State v. Williams

Decision Date27 November 2015
Docket NumberNo. 2 CA-CR 2014-0183,2 CA-CR 2014-0183
CourtArizona Court of Appeals



See Ariz. R. Sup. Ct. 111(c)(1); Ariz. R. Crim. P. 31.24.

Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County

No. CR20133225001

The Honorable Howard Fell, Judge Pro Tempore



Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General

Joseph T. Maziarz, Section Chief Counsel, Phoenix

By Jonathan Bass, Assistant Attorney General, Tucson

Counsel for Appellee

Harriette P. Levitt, Tucson

Counsel for Appellant


Presiding Judge Miller authored the decision of the Court, in which Chief Judge Eckerstrom and Judge Espinosa concurred.

MILLER, Presiding Judge:

¶1 After a jury trial, Stephen Ray Williams was convicted of one count of first-degree murder, one count of burglary, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of aggravated robbery, and two counts of kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release for twenty-five years, plus concurrent and consecutive sentences totaling an additional 10.5 years. On appeal, Williams contends the trial court erred by refusing his request for an alibi/non-presence jury instruction, he was denied a speedy trial due to pre-indictment and pre-trial delay, and prosecutorial misconduct prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Because we agree that the court should have given an alibi instruction, we reverse his convictions and sentences, and remand the case for a new trial.1

Factual Background

¶2 When reviewing a trial court's denial of a proposed jury instruction, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the party requesting the instruction. See State v. King, 225 Ariz. 87, ¶ 13, 235 P.3d 240, 243 (2010). R.C. and his longtime friend and roommate, L.C., went to bed around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. on June 28, 2011. They later awoke to a loud noise. A man whom R.C. identified at trial as MannyPesqueira2 came into their bedroom with what looked like a revolver and demanded money and drugs. He left the bedroom, but returned with R.C.'s machete and threatened them. After he left the bedroom a final time, another man came into the bedroom. R.C. testified he was tall, dark-skinned, and "like bulky, like kind of fat." The man was holding what looked like the same revolver Pesqueira had displayed and, without warning, shot L.C. in the head.3 He then pointed the gun at R.C.'s head, but Pesqueira yelled something, and the man lowered the gun. Pesqueira and the other man then ran from the apartment, taking a coin jar, wallets, cell phones, and a laptop computer. R.C. looked out the window and saw them leave in a small sport utility vehicle (SUV).

¶3 R.C. was scared and wanted to leave the apartment immediately. He left shirtless, driving directly to a friend's house eight to ten minutes away. He arrived at 2:30 a.m. on June 29. His friend encouraged him to call 9-1-1, but R.C. was afraid to do so because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. He called and hung up twice, but the third time stayed on the line to report the shooting and related details.

¶4 At 2:43 a.m., Tucson Police Officer Travis Carpenter received a radio bulletin alerting police to look for a maroon Isuzu Rodeo SUV. Carpenter headed toward the area where the vehicle was last seen. He saw a red or maroon Honda Passport, which he testified looks similar to an IsuzuRodeo, and began to follow it while awaiting backup. The Honda turned onto a side street and came to an abrupt stop. Williams exited the passenger side door with his hands up, and then the Honda sped off. He acknowledged having an outstanding warrant from an unrelated domestic violence incident and was arrested. Police officers later found R.C.'s stolen laptop and change jar in the Honda. The change jar had Williams's fingerprint on it.

¶5 Hours after the shooting, another officer brought Williams to R.C.'s location for a one-man show-up. At that time, R.C. told the officer that Williams was not the shooter. But at trial, when asked what the shooter looked like, R.C. pointed to Williams and said, "Like him."

¶6 After Williams was arrested, police swabbed his hands for the presence of trace chemical residues consistent with having fired a weapon. Lab tests failed to detect any such residue. The analyst's report observed that the absence of trace residue could mean that (1) Williams had not fired a gun that night, (2) he had fired a gun that did not leave trace residues, or (3) he washed or wiped off his hands between the time he fired a gun and the time the test was administered. Police never located the gun used in the crime.

¶7 Williams testified at trial he was not the man who had shot L.C.; moreover, he denied ever having met or seen the victims, or having been in their apartment. Williams's alibi defense relied on his own testimony and that of two other witnesses—his wife and his brother Joshua.

