State v. Mendoza

Decision Date06 December 2016
Docket NumberNo. COA16–224,COA16–224
Citation250 N.C.App. 731,794 S.E.2d 828
Parties STATE of North Carolina v. Eliazar Juan MENDOZA
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Sherri Horner Lawrence, for the State.

Beechler Tomberlin, PLLC, by Christopher A. Beechler ; and Bennett & Guthrie, PLLC, Winston–Salem by Jasmine M. Pitt, for Defendant.

McGEE, Chief Judge.

Eliazar Juan Mendoza ("Defendant") appeals his convictions for felony sexual child abuse, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense, and indecent liberties with a child. Defendant contends the trial court erred by (1) precluding Defendant from fully cross-examining certain expert witnesses, and (2) admitting certain expert testimony over Defendant's objections. We find no error.

I. Background

Defendant and Mirna Solace ("Ms. Solace") were married for about fifteen years and four children were born of the marriage. Their eldest daughter, G.J., who was born on 8 March 1996, had a close relationship with Defendant, her father, and enjoyed spending time with him. When G.J. was nine years old, Ms. Solace told G.J. that she and Defendant "were going to take a break and that [the children might] not be able to see [Defendant] because they were going to split." The family was living in a townhouse in the Sugar Creek apartment complex in Winston–Salem, where G.J. shared a room with her younger sister, Y.J. They shared a bunk bed, with G.J.’s bed on the bottom and Y.J.’s bed on the top.

G.J. testified that on the night Ms. Solace told her that she and Defendant had decided to separate, Defendant came into her bedroom around midnight. G.J. thought Defendant was coming to say goodnight, but Defendant got in bed next to her and unzipped her footie pajamas. Defendant took G.J.’s foot out of the pajamas and slipped his shorts off. Defendant said "hush, ... it [is] going to hurt." Defendant got on top of G.J. and penetrated her vagina with his penis. Defendant held her wrists above her head and began moving back and forth. G.J. whimpered but stopped when Defendant again told her to hush. Y.J. was asleep in the top bunk bed and did not wake up. Defendant stopped moving back and forth and G.J. felt something wet against her thigh. G.J. testified that Defendant "walked out [of the bedroom] as if nothing had happened." The next day, G.J. felt sore in her vaginal area and stayed in bed all day. She did not tell anyone what happened with Defendant the night before.

A few nights later, Defendant again came into G.J.’s bedroom around midnight and got in her bed. He unzipped her pajamas, "spread [her] legs open ... [and] penetrated [her] vaginally." Y.J. was asleep in the top bunk bed. Defendant "started moving back and forth and held ... [G.J.’s] arms up ... above [her] head[.]" G.J. cried softly but did not scream out or yell. Defendant told G.J. not to tell anyone.

On a third occasion shortly thereafter, Defendant came into G.J.’s bedroom while she and Y.J. were asleep on the floor in opposite corners of the room. Defendant had a children's book in his hand and told G.J. he was going to read to her. After reading one page from the book, Defendant got underneath G.J.’s blanket, removed her shorts and underwear, spread her legs open, and penetrated her vaginally with his penis. Defendant was not wearing a condom and ejaculated on G.J.’s stomach. Y.J. did not wake up at any point. G.J. testified that, over the next two years, when Defendant was not traveling for work, he raped her approximately two times per week.

When G.J. was eleven years old, Ms. Solace accused Defendant of cheating on her and told him she "didn't want him in the house anymore[.]" Ms. Solace refused to let Defendant sleep in their bedroom that night, so Defendant made the children sleep downstairs with him on the living room floor. G.J. slept next to Defendant. After all the children were asleep, Defendant woke G.J. up by shaking her, pulled down her pants and underwear, and opened her legs. G.J. tried to push Defendant away, but Defendant told her not to move and she stopped resisting because she believed Defendant would hurt her. Defendant penetrated her vaginally with his penis and then ejaculated onto her thigh.

When G.J. was thirteen, Defendant moved to Kannapolis. G.J. testified Defendant raped her once when she and her siblings visited him in Kannapolis. G.J. stopped visiting Defendant when she was fourteen years old.

G.J. testified that, when she was in middle school, she began struggling academically and having problems at home. She also began secluding herself and arguing with her siblings. G.J. felt angry "[f]or allowing [herself] to carry such a burden, and for letting [the sexual abuse] continue for so long." She began cutting herself and taking OxyContin

pills. She experienced recurrent nightmares and multiple anxiety attacks.

When G.J. was sixteen years old, she attended a church service at which Victoria Burgos, the daughter of Pastor Mario Burgos ("Pastor Burgos"), shared an experience of past sexual abuse. One year later, in late July or early August 2013, G.J. told her mother Defendant had sexually abused her when she was nine years old. Ms. Solace called Pastor Burgos and told him about G.J.’s allegations against Defendant. Pastor Burgos and his family came over to Ms. Solace's apartment and Ms. Solace appeared to be "in shock." Pastor Burgos told her the abuse would have to be reported to the police, and he called the police about a week later.

