State v. Balderama

Decision Date01 March 2004
Docket NumberNo. 27,225.,27,225.
Citation88 P.3d 845,135 N.M. 329,2004 NMSC 8
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Valente BALDERAMA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

John Bigelow, Chief Public Defender, Sheila Lewis, Assistant Appellate Defender, Santa Fe, NM, for Petitioner.

Patricia A. Madrid, Attorney General, Joel Jacobsen, Assistant Attorney General, Albuquerque, NM, for Respondent.


CHÁVEZ, Justice.

{1} Having granted the State's motion for rehearing in this case, we withdraw the opinion filed June 11, 2003 and substitute the following in its place.

{2} Defendant, Valente Balderama, appeals his conviction of first-degree deliberate-intent murder. See NMSA 1978, § 30-2-1(A) (1994). Defendant admitted at trial that he killed Victim, but argued that he did not form the deliberate intent to kill her. He raises two issues on appeal. First, he argues the trial court committed reversible error when it sua sponte excluded the expert testimony of Defendant's sole witness, a neuropsychologist. The expert was prepared to testify regarding Defendant's neurological deficits, which Defendant contends were relevant to whether he formed the deliberate intent to kill Victim. Second, Defendant contends the trial court abused its discretion by admitting a hearsay statement of Victim regarding his prior bad acts. With regard to the first issue, we hold that the evidence was admissible, not for the purpose of proving the inability to deliberate, but rather to show that he did not form a deliberate intent to kill, and that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding it. With regard to the second issue, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence as an excited utterance, but that on retrial the court should determine whether the statement is inadmissible character evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court and remand for a new trial consistent with this opinion.


{3} Victim's decomposing body was discovered among some mesquites outside of Deming, New Mexico, on August 16, 2000. A forensic pathologist testified that she had suffered numerous injuries, including fractures to the front of the skull involving both eye sockets, a fracture to the rear of the skull, fractures of the spinous process of the cervical column consistent with a twisting of the neck or blunt force, fractured ribs, and bruises to the thigh and lower back. The pathologist concluded that Victim's death was caused by blunt-force injuries to the head and neck.

{4} Three men were arrested in connection with the murder: Defendant and his two acquaintances, Arturo Carbajal and Robert Bertola. Carbajal entered into a plea agreement with the State and was the State's primary witness at trial. According to Carbajal, the three men went looking for Victim because Defendant said he wished to speak with her. The men located Victim, who was visiting a friend's house, but Defendant decided not to approach her at that time. Instead, Defendant drove away in Bertola's truck, while Carbajal and Bertola approached Victim and asked her for a ride to the store.

{5} Carbajal testified that, after going to the store with Victim and Carbajal, Bertola asked Victim "if she wanted to party and get crazy." At some point while the three were driving around Deming in Victim's car, Victim requested that Bertola take over the driving responsibilities. She also suggested that they needed to leave the city limits. Bertola then drove them to a remote location outside of Deming. Bertola stopped the car in a field near a tree after stating that he needed to use the restroom. Bertola got out of the car and stood next to the car for about ten minutes until Defendant arrived, driving Bertola's truck. Defendant parked the truck about ten feet behind Victim's car.

{6} According to Carbajal, he was seated on the passenger side of Victim's car when Defendant arrived. At the insistence of Defendant, Carbajal got out of the car and stood near the rear of the passenger side of the car. He saw Defendant grab Victim, who then started slapping Defendant. Defendant then pulled her out of the car, threw her onto the ground, and began kicking her. Victim grabbed Carbajal's leg, begging him to help her, but he chose not to help. Defendant began to twist Victim's neck and, as he was doing so yelled: "[T]his whore doesn't want to die. I need something to kill her, to kill this whore." Defendant walked to Bertola's truck, then returned with a steel pipe in his hand to where Victim lay unconscious and struck her on the neck and head. Defendant then tossed the pipe into the back of the truck and urged the other two men to help him load the body in the trunk of Victim's car. The three men drove the car about a quarter of a mile from the murder scene and concealed Victim's body among some mesquites. They then washed the blood from the trunk of Victim's car before driving it to Palomas, Mexico, where they were eventually apprehended.