¶8 Williams testified he had visited Joshua in the late afternoon on June 28 to give him a tattoo. Other than trips to buy beer earlier in the evening, Williams stated he had remained at Joshua's house working on the tattoo until his wife came over. Defendant's wife testified she had arrived at the house "maybe a little after 1:00, around 2:00" a.m. on June 29, and attempted to get him to agree to come home with her. She explained that instead of leaving, they had talked orargued for what "had to be 45 minutes to an hour." In the end, both of them testified that Williams had refused to leave with her, and instead had gone back inside to finish the tattoo. They also both said she had left him to find his own ride home later.

¶9 Williams and Joshua each testified that after Williams had finished the tattoo, Joshua called Pesqueira to give Williams a ride home. Pesqueira picked up Williams from Joshua's house. Williams testified he had moved a jar of change that was on the seat of the SUV so he could sit down, and in so doing left a fingerprint on it. Shortly thereafter, police began to follow the SUV, and Pesqueira started driving erratically. Williams told Pesqueira he didn't want to be involved in a police chase. Pesqueira then stopped the car, and around 2:50 a.m. by Carpenter's estimate, Williams got out and was arrested.

Refusal of the Alibi Instruction

¶10 Williams argues the trial court erred when it denied his request for an alibi instruction. We review a trial court's denial of a requested jury instruction for an abuse of discretion. State v. Garcia, 224 Ariz. 1, ¶ 75, 226 P.3d 370, 387 (2010). A party is entitled to a jury instruction on any theory of the case reasonably supported by the evidence. State v. Rodriguez, 192 Ariz. 58, ¶ 16, 961 P.2d 1006, 1009 (1998). But a trial court is not required to give a proposed instruction if its substance is adequately covered by other instructions. Id. The critical inquiry is whether or not the given instructions, considered as a whole, "adequately set forth the law applicable to the case." Id.

¶11 "Evidence tending to show that the defendant had no opportunity to commit the crime because he was at another place when the crime occurred raises the alibi defense." Id. ¶ 17. To determine whether the evidence reasonably supported an alibi theory in this case we must consider when the crime could have occurred. R.C. testifiedthey had gone to bed around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. and were asleep for a while; placing the earliest time around 11 p.m. However, the events at the apartment occurred quickly, and shortly thereafter, R.C. drove to a friend's house located about eight or ten minutes away. He arrived at the friend's house at 2:30 a.m., and from there he reported the crime. Thus, in the light most favorable to Williams, King, 225 Ariz. 87, ¶ 13, 235 P.3d at 243, the crimes occurred after 11:00 p.m. on June 28, but more likely after 1:00 a.m. and not later than 2:20 a.m. on June 29.

¶12 Williams's testimony placed him at Joshua's house from 10:30 p.m. on June 28 up until Pesqueira picked him up, shortly before his arrest at 2:50 a.m. on June 29. Thus, viewing the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to Williams, despite the considerable evidence tending to rebut Williams's account, he offered an uninterrupted alibi for the timeframe when the shooting occurred. And no physical evidence placed him at the crime scene. The evidence reasonably supported an alibi theory.

Alibi Instruction Not Adequately Covered by Other Instructions

¶13 During the settling of jury instructions, the state contended, and the trial court agreed, that the substance of the alibi instruction was adequately covered by the other instructions:

I'm going to refuse [the alibi instruction]. It's clear to the jury that the State has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. And certainly one of the issues is whether or not Mr. Williams was present at the time that the crime was committed. So it's covered by the Court's instruction.

¶14 Williams's proposed alibi instruction was based on State v. Rodriguez and the State Bar of Arizona's RevisedArizona Jury Instructions (Criminal) Standard 11 (1996).4 In Rodriguez, our supreme court considered whether a trial court's refusal to provide an alibi instruction was reversible error when the defendant had presented evidence to reasonably support an alibi theory. 192 Ariz. 58, ¶ 21, 961 P.2d at 1010. In that case, the state argued the trial court had not erred in refusing the alibi instruction, because the substance of an alibi instruction was sufficiently encompassed in the instructions the court gave regarding the elements of the crime and reasonable doubt. Id. ¶ 23. Our supreme court rejected the state's argument. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. "When the court does not expressly instruct the jury on alibi," the court reasoned, "jurors may incorrectly assume that the defendant bears the burden of proving his alibi." Id. ...

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