Officer M.L. Mitchell ("Officer Mitchell") of the Winston–Salem Police Department ("WSPD") testified he received a call on 9 August 2013 "in reference to an [alleged] indecent liberties with a minor." Officer Mitchell responded to 4039 Bethania Station Road, where he spoke with Pastor Burgos and Ms. Solace. With Pastor Burgos translating from Spanish to English, Ms. Solace told Officer Mitchell that G.J. said she had been sexually abused by Defendant. G.J. was in a different room during this initial conversation. Officer Mitchell then interviewed G.J. privately. G.J. told Officer Mitchell she had been sexually assaulted by Defendant "approximately [ten] times total, [ten] different times between [nine] and [ten] years old to [fifteen] years old." G.J. said the assaults occurred at the Sugar Creek apartment complex and Defendant's house in Kannapolis. Officer Mitchell testified:

[G.J.] said that her father would ... come into her bedroom after she had already gone to bed. He would get on top of her, [and] undress her until she was fully naked.... [S]he said that [Defendant] would then insert his penis into her vagina, and would hold her down by her shoulders with ... his hands. And [she] stated that he would stay in that position until he ejaculated. And then she stated that ... he would touch her all over her body in various places. And then once he was done, he would get up and walk out of the room without saying anything to her.

G.J. said she had attempted to resist Defendant only once, when she was about twelve years old, but Defendant "just push[ed] down on her harder." Officer Mitchell referred the case to the WSPD Criminal Investigations Division.

WSPD Detective Robert Williams ("Det. Williams"), who had special training in interviewing children and investigating alleged child sexual abuse, interviewed G.J. alone on 14 August 2013. Det. Williams asked G.J. what prompted her to finally come forward with the sexual abuse allegations, and she said "she couldn't hold it in anymore, she just needed to tell someone, and the first person she told was her mother." Det. Williams testified G.J. gave him an account that was largely consistent with her testimony at trial. Det. Williams also interviewed Pastor Burgos and Ms. Solace. Det. Williams told Ms. Solace that G.J. should have a comprehensive medical examination.

Dr. Meggan Goodpasture ("Dr. Goodpasture"), a physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center ("WFBMC") and Brenner's Children Hospital ("BCH"),1 examined G.J. on 17 September 2013. Prior to the medical examination, G.J. spoke with Cynthia Stewart ("Ms. Stewart"), a social worker at WFBMC and BCH. Ms. Stewart's role was to "gather[ ] [information about G.J.’s] social history ... [and] complet[e] a diagnostic interview" to help "inform [Dr. Goodpasture's] medical examination." Dr. Goodpasture testified that, during her medical examination, she noticed "very faint superficial scars on [G.J.’s] left forearm, which were well healed." Dr. Goodpasture also performed vaginal and anal exams on G.J. She testified that G.J.’s "anatomy appeared completely normal." Dr. Goodpasture found G.J. had "no vaginal bleeding, discharge or lesions[,] ... [and] no abnormal [anal] dilat[ion] or fissures or scars." She testified that "there was at least a number of months since [G.J.’s] last contact with [Defendant]" and that "most of the time, after children disclose a history of sexual abuse, their [physical] exams are completely normal." Dr. Goodpasture also "conducted testing [on G.J.] for sexually transmitted infections, which [came back] ‘negative.’ " She recommended G.J. receive therapy.

Ms. Stewart testified as an expert in interviewing children in cases of suspected abuse or neglect. Ms. Stewart met with G.J. before G.J.’s medical examination "to make sure that [Dr. Goodpasture] knew exactly how to physically examine her[.]" Ms. Stewart's description of her interview with G.J. was largely consistent with G.J.’s testimony at trial, including Ms. Stewart's testimony that, during the interview,

[G.J.] voiced several things that were consistent with her being in distress, and that she mentioned how she felt responsible. She talked about the negative consequences that she perceived that could be there. She talked about feeling so bad that she wanted to hurt herself. She talked about being very angry all the time and upset about things, [being] on edge.

In Ms. Stewart's opinion, the characteristics she observed in G.J. were...

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6 cases
  • State v. Holmes
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • 18 Diciembre 2018
    ...unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.’ " State v. Mendoza , ––– N.C. App. ––––, ––––, 794 S.E.2d 828, 834 (2016) (quoting State v. Ward, 364 N.C. 133, 139, 694 S.E.2d 738, 742 (2010) ). Thus, "[t]rial courts act as a gatekeep......
  • State v. English
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • 15 Febrero 2022
    ... ... testimony. The trial court's decision will not be ... disturbed on appeal unless the court's ruling is ... manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it ... could not have been the result of a reasoned decision ... State v. Mendoza , 250 N.C.App. 731, 738-39, 794 ... S.E.2d 828, 834 (2016) (internal marks and citations ... omitted) ... ¶ ... 55 Contrary to Defendant's assertion, the trial court ... considered the portion of Dr. Maddox's report as part of ... the basis for her opinion. During counsels' ... ...
  • State v. Washington
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • 21 Diciembre 2021
    ...828, 840-41 (2016). When the trial court excludes evidence considered relevant under Rule 412, this Court reviews for prejudice. Id. at 754, 794 S.E.2d at 842-43. Prejudice exists if "there is a reasonable possibility that, had the error[s] in question not been committed, a different result......
  • State v. Mack Wash.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • 21 Diciembre 2021
    ...226, 228 (1991). This Court applies this deference when looking at the exclusion of evidence under Rule 412. State v. Mendoza , 250 N.C. App. 731, 750,794 S.E.2d 828, 840–41 (2016). When the trial court excludes evidence considered relevant under Rule 412, this Court reviews for prejudice. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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