State v. Meza

Decision Date27 June 2022
Docket Number81463-0-I
Citation512 P.3d 608
Parties The STATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Lendsay Leshly MEZA, Appellant.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

Richard Wayne Lechich, Washington Appellate Project 1511 3rd Ave. Ste. 610, Seattle, WA, 98101-1683, for Appellant.

Seth Aaron Fine, Matthew R. Pittman, Snohomish Prosecuting Atty., 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett, WA, 98201-4046, for Respondent.

PUBLISHED OPINION

Mann, J.

¶1 Lendsay Meza was convicted by jury of two counts of first degree murder with firearm enhancements. Meza appeals raising several arguments including that: (1) the trial court erred in applying the privilege against self-incrimination to a witness whose conviction was final; (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct by presenting inadmissible evidence during opening statements; (3) the failure to provide jurors fair compensation deprived her of a constitutionally fair jury trial; (4) the evidence was insufficient to prove she committed felony murder predicated on first degree kidnapping; (5) the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the victims, Ezekiel Kelly, died as a result of Meza's acts as required in the jury instructions; (6) the trial court erred in ruling it lacked discretion to grant Meza an exceptional sentence; (7) count 3 must be vacated rather than dismissed; and (8) the trial court erred in applying discretionary supervision fees. We remand for the trial court to strike supervision fees. We vacate the order sealing exhibits and otherwise affirm.

FACTS

¶2 Meza and Anthony Hernandez Cano met online in 2016 when Meza was 18 years old. Shortly after, Cano moved from Georgia to Seattle to live with Meza. The pair lived in the Vantage Apartments with Meza's family. Meza and Cano frequently used cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medication. Cano and Meza had an abusive relationship which included a no-contact order between them.

A. Mohamed Adan's Death

¶3 On June 30, 2018, Cano and Meza attended a quinceañera. Meza drank alcohol, smoked cannabis, and consumed Xanax. After the party, Meza drove Cano, Chris Diaz, and Edwin Valdespino in her car, a red Saturn, back to her apartment. While driving, she stopped when Cano and Diaz saw Hassani Hassani and Mohamed Adan and asked her to stop the car. Hassani was Cano's friend and lived at the Vantage Apartments. Earlier that night, Hassani and Adan had an argument because Hassani caught Adan kissing his girlfriend, Anika St. Mary. Hassani and Adan got into Meza's car and Meza drove the group to the parking lot at the apartment complex where Meza lived. At the parking lot, everyone got out of the car except Diaz and Meza, who recall being in and out of consciousness. After about 30 minutes, everyone got back in the car and Meza drove the group to the parking garage at the apartment complex upon Cano's request. The group went into an apartment garage and Meza saw that Adan had been badly beaten. Thinking the men were "settling a beef," Meza went back to her car and fell asleep. The men then bound and further beat Adan in the garage. Meza testified that she was asleep for the rest of the events, only waking up in Marysville on the way back home where she then went to sleep again.

¶4 On July 1, 2018, a neighbor found Adan's body at Blue Stilly Park near Arlington. He was shot seven times. Two bullets penetrated his foot and the other five penetrated his chest and abdomen. There were cigarette like burns on his face, a laceration on his head inflicted by a linear object, such as a baseball bat, and swelling and bruising to his face.

¶5 Surveillance cameras showed Meza's red Saturn entering a road leading to Blue Stilly Park at 5:19 a.m. and leaving the park at 5:33 a.m. It returned at 5:38 a.m., and left again at 5:42 a.m. A deleted photograph shows Cano holding a gun outside the car and another photograph shows Cano in the same park with Adan. Police later searched the garage at the Vantage Apartments and found blood stains with DNA that matched Adan. Meza recited many different versions of that night's events, including one where she stated being at home in bed the entire night. Meza eventually admitted she believed the group killed Adan.

¶6 Cano similarly gave a lengthy recorded statement of the events. Cano stated he tied up Adan and drove him to Arlington with Meza asleep in the front seat. Cano told Adan to get out of the car and shot him twice in the leg or foot. They then left Adan there, drove away, and came back after approximately 10 minutes. Cano shot Adan in the chest and then the group left a last time.

B. Ezekiel Kelly's Death

¶7 Ezekiel Kelly lived with his mother in Everett. Hassani told his friend Vadim Patsula that he was interested in finding Kelly and beating him up because of something to do with his girlfriend, St. Mary. On July 2, 2018, Patsula called Hassani and told him he saw Kelly near a Shell gas station. Meza, claiming to not know why, drove Cano, Hassani, and St. Mary to the gas station. At the gas station, Cano and Hassani got out of the car and returned with Kelly. Cano then told Meza to drive to South County Park. Surveillance footage from the Shell shows Kelly and a red Saturn arriving in the parking lot.

