State v. Apodaca

CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico
Citation887 P.2d 756,118 N.M. 762,1994 NMSC 121
Docket NumberNo. 20463,20463
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Anne Louise APODACA, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date16 November 1994

Page 756

887 P.2d 756
118 N.M. 762
STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Anne Louise APODACA, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 20463.
Supreme Court of New Mexico.
Nov. 16, 1994.

Page 759

[118 N.M. 765] Benjamin A. Gonzales, Albuquerque, for appellant.

Tom Udall, Atty. Gen., Bill Primm, Asst. Atty. Gen., Santa Fe, for appellee.


BACA, Chief Justice.

Defendant-Appellant, Anne Louise Apodaca, appeals from convictions of first-degree murder, NMSA 1978, Section 30-2-1(A)(1) (Repl.Pamp.1984), conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, NMSA 1978, Sections 30-28-2 and 30-2-1(A)(1) (Repl.Pamp.1984), tampering with evidence, NMSA 1978, Section 30-22-5 (Repl.Pamp.1984), and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, Sections 30-28-2 and 30-22-5. The crimes for which Defendant was convicted stem from the murder of her husband, Edward Apodaca, Sr. The trial court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment on the murder conviction, nine years imprisonment on the murder-conspiracy conviction, and eighteen months imprisonment each on the tampering and conspiracy to commit tampering convictions. The latter three terms run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the life imprisonment term. On appeal, we address three issues: (1) Whether the State's circumstantial evidence was sufficient to sustain Defendant's first-degree murder conviction if it did not preclude a reasonable hypothesis of innocence; (2) whether the prosecutor's closing statement deprived Defendant of a fair trial; and (3) whether the trial court erred in admitting and excluding various evidentiary information. Because Defendant does not challenge her convictions for tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with the evidence, we do not address these convictions. We review this case pursuant to SCRA 1986, 12-102(A)(2) (Repl.Pamp.1992). We affirm as to each issue; therefore, we need not address the denial of Defendant's motion for a new trial or cumulative error.


Sometime during the early morning of April 17, 1990, Edward Apodaca, Sr. was shot in the back of the head while he lay sleeping on a couch in his den. The bullet severed his brain stem, instantly immobilizing him. Gunpowder residue on the pillowcase under his head indicated he was shot from a distance of about two feet. No weapon was found in the house and there were no signs of a forced entry or burglary. The bullet came from a .38 pistol; specifically, the .38 pistol that belonged to Defendant's mother, Frizelle Aguilar. See State v. Aguilar, 117 N.M. 501, 505, 873 P.2d 247, 251, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 168, 130 L.Ed.2d 105, and cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 182, 130 L.Ed.2d 116 (1994).


On appeal, we review "whether substantial evidence of either a direct or

Page 760

[118 N.M. 766] circumstantial nature exists to support a verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to every element essential to a conviction." State v. Sutphin, 107 N.M. 126, 131, 753 P.2d 1314, 1319 (1988). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to supporting the verdict and resolve all conflicts and indulge all permissible inferences in favor of upholding the verdict. Id.

Defendant argues that the State failed to prove that the circumstantial evidence relied upon to support the verdict was "incompatible with her rational theory of innocence," see State v. Vigil, 110 N.M. 254, 256, 794 P.2d 728, 730 (1990) (stating that circumstantial evidence relied upon to support verdict must be incompatible with any rational theory of defendant's innocence). Defendant alleges that the circumstantial evidence supports her theory that Aguilar, by herself, murdered or arranged for the murder of Apodaca and that Defendant merely helped to conceal the crime. Defendant asserts that "[e]vidence equally consistent with two hypotheses tends to prove neither," State v. Garcia, 114 N.M. 269, 275, 837 P.2d 862, 868 (1992) (finding insufficient evidence presented that defendant who committed murder in heat of argument possessed the intent required to sustain first degree murder conviction); State v. Malouff, 81 N.M. 619, 621, 471 P.2d 189, 192 (Ct.App.1970) (finding insufficient evidence to sustain convictions of unlawful taking of motor vehicle). In Malouff, the court noted that "when circumstances alone are relied upon, they must point unerringly to defendants and be incompatible with and exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than guilt." Id. at 620, 471 P.2d at 190. The court in Malouff found that although evidence indicated that a stolen car had been temporarily located in a garage at the defendants' mother's home before it was stripped and then recovered from a wrecking yard, the state presented no evidence that the parts recovered from the garage were taken from the recovered car or that the defendants had exclusive possession of the car parts. "For the jury to have reached the conclusion, that both defendants had control and dominion over the garage they had to speculate. This it may not do." Id. at 621, 471 P.2d at 191.

