Rojas v. State, 012221 INCA, 20A-CR-1359

Docket Nº:20A-CR-1359
Opinion Judge:PYLE, JUDGE.
Party Name:Juan Carlos Rojas, Appellant-Defendant, v. State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
Attorney:ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Philip R. Skodinski South Bend, Indiana ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana Steven Hosler Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana
Judge Panel:Vaidik, J., and Brown, J., concur.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Court of Appeals of Indiana

Juan Carlos Rojas, Appellant-Defendant,

v.

State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

No. 20A-CR-1359

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 22, 2021

Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.

Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court The Honorable John M. Marnocha, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 71D02-1910-MR-10

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Philip R. Skodinski South Bend, Indiana

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana Steven Hosler Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

MEMORANDUM DECISION

PYLE, JUDGE.

Statement of the Case

[¶1] Juan Rojas ("Rojas") appeals his conviction by jury of murder.1 He argues that: (1) the prosecutor engaged in misconduct; and (2) there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction. Concluding that the prosecutor did not engage in misconduct and that there is sufficient evidence to support his conviction, we affirm Rojas' murder conviction.

[¶2] We affirm.

Issues

1. Whether the prosecutor engaged in misconduct.

2. Whether there is sufficient evidence to support Rojas' murder conviction.

Facts

[¶3] The facts most favorable to the verdict reveal that, in the early morning hours of February 25, 2019, Rojas and his friend, Ruben Waters ("Waters"), agreed to meet, smoke marijuana, and "chill." (Tr. Vol. 3 at 12). Waters picked up Rojas and Charles Douglas ("Douglas") at Douglas' house in South Bend. Rojas sat in the front passenger seat, and Douglas sat in the back seat directly behind Waters. Rojas brought his Ruger .380 semi-automatic handgun ("the Ruger"), and Douglas brought his Glock 9mm semi-automatic handgun ("the Glock"). Waters had a SAR 9mm semi-automatic handgun ("the SAR").

[¶4] After driving around, Waters backed his car into a driveway near Douglas' house so that the three men could smoke marijuana. At some point, Rojas shot Waters two times in the head with the Ruger. Specifically, Rojas shot Waters in the right back side of his neck and in the right cheek under his eye. Waters was also shot in the back of the head by the Glock. Following the shooting, Rojas and Douglas fled to Douglas' house with the Ruger, the Glock, and the SAR. Rojas did not call for medical assistance for Waters or report the shooting to the police.

[¶5] Later that morning, Delray Brooks ("Brooks") was leaving for work when he noticed a car that he did not recognize in his neighbor's driveway. The car's engine was running, and Brooks noticed that the car's passenger's side door was open. When Brooks approached the car, Brooks saw Waters slumped over in the front driver's seat. Brooks called 911, and South Bend Police Department officers were dispatched to the scene. When the officers arrived at the scene, the officers discovered a deceased Waters in the front driver's seat of his car. Waters' body was leaning backwards and towards the center console of his car. The left side of Waters' face was facing the roof of his car, and the area below his left ear was angled toward the driver's side window. The officers found three spent shell casings in and around Waters' car.

[¶6] An autopsy revealed that the cause of Waters' death was multiple gunshot wounds to the head, and the manner of his death was a homicide. Specifically, Waters had been shot once in the back of the head, and the projectile had been found at the base of his skull. Waters had also been shot in the right back side of his neck, and that projectile had been found in Waters' cervical spine. Lastly, Waters had been shot in the right cheek below his right eye, and the projectile had exited Waters' head below Waters' left ear. The police had not found this projectile during the initial search of Waters' car.

[¶7] During a later, more thorough search of Waters' car, police officers found a projectile in the rear hatchback area of the car. One of the officers knew from Waters' autopsy report that a projectile had exited Waters' body and that the projectile had not been found. The officer looked for a point inside Waters' car that would explain how the projectile had ended up in the rear hatchback area of the car. During his search, the officer noticed marks on the inside driver's side window "that were consistent with where this projectile would've exited [Waters' face below his left ear] and hit the window with not enough force to break the window but enough force to . . . go back into the vehicle." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 118-19).

[¶8] The same day as the shooting, South Bend Police Department officers executed a search warrant in an unrelated case at Douglas' house. The officers found the Ruger, the Glock, and the SAR hidden in a false wall in a closet. Both the Ruger and the SAR had rounds chambered and were ready to be fired. Subsequent tests revealed that the SAR was in "good working order." (Tr. Vol. 2 at 151). When a firearms examiner test-fired the gun, there were no misfires or other malfunctions.

[¶9] In October 2019, the State charged Rojas with murder. At Rojas' three-day trial in March 2020, the jury heard the facts as set forth above. In addition, Rojas testified that while the three men were sitting in Waters' car smoking marijuana, Waters pulled out the SAR and placed it against Rojas' head. Rojas heard a click and grabbed the SAR with both hands. According to Rojas, as he and Waters struggled over the SAR, Rojas let go of the SAR with one hand, reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his Ruger, and shot Waters twice in the head. Rojas further testified that he and Douglas jumped out of the car and ran to Douglas' house. The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense.

[¶10] Further, during...

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