State v. Amaya-Ruiz

Decision Date06 September 1990
Docket NumberAMAYA-RUI,A,No. CR-86-0095-AP,CR-86-0095-AP
Citation800 P.2d 1260,166 Ariz. 152
PartiesSTATE of Arizona, Appellee/Respondent, v. Jose Jacoboppellant/Petitioner. /PC.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

CORCORAN, Justice.

Appellant Jose Jacobo Amaya-Ruiz (defendant) was convicted, following a jury trial, of first degree murder, manslaughter, theft of property with a value of $1,000.00 or more (a pickup truck), and first degree burglary. The jury found the manslaughter offense to be of a dangerous nature. The court sentenced defendant to death on the murder conviction, 7.5 years' imprisonment for manslaughter, 5 years for theft, and 7 years for first degree burglary. The terms of imprisonment were to run concurrently with the death sentence, but consecutively to each other. Defendant appeals from his convictions and sentences and seeks review of the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. We consolidated the two proceedings. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art. 6, § 5(3), and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and -4033.


1. Did the trial court err by failing to order additional competency hearings under rule 11, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure?

2. Did the trial court abuse its discretion by denying defense counsel's repeated requests for continuances?

3. Was defendant's confession involuntary due to coercion?

4. Was defendant's confession obtained in violation of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona?

5. Did the trial court's evidentiary rulings constitute reversible error?

6. Did the trial court err by allowing improper comments in the state's opening statement and closing argument?

7. Were the trial court's jury instructions proper?

8. Did the trial court's rulings at the aggravation/mitigation hearing violate defendant's constitutional rights?

9. Should the trial court's imposition of the death penalty be upheld?

10. Was defendant denied effective assistance of counsel?

11. Was the court's failure to appoint additional experts for defendant's rule 32 post-conviction hearing an abuse of discretion?

12. Did court-ordered editing of defendant's appellate brief violate his constitutional rights?


Defendant, an undocumented alien from El Salvador, was employed as a ranch hand by the victim and her husband, who lived in a sparsely populated area on the east side of Tucson. Defendant lived on the ranch in a structure about 100 feet from the house. He was apparently well liked and trusted by the victim and her husband, who often invited him into their home for dinner and provided him with food and clothing.

On the morning of March 28, 1985, the victim was murdered in her home while her husband was at work. While speaking to her sister on the telephone at approximately 9:00 a.m. that morning, she heard a knock on the door. Immediately after the victim answered the door, her sister, who was still on the line, heard the victim say, "What are you doing? Leave me alone.... I will give you the gun." She heard scuffling noises and a man's voice, so she called the police. When the officers arrived less than 10 minutes later, they found the victim dead, stabbed 23 times, with a contact gunshot wound in the ear. No murder weapon was found in the home, but a bloody shoe print was observed less than 2 feet from the body. At the time of the murder, the victim was approximately 4 months pregnant.

While en route to the scene, Lieutenant Lon Bothwell of the Pima County Sheriff's Department saw a pickup truck that apparently had run off the road about 2 miles from the ranch. He made a radio report that he observed a "Mexican-looking male in a baseball cap" walking away from the truck. Further investigation revealed that the truck belonged to the victim's husband and two knives were found in the vehicle.

Soon after discovering the body, police searched the area for the killer. The search focused on defendant, who had been seen watering trees at 7:00 a.m. on the day of the murder, but had disappeared by the time police arrived. The search continued until nightfall, but no suspects were apprehended. Detective Thomas Petropoulos, placed in charge of the investigation, issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies notifying them to detain defendant.

At approximately 12:15 a.m. on March 29, two officers of the Southern Pacific Railroad Police, Steven Hardy and Kenneth Nelson, apprehended defendant attempting to board a westbound train in the Yuma railroad yard. He was detained with a group of 14 undocumented aliens who were also trespassers on the train, which had just arrived from Tucson. The officers radioed the United States Border Patrol to alert them of the location of the suspected undocumented aliens. Before Border Patrol officers arrived, Hardy did a quick patdown search of defendant and placed him in his vehicle. He then turned defendant over to Agent Steven Merrill of the Border Patrol.

