two other Palmas members went to McCreery Avenue on the east side of San Jose looking for Suren~os. They shot at a group of men, hitting Jesus Ayala, a Suren~o gang member.

2. Richmond Avenue Shooting

Meanwhile, according to Delreal, Castro went to the west side of San Jose in his Toyota Tacoma truck. Castro drove a green Toyota extra cab pickup that, according to an officer who conducted surveillance on Castro, looked darker and more blue in color in certain light.

Ivan Sandoval, a Suren~o gang member, was shot outside an apartment complex on Richmond Avenue on the evening of December 3, 2006. Sandoval testified that the shooter was in a black or grayish truck. One of the individuals in the truck, who Sandoval identified as Washington, asked Sandoval if he was a Suren~o by saying, "Suren~o rifa; right?" Sandoval responded that he was and Washington began shooting. Sandoval testified that he knew Washington from juvenile hall.

Witness Shareen Nassarllah testified that the shooter was in the passenger seat of a passing truck. The shooter asked Sandoval, "Sur trece, que no?" Sandoval answered, "Yeah," indicating he was a Suren~o, and was shot. Venancio Escobar, who also was shot in the incident, testified that the shots came from a dark green pickup truck. Another witness, Tony Guillen, testified that the shooter was in a greenish four-door truck. The officer who responded to the shooting testified that, on his way to the scene, he passed a dark green Toyota pickup truck.

A criminalist from the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory testified that he analyzed casings found at the scene of the Richmond shooting and determined that they were fired by the .25–caliber pistol recovered by police on March 1, 2007. Delreal testified that he had seen Castro with that gun a couple of months before it was left in his vehicle in February 2007.

Castro was charged with attempted murder ( Pen.Code, §§ 187, 664, subd. (a), count 2)1 of Sandoval.

E. December 14 , 2006 Hamilton Avenue Shooting

Juan Perez testified that he and several other men were outside his Hamilton Avenue home at about 9:30 p.m. on December 14, 2006, when two people with hoods over...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Give the Witness Some Elbow Room
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Litigation No. 46-4, July 2020
    • July 1, 2020
    ...responsive answer, but case law says that this information may stand if otherwise relevant and admissible. See People v. Sanchez , 181 Cal. Rptr. 3d 360, 378 (Cal. Ct. App. 2014). In other states, judges have discretion whether to strike a nonresponsive answer. E.g. , State v. Smith , 336 S......

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