{7} Based on this evidence, and testimony that Defendant had made previous threats against Victim, the State requested a verdict of first-degree murder. According to the State, Defendant had orchestrated a plan to lure Victim to the murder scene, where he deliberately killed her. As evidence of deliberate intent, the State pointed to: (1) previous threats against Victim made by Defendant; (2) the alleged plan to lure her to the murder scene; (3) evidence that Defendant had the presence of mind during his initial beating of Victim to stop, demand a murder weapon, walk away from his victim to retrieve the murder weapon, and then return to kill her; and (4) Defendant's activity following the murder in disposing of evidence and fleeing the country.

{8} Defendant sharply contested Carbajal's credibility at trial. Defendant challenged Carbajal's objectivity on the basis that Carbajal testified for the State pursuant to a plea agreement. Although Carbajal was initially charged with murder, his charges were eventually reduced to receiving or transferring a stolen vehicle and tampering with evidence. Additionally, on cross-examination, Carbajal admitted there were significant inconsistencies between statements he made prior to entering into the plea agreement and statements he later made while testifying for the State.

{9} Although Defendant did not testify, his statement to police regarding the events of the murder came into evidence through another State witness, Detective Frank Peña, who questioned Defendant after his arrest. Defendant's version of the events differed significantly from Carbajal's.

{10} According to Defendant's statement, after he left Bertola and Carbajal near the house where Victim was staying, Defendant had been "driving around and cruising" in Bertola's truck when he observed Victim driving with Bertola and Carbajal in Victim's car. Defendant told Detective Peña that "he was falling in love with her" and that he was "worried that something was going to happen to her" in the car with the other men. Defendant said that he began to follow the car, "wanting to know where they were going." When Victim's car stopped in a field, Defendant pulled up behind it in Bertola's truck.

{11} According to Defendant, he approached Victim and asked her to leave with him, but she refused. Defendant told Detective Peña that as he was speaking with her, one of the other two men struck Victim in the face. Defendant admitted to "getting extremely angry" at Bertola and Carbajal, and said he wanted to "kick their asses." Rather than confront the two men, however, Defendant began to walk back toward the truck. According to Defendant, Victim followed, yelling at him and pushing him. As Defendant turned to face Victim, Bertola knocked her to the ground and went to his truck to retrieve a steel pipe. Defendant claimed that Bertola returned, struck Victim with the pipe, then threw the pipe to Defendant. Defendant struck her on the head and neck, then dropped the pipe to the ground.

{12} Defendant admitted that Victim was still alive when he struck her twice with the pipe. He told Detective Peña that after he struck Victim, he heard Bertola and Carbajal arguing, "stating something to the effect that they had to finish her. They had to kill her." Defendant said that he had difficulty recalling the details and that he had "blanked out" during the murder.

{13} Because Defendant admitted to killing Victim with the pipe, the sole issue at trial was whether he was guilty of first-or second-degree murder. The State argued Victim's murder was committed with deliberate intent to kill, constituting first-degree murder. Defendant contended that he killed Victim as the result of a "mere unconsidered and rash impulse," constituting second-degree murder. Defense counsel repeatedly denied that Defendant was involved in any kind of plan, either to lure Victim to the remote area or to kill her. The defense's theory was that Defendant came upon Victim, Bertola and Carbajal, and "whether it was for [Victim's] own protection or in and out of jealousy, he beat [Victim] with that pipe. He didn't stop and consider the consequences of his actions. He didn't plan it.... He came upon them and went off."

{14} Defendant identified only one witness, Dr. Marc Caplan, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, to support his theory that he killed Victim as the result of a mere unconsidered and rash impulse. Dr. Caplan was expected to provide expert testimony that Defendant suffered neurological deficits, of unknown etiology, that resulted in "difficulty planning and anticipating as well as greater difficulty controlling angry impulses." Dr. Caplan's testimony was revealed to the State in advance of trial, and the prosecutor was given an opportunity to interview him. The State neither filed pretrial motions challenging the admissibility of Dr. Caplan's testimony nor did it object to his...

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