State Of N.M. v. Flores, 29

Citation147 N.M. 542, 226 P.3d 641, 2010 NMSC 002
Case DateJanuary 05, 2010
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

147 N.M. 542
226 P.3d 641
2010 NMSC 002

STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Joseph FLORES, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 29,650.

Supreme Court of New Mexico.

Jan. 5, 2010.

226 P.3d 642


226 P.3d 643


226 P.3d 644


226 P.3d 645
McGarry Law Office, Kathleen McGarry, Glorieta, NM, for Appellant.

Gary K. King, Attorney General, Ralph E. Trujillo, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.
DANIELS, Justice.

{1} Defendant Joseph Flores brings this direct appeal from his first-degree murder conviction for fatally stabbing his former lover, Vernon Green, twenty-one times with a Phillips screwdriver. We reject his arguments that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's determinations that he was the killer and that he acted with the requisite deliberate intent to kill. We also determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting: (1) evidence that after Green broke off the relationship with Defendant, Defendant contacted Green's ex-wife and claimed that Green was plotting to kidnap, rape, and kill their young son; (2) testimony of Green's mother regarding Green's spontaneous verbal identification of Defendant when he unexpectedly saw Defendant in Carlsbad; and (3) an in-court identification of Defendant by an eyewitness who had seen his photograph after having seen him personally several times at the scene of the crime, both before and during the day of the killing. Finding no error, we affirm his conviction and life sentence.

226 P.3d 646

{2} Our substantial evidence review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction must take into account both the jury's fundamental role as factfinder in our system of justice and the independent responsibility of the courts to ensure that the jury's decisions are supportable by evidence in the record, rather than mere guess or conjecture. “The test for sufficiency of the evidence is whether substantial evidence of either a direct or circumstantial nature exists to support a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to every element essential to a conviction.” State v. Duran, 2006-NMSC-035, ¶ 5, 140 N.M. 94, 140 P.3d 515 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see State v. Salgado, 1999-NMSC-008, ¶ 25, 126 N.M. 691, 974 P.2d 661. “Substantial evidence is defined as that evidence which is acceptable to a reasonable mind as adequate support for a conclusion.” State v. Robinson, 94 N.M. 693, 696, 616 P.2d 406, 409 (1980). Furthermore, “we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, indulging all reasonable inferences and resolving all conflicts in the evidence in favor of the verdict.” State v. Cunningham, 2000-NMSC-009, ¶ 26, 128 N.M. 711, 998 P.2d 176.

{3} “In our determination of the sufficiency of the evidence, we are required to ensure that a rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt the essential facts required for a conviction.” Duran, 2006-NMSC-035, ¶ 5, 140 N.M. 94, 140 P.3d 515 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This determination

does not involve substituting the appellate court's judgment for that of the jury ..., but it does require appellate court scrutiny of the evidence and supervision of the jury's fact-finding function to ensure that, indeed, a rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt the essential facts required for a conviction.

State v. Garcia, 114 N.M. 269, 274, 837 P.2d 862, 867 (1992). With those guidelines in mind, we address Defendant's challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence to support a rational jury's determinations that he killed Green and that he did so with the deliberate intent required for a first-degree murder conviction.

B. The Relevant Evidence

{4} The State's evidence showed that Defendant and Green had previously been living together as lovers in Las Vegas, Nevada. Approximately two weeks before the stabbing, Green left Defendant and moved to Carlsbad to live with his parents. Green enrolled for an alcohol server certification class at the Carlsbad Quality Inn, where the crime ultimately took place.

{5} Shortly after Green left Las Vegas, Defendant made fifteen or more phone calls to Green's ex-wife. Defendant reported to Green's ex-wife not only that Green had left him, but also that Green intended to hide and hurt their young son “in many ways that should never happen to a child.” Defendant also faxed to her what he claimed were pages from Green's notebook depicting the abuse that Green purportedly was planning to inflict on his son. The ex-wife called the Eddy County Sheriff's office and reported the calls, along with the phone number for Defendant which had been recorded by her telephone's caller identification. A deputy sheriff called Defendant on September 13, 2004, eleven days before the September 24 killing of Green, and asked about his calls to Green's ex-wife. Defendant repeated his claims about Green's plans to hurt his own son, telling the officer that Green planned to sodomize the boy, tie him up, kill him, and drop him by a river. Defendant also claimed to the officer that he was married to Green, but that Green had been abusive to him. He finally told the officer that he was planning to move to Houston, Texas.

