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State v. Valtierra

July 27, 2006

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
DANIEL JAMES VALTIERRA, APPELLANT.



Ramsey County

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The district court erred by instructing the jury that defendant's guilty intent could be inferred if the jury determined that defendant fled. Beyond a reasonable doubt the district court's instruction on flight had no significant impact on the verdict when the particular evidence of flight was partially supportive of defendant's theory of the case, and when defendant's guilt was independently supported by strong evidence.

2. Because the decision in the district court was prior to this court's decision in State v. Earl, 702 N.W.2d 711 (Minn. 2005), the district court's jury instruction for accomplice liability, which included the statutory requirement of reasonable foreseeability but omitted the words "by the person," was not error.

3. The district court erred by allowing expert police testimony on "triangulation," but the error did not substantially influence the jury's decision when the jury was well positioned to judge the expert testimony for its worth, and when defendant's guilt was independently supported by strong evidence.

4. The district court erred by permitting inquiry into the underlying facts of defendant's prior conviction, but the error did not substantially influence the jury's decision.

5. Evidence that defendant intended to commit an aggravated drug robbery was sufficient to permit a jury to find that it was reasonably foreseeable to defendant that murder would be a probable consequence of that aggravated robbery under Minn. Stat. § 609.05, subd. 2 (2004).

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.

Concurring, Gildea, J.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Following a jury trial in January 2005, appellant Daniel James Valtierra was convicted of two counts of first-degree felony murder and one count of attempted first-degree felony murder for the shooting deaths of Ron Glasgow and Wayne Costilla, and for the shooting of Andria Crosby. In this direct appeal, Valtierra argues that the district court's jury instructions were improper both because the jury was instructed that guilt could be inferred from the fact that Valtierra fled the state and because the jury instruction on accomplice liability described an improper objective standard. Valtierra contends that these improper instructions deprived him of his right to a fair trial. Valtierra also argues that the district court made evidentiary errors by allowing the state to introduce expert police testimony regarding "triangulation," and by allowing the state to inquire into the underlying facts regarding Valtierra's prior conviction. Finally, Valtierra argues that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the shootings of Glasgow, Costilla, and Crosby were reasonably foreseeable as a probable consequence of committing aggravated robbery. While we agree that the district court committed certain errors, we conclude that these errors did not deprive Valtierra of a fair trial, and that there was sufficient evidence to support Valtierra's conviction. We therefore affirm.

Early in the morning on January 12, 2004, Wayne Costilla, Ron Glasgow, and Andria Crosby were all shot during a drug robbery in Costilla's apartment in Saint Paul. Glasgow was shot in the head and chest and died at the scene. Costilla was shot in the head and neck, and died later at the hospital. But Crosby, shot in her torso and through her left leg, survived. All three were shot by Michael Medal-Mendoza, who was accompanied during the shooting by James Green and appellant Daniel Valtierra. At trial, Crosby and Valtierra were the only witnesses of the shooting who testified.

Crosby testified that on the night of the shooting, she was with her boyfriend Glasgow in a room at an extended-stay hotel, along with their friend Costilla. The three were playing video games and dominoes, and using drugs. Crosby smoked methamphetamine and marijuana, and also took some Valium. Glasgow and Costilla both used methamphetamine. That evening, Costilla received a telephone call from a caller looking to buy some methamphetamine for some people who were visiting from out of town. Crosby and Glasgow, who were in the business of selling methamphetamine, agreed to sell an ounce to Costilla for $1,600. Costilla in turn told the caller he would sell the ounce for $1,800 or $1,900. The transaction was originally to have taken place at an Amoco gas station, but the group was concerned about arousing suspicion, so they changed the location to Costilla's apartment.

