State v. Maestas

Citation2012 UT 46
Decision Date27 July 2012
Docket NumberNo. 20080508,20080508
PartiesSTATE OF UTAH, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. FLOYD EUGENE MAESTAS, Defendant and Appellant
CourtSupreme Court of Utah

This opinion is subject to revision before final

publication in the Pacific Reporter

Third District, Salt Lake

The Honorable Paul G. Maughn

No. 041906594


Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Thomas Brunker,

Karen A. Klucznik, Asst. Att'ys Gen., Salt Lake City, for appellee

Joan C. Watt, David P.S. Mack, Michael R. Sikora,

Denise M. Porter, Michael D. Misner, Debra M. Nelson,

Salt Lake City, for appellant

CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT authored the opinion of the Court, in



CHIEF JUSTICE DURRANT, opinion of the Court:


¶1 Floyd Eugene Maestas was charged with aggravated murder, a violation of section 76-5-202 of the Utah Code, and aggravated burglary, a violation of section 76-6-203 of the Utah Code.1 After being tried and convicted on both charges, he wassentenced to death. On appeal, he raises numerous arguments concerning his convictions, the imposition of the death penalty, and Utah's death penalty scheme. We reject each of Mr. Maestas's arguments and affirm his convictions and sentence.


¶2 Because Mr. Maestas's numerous claims encompass various aspects of his convictions and sentence, we provide a broad overview of the facts and procedural history of this case and include additional facts as we address each issue in the analysis section. As an initial matter, we note that jurors in capital cases consider guilt and sentencing in separate proceedings. Accordingly, the facts and procedural history of this case are set forth in different sections: (I) the crime and investigation, (II) the guilt phase of the trial, and (III) the penalty phase of the trial.


¶3 On appeal, we construe "the record facts in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict."2

A. The Burglaries

¶4 On September 28, 2004, Mr. Maestas met William Irish and Rodney Renzo. While traveling together in Mr. Maestas's car, the three men agreed to rob a house. Mr. Maestas identified seventy-two-year-old Donna Bott's home as the one they would rob and entered the home, followed by Mr. Irish and Mr. Renzo. Upon entering, Mr. Maestas went into a back room, and Mr. Irish saw him on top of a woman who was struggling on a bed. Mr. Irish saw the woman's legs move and heard that her screams were muffled by a pillow covering her face. At that point, Mr. Irish heard Mr. Maestas threaten to stab the woman if she did not tell him where he could find some money. Later, Mr. Renzo saw Mr. Maestas punching and stomping on the woman "over and over" while she was on the floor. Mr. Renzo stated that, after Mr. Maestas stopped punching and stomping on the woman, she did not appear to be moving. At that point, the men decided to leave Ms. Bott's home.

¶5 After leaving Ms. Bott's home, the men drove to the home of eighty-seven-year-old Virginia Chamberlain. Mr. Irish remained outside while Mr. Maestas and Mr. Renzo entered the home. Upon entering, Mr. Maestas pulled Ms. Chamberlain's shirt over her head, scratching her arm and causing it to bleed. He then hit her and asked her for her purse. At that point, Ms. Chamberlain pushed her medical alert button and the two men left her home.

¶6 Sometime after the men left Ms. Chamberlain's home, Mr. Maestas's car ran out of gas on a freeway on-ramp. The men abandoned the car, and Mr. Irish and Mr. Renzo left Mr. Maestas. A police officer later found Mr. Maestas's abandoned car on the freeway and discovered Ms. Chamberlain's wallet inside.

B. The Investigation

¶7 Approximately three days after the robberies, a neighbor became concerned about Ms. Bott and called the police. The officer responding to the call found Ms. Bott's body on the floor next to her bed. She was naked from the waist down. Another detective found a ripped pair of women's underwear on the bed and collected usable fingerprints from Ms. Bott's home.

¶8 The medical examiner, Dr. Todd Grey, performed an autopsy on Ms. Bott and found internal and external injuries on her body and face. Specifically, Dr. Grey discovered numerous and extensive bruises and abrasions on Ms. Bott's body, including her chest area, shoulders, abdomen, face, knees, and hips. He also found a laceration through Ms. Bott's lower lip; a one-inch wide, three-inch deep stab wound on her face; and bruises consistent with strangulation. Regarding her internal injuries, Dr. Grey discovered severe tearing around Ms. Bott's heart and a tear in her aorta. Based on the nature and extent of her injuries, Dr. Grey concluded that Ms. Bott's death was a homicide. He then collected DNA from under Ms. Bott's fingernails—"fingernail scrapings"—to test for possible DNA.