We require that evidence point logically to a defendant and exclude other reasonable hypotheses of innocence to assure that the basis of a conviction is not mere speculation. Id. However, this does not mean that we may reweigh the evidence presented to determine the comparative credibility of Defendant's theory. Nor may we substitute our judgment for that of the jury. State v. Lankford, 92 N.M. 1, 2, 582 P.2d 378, 379 (1978). Only the jury may resolve factual discrepancies arising from conflicting evidence. Id. In Vigil we explain that "incompatible with any rational theory of ... innocence" means "the evidence supporting the verdict [must] provide a sufficient basis upon which to infer guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Vigil, 110 N.M. at 256, 794 P.2d at 730. There is no reasonable-doubt preclusion unless circumstantial evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the State also gives rise to an equally reasonable inference of innocence.

Rather than presenting a new standard of review, " 'Garcia merely reiterate[s] the established law that the standard must be viewed in the context of the state's burden below--to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.' " State v. Sanders, 117 N.M. 452, 456, 872 P.2d 870, 874 (1994) (quoting State v. Orgain, 115 N.M. 123, 126, 847 P.2d 1377, 1380 (Ct.App.), cert. denied, 115 N.M. 145, 848 P.2d 531 (1993)). Our review consists of a two-step process: First we review the evidence under the Sutphin/ Lankford standard with deference to the trial court's resolution of factual conflicts and inferences; then we make a legal determination of whether the evidence viewed in this manner "could justify a finding by any rational trier of fact that each element of the crime charged has been established beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.; see also Orgain, 115 N.M. at 126, 847 P.2d at 1380 (finding as sufficient to sustain conviction of forgery that defendant arranged for and accompanied his accomplice on trips to bank and agreed to share in proceeds). An appellate court may reject testimony that the factfinder has believed "only if there is a physical impossibility that the statements are true or the falsity

Page 761

[118 N.M. 767] of the statement is apparent without resort to inferences or deductions." Sanders, 117 N.M. at 457, 872 P.2d at 875. Defendant would have us make inferences or deductions that would cause us to reject testimony relied on by the jury. This we decline to do.

In the present case, the State had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant committed first-degree murder. To meet its burden of proof, the State had to prove that (1) Defendant killed Apodaca, (2) the killing was with the deliberate intention to take away his life, and (3) this occurred in New Mexico on or about the 17th day of April, 1990. See SCRA 1986, 14-201. Defendant does not dispute that Apodaca was murdered during the early morning hours of April 17, 1990. To prove Defendant killed Apodaca, the State relied on the accomplice theory and had to prove that (1) Defendant intended that the crime be committed, (2) the crime was committed, and (3) Defendant helped, encouraged or caused the crime to be committed. See SCRA 14-2822.


First we review the evidence under the Sutphin/ Lankford standard in the light most favorable to sustaining Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder. There is no direct evidence as to who fired the murder weapon. We agree with Defendant that circumstantial evidence substantially implicates Aguilar because she "admitted to hating Apodaca and attempted to obtain his death certificate in order to cash in on the insurance proceeds.... [In addition, she] attempted to solicit someone to commit the murder, purchased the gun that was used to commit the murder," and the day after the murder she concealed the gun in a safe deposit box in a Belen bank. Aguilar, 117 N.M. at 505, 873 P.2d at 251.

However, the evidence shows that Aguilar was not alone when she placed the gun in the safe deposit box. Defendant accompanied Aguilar and also signed the bank's registration form for the box. Although both Defendant and Aguilar told Detective Cantwell what they had done the day after the murder, neither mentioned that they had gone to Belen. Neither mentioned that they had placed the gun in a safe deposit box. The jury saw the witnesses, heard the testimony, and determined its appropriate credibility. Concealment may be considered as a "circumstance tending to show a consciousness of guilt." SCRA 14-5006. A rational jury could consider Defendant's participation in concealing the murder weapon, combined with all the other evidence presented, as more than merely helping her mother conceal the crime.

Aguilar testified that on the day before the murder the two of them spent the afternoon and evening together and that night "[w]e slept in the very same bed, with her...

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