State v. Lopez

Citation847 P.2d 1078,174 Ariz. 131
Decision Date22 December 1992
Docket NumberNo. CR-90-0142-AP,CR-90-0142-AP
PartiesThe STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. George Molina LOPEZ, Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Arizona

HATHAWAY, Court of Appeals Judge.

Defendant, George Molina Lopez, was convicted of one count of felony-murder and one count of child abuse. He was sentenced to death on the felony-murder conviction and 22 years' imprisonment on the child abuse conviction. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Article 6, § 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution, and A.R.S. §§ 13-4031 and 13-4033.


Upon review, we must consider the facts in the light most favorable to sustaining the judgments and resolve all conflicts in the evidence and all reasonable inferences from it against the defendant. State v. Zmich, 160 Ariz. 108, 770 P.2d 776 (1989); State v. Girdler, 138 Ariz. 482, 675 P.2d 1301 (1983). Lopez met a woman in 1987 while he was coaching a coeducational softball team. He soon began having an affair with her and she became pregnant with his child in December 1987. Five months before the child was born, Lopez left his wife and moved in with the mother and her three-year-old son. The baby, named Anthony, was born in August 1988.

One year and nine days later, August 26, 1989, Anthony's mother left the apartment at 10:00 a.m. to go shopping. She took her older child with her and left Anthony in Lopez' care. When she returned around noon, Lopez told her an accident had happened. He explained that while he was disposing of a soiled diaper in another room, Anthony had gotten off the bed and pulled a nightstand over on himself. Anthony's mother saw that he had a bruise on his forehead and another under his chin. She wanted to take Anthony to the hospital, but Lopez refused, saying Anthony would be all right.

She held Anthony for a while and then laid him down. He soon wanted to be held again and she noticed that he was hot. She bathed him with alcohol and held him again. She again told Lopez that they should take the child to the hospital, but Lopez again refused.

Anthony's mother had to do some laundry, so Lopez carried the laundry to the laundry room. When he returned, she left Anthony with him and went to put the laundry in the washing machines. When she returned to the apartment, she found Lopez performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Anthony. They then took Anthony to the emergency room at University Medical Center (UMC). Emergency room personnel unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate Anthony; he was declared dead at 3:36 p.m.

The police were summoned to the hospital and Officer Mardula spoke with the emergency room physician, examined the injuries to Anthony's body and then asked Lopez if he would speak with her and he agreed. Lopez had tears in his eyes, but appeared calm and rational. Officer Mardula read Lopez his Miranda 1 rights and then asked him what had happened to Anthony. Lopez related the same facts that he had previously related to Anthony's mother. He stated that he examined the baby and determined he was "okay," but closely watched him. He stated that later when he was helping the mother with the laundry, he noticed that Anthony was not breathing. He performed CPR on the baby and then he and the mother took Anthony to the hospital. He became upset at this point, so Officer Mardula ended the interview.

Shortly after 5:00 that evening, Detectives Miller and Salgado approached Lopez at the hospital and asked him to accompany them to a room, adjacent to the emergency room, provided by the hospital for paramedics and police officers to do paper work. Lopez appeared calm. Detective Miller explained to Lopez that they wanted to tape record their interview and then asked him how Anthony was injured. Lopez stated that he and Anthony's mother were home, heard a crash in the bedroom and when they went to investigate, found Anthony lying face down under the tipped-over nightstand. However, later in the interview, Lopez changed his story. He admitted that the mother was not at home. He stated that he had left Anthony on the bed while he disposed of a diaper. When he returned, he saw Anthony with one foot in the middle drawer of the nightstand reaching for a piggybank. He yelled at Anthony, startling him. Anthony then jerked back and tipped the nightstand over on himself. He landed under the nightstand, face up.

Detective Salgado told Lopez he did not believe him and said the truth had to come out. Lopez denied any wrongdoing, and Detective Salgado said, "George, you're playing games with us now, George." Lopez finally admitted that he hit Anthony on the buttocks. Detective Salgado then read Lopez his Miranda rights. Lopez indicated that he understood his rights and would continue to answer questions. He never requested an attorney nor did he refuse to answer any of the detectives' questions, which he appeared to understand. The detectives concluded the interview and left the room at approximately 7:00 p.m.