{6} The State's evidence also traced Defendant's movements in the days between the breakup and the stabbing of Green, which took place during the lunch break of the alcohol server class Green was attending on September 24.

{7} Defendant's former employer, a sheet metal contractor in Las Vegas, testified that Defendant had approached him to get an advance on his salary, claiming that he had a

226 P.3d 647
son who had died in Arizona and that he needed $1200 to travel to New Mexico to bury him. In addition to advancing Defendant the $1200, the employer let Defendant use his credit card to rent a car in Las Vegas for the trip to New Mexico.

{8} Green's mother testified that while she was driving Green to work several days before the stabbing, Defendant pulled alongside their car at a stop light in Carlsbad. She testified that Green looked over at Defendant and spontaneously stated, “There's Joseph,” while appearing to be “very agitated” and “scared.” She immediately looked over at the man her son was referring to and later identified Defendant in court as the man she had seen driving the adjacent car. When the light changed to green, Defendant turned his car and drove away without making contact.

{9} A hotel receptionist identified Defendant and testified that she had seen him loitering around the Carlsbad Quality Inn on two separate days. On the first occasion, several days before Green was stabbed at the hotel, Defendant approached her desk to inquire about room rates, claimed that his vehicle had broken down in the hotel parking lot, and said that he was waiting for someone to come from Arizona to retrieve him and his vehicle. He stayed around the hotel for most of that day. At some point, he inquired about the alcohol server class at the hotel, and the receptionist advised him that it was not being held that week. The next time she saw Defendant was on September 24, the day when the servers' class attended by Green was actually held. She noticed Defendant in the lobby four different times that morning. At one point before noon, he came over to her desk and asked what time the servers' class would recess, claiming he had a friend in the class he was planning to take to lunch.

{10} The evidence of Defendant's presence at the Quality Inn during the hours before the stabbing was substantial. As Defendant candidly acknowledged in his own brief-in-chief, “[t]here were many witnesses that saw a person they later identified as Joseph Flores hanging around the Quality Inn on September 24, 2004.” A second hotel employee testified that, in response to her inquiry to Defendant as to his presence at 8:30 a.m., he explained that he was waiting for someone who would be attending the class. After later seeing him in the dining room and the hallway, she asked him to wait outside. Numerous other witnesses saw him at various locations in and around the hotel on that morning.

{11} The class broke for lunch just before noon. During the break, Defendant was seen arguing with Green in front of an alcove on the side of the hotel. The argument was loud enough to be heard by several witnesses from around the corner of the hotel. When cries of pain rang out from the alcove, Green's classmates and hotel employees rushed toward the sounds and found Green lying in a fetal position covered in his own blood. He died nearly two months later from complications caused by the twenty-one stab wounds to his face, skull, chest, and left shoulder.

{12} Although no one reported seeing the actual stabbing, several witnesses testified to having seen Defendant calmly, even “non-chalant[ly]” walk away from the alcove directly after the cries were heard. Witnesses described Defendant's shirt, jeans, and hands as covered in blood. One witness testified that she saw Defendant holding a neon-green Phillips screwdriver with blood on it, while other witnesses saw Defendant remove a bloodied shirt from his torso as he left the scene. While neither the murder weapon nor the bloody clothing removed by Defendant was ever recovered, a medical expert testified that the majority of Defendant's eighteen head wounds were perfectly “cross-shaped” and between a quarter of an inch to a half inch in diameter, which the State argued were consistent with the cruciform point of a Phillips screwdriver.

{13} The State also presented evidence of Defendant's behavior after the stabbing. The Eddy County deputy sheriff who had called Defendant about his calls to Green's ex-wife eleven days earlier called him again at the same number within an hour after the stabbing. Defendant hung up on the...

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  • State v. Garcia
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of New Mexico
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    ...that convictions are supported by the evidence and not merely by speculation or conjecture. State v. Flores , 2010-NMSC-002, ¶ 2, 147 N.M. 542, 226 P.3d 641. Accordingly, we reverse Defendant's convictions and dismiss the charges in order to avoid a double jeopardy violation. State v. Consa......
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