¶8 Meza testified that she drove through the back roads and ended up in Edmond but tried swerving the car to get the attention of police along the way. At South County Park, Cano, Hassani, and Meza got out of the car with Kelly. Meza claimed Kelly discussed raping her, so she got mad and hit him twice on the legs with a baseball bat. The group returned to the car and Hassani and Cano started punching Kelly again. Meza then drove the group to an abandoned house where Hassani and Cano forced Kelly out of the car. Cano then told Meza to leave. As she drove away, she claimed to hear a gunshot.

¶9 On July 3, 2018, a neighbor found Kelly's body in the carport of an abandoned building. He was stabbed multiple times and shot five times, three times in the head, one to his hand, and one to his knee. Four stab wounds penetrated his right lung and liver. He had also been stabbed in the head with a screwdriver like object. An injury on his head resembled that of a linear object such as a baseball bat.

C. Conviction and Sentencing

¶10 Meza was convicted of three counts of first degree murder. Count 1 was for the felony murder of Adan predicated on first degree kidnapping. Count 2 was for the premeditated murder of Kelly. Each count contained a firearm enhancement. The jury also found Meza guilty of count 3, the felony murder of Kelly. The trial court dismissed the conviction on count 3 finding it merged with count 2. Meza was sentenced to 50 years’ confinement.

¶11 Meza appeals.

ANALYSIS
A. Privilege Against Self-incrimination

¶12 After Meza sought testimony from Cano, Cano refused asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Meza argues that the trial court erred in affirming Cano's right not to testify because Cano pleaded guilty and did not timely appeal his judgment and sentence. Based on the record before us, we disagree.

¶13 Criminal defendants have the constitutional right to present a complete defense and to call witnesses to testify. U.S. CONST. amends. VI, XIV ; CONST. art. I. § 22 ; State v. Maupin, 128 Wash.2d 918, 924, 913 P.2d 808 (1996). Washington recognizes an obligation of a witness to testify. State v. Parker, 79 Wash.2d 326, 331, 485 P.2d 60 (1971). A witness called to testify may, however, claim the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. U.S. CONST. amends. V, XIV ; CONST. art. I, § 9. The Fifth Amendment provides that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This privilege includes the right of a witness not to give incriminating answers in any proceeding. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 92 S. Ct. 1653, 32 L. Ed. 2d 212 (1972).

¶14 " [T]he power to decide whether the hazards of self-incrimination are genuine and not merely illusory, speculative, contrived or false, must rest with the trial court before whom the witness is called to give evidence.’ " State v. Hobble, 126 Wash.2d 283, 291, 892 P.2d 85 (1995) (quoting Parker, 79 Wash.2d at 332, 485 P.2d 60 ). "The determination whether the privilege applies lies within the sound discretion of the trial court under all the circumstances then present." Hobble, 126 Wash.2d at 291, 892 P.2d 85. Whether a privilege is available, however, is a question of law that we review de novo. See In re Pers. Restraint of Cross, 180 Wash.2d 664, 681 n.7, 327 P.3d 660 (2014) (clarifying that in reviewing Fifth Amendment issues, appellate courts defer to unchallenged findings of fact but review legal conclusions de novo), abrogated by State v. Gregory, 192 Wash.2d 1, 427 P.3d 621 (2018).

¶15 Meza sought to call Cano to testify as a witness. Cano previously pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated first degree murder in the homicides of Adan and Kelly. Cano received a life sentence. He did not appeal the judgment and sentence. However, Cano filed a timely personal restraint petition (PRP) seeking to vacate or withdraw his guilty plea. In determining whether Cano should retain the privilege, defense counsel questioned Cano outside the presence of the jury. The topics of inquiry included the party on June 30, the use of alcohol and drugs at the party, Meza's use of alcohol and drugs at the party, Cano's opinion of Meza's intoxication, driving of the car on the days in question, and the photos on Meza's phone. Cano asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify for each question.

¶16 The trial court reviewed Cano's motion to withdraw his guilty plea and heard argument from counsel, including Cano's counsel. Cano's counsel pointed out that Cano pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and life in prison thereby preventing the State from seeking the death penalty. But in the interim, our Supreme Court had ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, raising the...

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  • In re Pers. Restraint of Quintero
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    ...at 636. However, whether a privilege is available is a question of law this court reviews de novo. State v. Meza, 22 Wn.App. 2d 514, 525, 512 P.3d 608, denied, 200 Wn.2d 1021, 520 P.3d 978 (2022). Fifth Amendment privilege Washington courts recognize an obligation of a witness to testify. R......
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    ...This right includes "the right to have a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community." State v. Meza, 22 Wn.App. 2d. 514, 533, 512 P.3d 608 (citing Taylor Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 530-31, 95 S.Ct. 692, 42 L.Ed.2d 690 (1975)), review denied, 200 Wn.2d 1021, 520 P.3d 978 (2022). The......
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