While Lopez was being interviewed by Detectives Miller and Salgado, Detective Millstone, a member of the homicide detail, arrived at the hospital. Detective Millstone interviewed Lopez and pointedly asked him if he had ever struck Anthony in anger. Lopez denied striking the child. Detective Millstone thought that the tape recorder was affecting Lopez' candor, so he turned it off and asked Lopez what concerns he had about answering questions. Lopez told the detective he was afraid Anthony's mother might hear the tape. The detective told Lopez that he was not going to play the tape for her nor relate the details of the interview to her.

Detective Millstone then turned on the tape recorder and Lopez began to tell his version of how Anthony received his injuries. He stated: "I got angry, I got angry at everything, everything that has been boiling over. I've been very angry these past couple of days and [the mother] knows that and everybody knew it." Lopez stated that earlier that day, he had given Anthony a bath and laid him down to put lotion on him and "he peed, so I smacked him." Then Lopez stated: "And I smacked him hard and he started crying and I got angry, so I got the diaper and went and threw it away and that's when I saw him." At this time, Lopez recounted yet another version of the cause of Anthony's injuries. This time, after Anthony climbed on the nightstand and Lopez yelled at him, Anthony grabbed the lamp as he fell beneath the nightstand. Lopez jumped toward the nightstand to prevent it from falling on Anthony, but instead he fell on top of the nightstand. Then the radio, which had been on the nightstand, fell and hit Anthony in the face. Detective Millstone concluded the interview at 7:22 p.m.

Detective Millstone then spoke with the treating physician and the medical examiner who told him that the injuries Anthony suffered were not consistent with Lopez' stories. A telephonic search warrant was obtained for Lopez' apartment. Lopez went with the police officers to the apartment and demonstrated how Anthony was injured. After the demonstration, Lopez was arrested.

The next day, an autopsy was performed on Anthony. The doctor found numerous bruises on Anthony's face, chest, back and buttocks. Some bruises had occurred within 24 hours, but many were older. Anthony's skull was fractured in two places, one of which had been caused with such force that part of the fractured skull had been driven into the brain. Anthony also had an extensive hemorrhage in the membrane separating the brain from the skull.

The internal examination revealed that Anthony's 10th and 11th ribs were fractured near his spine. These injuries corresponded to the bruises on Anthony's back. These fractures had been caused within 24 hours of death. The doctor also found that Anthony's 7th, 8th and 10th ribs had been broken in the past and were healing when Anthony died. Anthony's pancreas was torn in two, his bowel and the membrane holding it in place were lacerated, and his spleen and adrenal gland had bled. The abdominal injuries had caused peritonitis. All of these injuries had been caused within 24 hours of death. The doctor determined that Anthony had died of blunt-force trauma to the head, chest and abdomen.

Lopez was indicted on one count of first-degree murder and one count of child abuse with an allegation that the child abuse count was a dangerous crime against children. The state filed a motion in limine to preclude Lopez from presenting evidence about his character for truthfulness, his general good character, the lack of prior instances of child abuse, and his non-violent nature. Lopez filed a motion to suppress all the evidence the state obtained pursuant to the search warrant and all the statements he made to the police officers. He also moved to suppress the use of his prior conviction for child molestation because a motion for a new trial was still pending, and, therefore, the conviction was not final. The trial court denied the motions to suppress and granted the motions to preclude character evidence and to preclude the use of the prior conviction. Over objection, the trial court admitted the autopsy photographs.

After the state rested, Lopez moved for a judgment of acquittal that the trial court denied. Lopez did not present any witnesses on his behalf but, out of the presence of the jury, made an offer of proof of the testimony his character witnesses would give if permitted to testify. The state then informed the trial court that it elected to argue a felony-murder theory to the jury and would forego arguing premeditated murder. The jury found Lopez guilty of intentional child abuse and murder in the first degree.

After an aggravation/mitigation hearing, the trial court found as...

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