¶9 As part of the investigation, police officers interviewed Mr. Maestas twice. Both times, he asserted that no one else ever drove his car and that he was driving it the night it was abandoned. When a homicide detective noticed cuts and scrapes on Mr. Maestas's arms, he had a lab technician collect blood samples from Mr. Maestas, Mr. Irish, and Mr. Renzo. The DNA from Ms. Bott's fingernail scrapings was then tested using a Y-chromosome short-tandem repeats (Y-STR) DNA analysis3 to determine if Mr. Maestas, Mr. Irish, or Mr. Renzo could be excluded as the source. The test results indicated that Mr. Irish and Mr. Renzo could be excluded, but Mr. Maestas could not be ruled out as the source of the DNA found under Ms. Bott's fingernails. In addition, a fingerprint expert determined that two fingerprints taken from inside Ms. Bott's home matched Mr. Maestas and another matched Mr. Irish.

¶10 Based on the foregoing evidence, the State charged Mr. Maestas with the aggravated murder of Ms. Bott and the aggravated burglary of Ms. Chamberlain's home.

A. Pretrial Motions and Death Penalty Exemption Hearing

¶11 Before trial on these charges, Mr. Maestas filed motions regarding the admissibility of the fingerprint and DNA evidence and a motion to strike the option of the death penalty pursuant to Atkins v. Virginia,4 a case that precludes the execution of persons who are mentally retarded.5 During a pretrial hearing to discuss the motions regarding the admissibility of the fingerprint and DNA evidence, the prosecution brought to the judge's attention the fact thatMr. Maestas was not present in the courtroom. Mr. Maestas was then brought into the courtroom and the judge explained what had been discussed in his absence.

¶12 In his motion regarding the fingerprint evidence, Mr. Maestas claimed that such evidence is not inherently reliable and requested that the court hold a hearing to determine the reliability of fingerprint evidence prior to such evidence being admitted. In the alternative, he requested a cautionary jury instruction regarding fingerprint evidence. The court heard argument on this issue during a pretrial hearing, but ultimately denied his motion. In his motion regarding the DNA evidence, Mr. Maestas argued that the Y-STR testing method was novel and not inherently reliable. The court held a hearing on Mr. Maestas's motion and heard testimony from a forensic scientist employed by Sorenson Forensics. At the end of this testimony, the court took judicial notice of the inherent reliability of Y-STR DNA testing and allowed the DNA evidence to be introduced at trial.

¶13 Concerning Mr. Maestas's claim that he was mentally retarded and therefore exempt from the death penalty under Atkins, the court heard testimony from Mr. Maestas's expert and the State's two experts. After hearing this testimony, the court denied Mr. Maestas's motion and declined to remove the death penalty as a potential sentence.

B. Jury Selection

¶14 After the pretrial motions, the court proceeded to empanel a jury. In the jury selection process, the court held an initial meeting with potential jurors where it distributed a questionnaire, asked preliminary questions about their qualifications for service, and admonished them regarding proper juror conduct.6 Mr. Maestas was not present for this initial meeting with the potential jurors, but he was present when the court conducted the traditional voir dire and questioned potential jurors regarding their feelings about imposing the death penalty. As part of the voir dire process, Mr. Maestas tried to remove three prospective jurors for cause: jurors 16, 20, and 27. The court denied each of these challenges. Mr. Maestas then used three of his four peremptory challenges to remove these jurors from the juror pool. The State successfully removed one prospective jurorfor cause, juror 50, and used three of its four peremptory challenges to remove other jurors. At the close of voir dire, the court empaneled the jury, and the six-day trial began.

C. Evidence and Arguments

¶15 During the trial, the State presented evidence that Mr. Maestas was guilty of aggravated murder and aggravated burglary. Specifically, the State introduced the testimony of Mr. Irish and Mr. Renzo, linking Mr. Maestas to the murder of Ms. Bott and the burglary of Ms. Chamberlain's home. The State also introduced the testimony of Mr. Maestas's ex-wife, who lived in Ms. Bott's neighborhood. In addition, the State presented DNA and fingerprint evidence and the medical examiner's testimony.

1. DNA and Fingerprint Evidence

¶16 Regarding the DNA evidence, the forensic scientist explained the Y-STR DNA testing method and testified that, based on this analysis, both Mr. Irish and Mr. Renzo could be excluded as the source of the DNA from under Ms. Bott's fingernails. But he stated that neither Mr. Maestas nor his paternal relatives could be excluded. Regarding the fingerprint evidence, an expert testified that two fingerprints taken from inside Ms. Bott's home matched Mr. Maestas and one fingerprint matched Mr. Irish.

2. Medical Examiner's Testimony

¶17 At trial, the medical...

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