Agent Merrill performed patdown searches of all the detainees and transported them to the Border Patrol station, where they were requested to empty their pockets and were interrogated as to their alienage. Because defendant spoke no English, Merrill interrogated him in Spanish. Defendant produced a loaded revolver from his pants or belt area, according to Merrill. The serial number on the revolver ultimately was determined to match a gun missing from the victim's home.

After defendant surrendered the gun, Merrill learned that defendant was a suspect in a Tucson murder and read him his Miranda rights in Spanish. When asked to sign an acknowledgment, defendant indicated he could not write and signed by mark. He also made his mark on a waiver of rights statement. At that time, defendant declined an offer of food and rest. Defendant had previously indicated he was born in Mexico and wished to be deported as soon as possible. He claimed that he purchased the gun from an unknown person in San Luis, Arizona on the previous day, when he entered the United States.

Det. Petropoulos arrived at the Yuma Border Patrol Station at about 8:30 a.m. He interviewed defendant with the aid of an interpreter, Border Patrol Agent Rudy Rodriguez. The detective identified himself as a law enforcement officer and read defendant his Miranda rights. When asked whether he wished to answer any questions, defendant replied, "I don't know if I will answer ... ask me something." Initially, defendant denied knowing the victim's family, but soon admitted he was lying. The detective accused him of stealing the truck, but defendant vehemently denied this, saying he did not know how to drive. Det. Petropoulos then told defendant that two witnesses saw him take the truck and run. Petropoulos later admitted the accusation was untrue.

Next, Det. Petropoulos asked a series of questions about the murder and defendant denied committing the crime. He eventually confessed to the murder after the detective told him the name of the neighbor who allegedly saw him running from the truck and said, "This is your only opportunity to tell the truth. If you lie at this time, it will be on record for the rest of your life." First, defendant reluctantly said, "I didn't do it, but I was drugged," then admitted, "I took her life." Despite admitting he committed the murder, defendant continued to deny stealing the truck. Additionally, he maintained that he was not aware the victim was pregnant.

Defendant was convicted on all counts after a jury trial at which he did not testify. He was sentenced to death for the murder and to terms of imprisonment for the remaining offenses. Defendant timely appealed, and we consolidated the appeal with his petition for review of the trial court's denial of his petition for post-conviction relief.

1. Rule 11

Defendant argues that the trial court violated his due process rights under the United States and Arizona Constitutions by failing to assure his competency at all stages of the proceedings. He did not raise the defense of insanity at trial. Rather, his argument is based on incompetency to stand trial.

The trial court granted defendant's motion for a hearing to determine competency under rule 11, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. The hearing was held on October 7, 1985, and testimony was given by John LaWall, M.D., a psychiatrist-neurologist chosen by the state, and Daniel B. Overbeck, Ph.D., a psychologist nominated by defendant. Dr. LaWall testified that he conducted a one-hour interview with defendant without formal psychological tests. He concluded that defendant was not so mentally deficient as to be incompetent to stand trial, although he was in the borderline range of intellectual function, with an estimated I.Q. of 65-75. Dr. LaWall found that defendant understood the function of judge and jury in rough terms, although defendant stated that the role of the judge was to "sentence you to death." To this end, Dr. LaWall noted that tutoring on the criminal justice system might benefit defendant. During the interview, he explained the jury concept to defendant. Dr. LaWall noted that defendant refused to discuss the time period during which the murder occurred. He speculated that defendant was probably advised by other inmates to remain silent, and although further evaluation was potentially beneficial, defendant might "feign ignorance." Also, defendant denied any history of psychological problems.

Dr. Overbeck initially testified that he was unable to reach a conclusion concerning defendant's competency. He said that defendant could meet the standard for competency if he received tutoring about the criminal justice system and showed that he could become actively involved...

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