At about 1:30 a.m., the caller, who Crosby later learned was James Green, arrived at Costilla's apartment. Green was friendly, and after discussing the transaction and conversing for 15 to 20 minutes, Green left the apartment with a sample bag of methamphetamine. When Green came back, Medal-Mendoza and Valtierra were with him. According to Crosby, the group was there for about 15 minutes discussing the transaction, during which time Valtierra sat silently on the couch, "way too close" to Glasgow. Green, Valtierra, and Medal-Mendoza then left, saying that they needed to meet the people from out of town at the Amoco station to give them the sample bag and get money.

Crosby testified that about 30 minutes after Green, Valtierra, and Medal-Mendoza had left, the three men came back into Costilla's apartment. Medal-Mendoza came in first, brandishing a "big, silver gun." Green and Valtierra came in together after Medal-Mendoza, making a V formation behind him. Crosby testified that she was sure that both Green and Valtierra also had guns. Medal-Mendoza pointed his gun at Glasgow and said:

Medal-Mendoza: "I am robbing you, * * *."

Glasgow: "You ain't robbing me, * * *."

Medal-Mendoza: "I will shoot you."

Glasgow: "Well, you are going to have to shoot me then because you sure the hell ain't going to rob me."

Medal-Mendoza then shot Glasgow in the head. Crosby was "in shock" and began pleading, "No, * * * not my baby." She did not know who was shot next, but Medal-Mendoza kept shooting. Crosby felt a gunshot in her left thigh and dropped to the floor. After several gunshots were fired, Green, Valtierra, and Medal-Mendoza left. Crosby stayed on the floor, and about 5 minutes later one of the men came back and nudged her with his foot to make sure she was dead. She laid still, and the man grabbed her purse and again left. Once Crosby was sure the three men were gone for good, she began screaming and called 911.

At trial Valtierra testified in his own defense and presented a different account of the shooting. Valtierra testified that early on the morning of January 12, Green and Medal-Mendoza went out to buy methamphetamine, and he went with them to buy cigarettes. Before getting the methamphetamine or cigarettes, the group stopped at a Perkins restaurant. Valtierra did not want to eat, so he left the other two at Perkins, got cigarettes, and began walking back to his sister's apartment, where he had been staying. As he walked back, Green and Medal-Mendoza pulled up alongside him in a car. Valtierra testified that Green insisted that Valtierra join them in the car instead of walking back in the cold, and after Valtierra obliged, Green explained that they were just going to make a brief 5- or 10-minute stop to get Medal-Mendoza some methamphetamine.

When the group arrived at Costilla's apartment, Green went in alone, and then all three went into the apartment after Green came back to the car with a sample bag of methamphetamine. Valtierra testified that after the three left the apartment and returned to the car, Medal-Mendoza complained that the asking price for the methamphetamine was too high and suggested that they return to the apartment to attempt to negotiate a lower price. Valtierra testified that he did not think that Green and Medal-Mendoza intended for him to go with them, but since he had come into the apartment the previous time, Valtierra decided to join them again.

Though Crosby testified that Valtierra and Green came in right after Medal-Mendoza, Valtierra testified that Green and Medal-Mendoza got a head start and that he entered the apartment several seconds after they did, just in time to hear someone say "shoot me" and to see Medal-Mendoza pointing a gun at Glasgow. Valtierra then saw Medal-Mendoza fire one shot into Glasgow's chest, and another into his forehead. Though Crosby claimed that all three men had guns, Valtierra testified that he did not have a gun himself, and that he did not know that Medal-Mendoza had been carrying a gun, or that he was going to shoot anyone. Valtierra testified that he remembered Crosby getting shot and Green running out of the apartment. While Medal-Mendoza fired more shots, Valtierra followed Green out of the apartment.

After fleeing Costilla's apartment, Valtierra ran to the home of Green and Green's girlfriend, Alison, and there rejoined Green. Valtierra decided to attempt to use a previously purchased plane ticket for a flight back to his home in Seattle, which was scheduled to depart later that morning. But Valtierra encountered a problem with his ticket at the airport, and instead decided to drive with Medal-Mendoza and Green to New York, where they could stay with Medal-Mendoza's family.

At about 11:45 a.m. on the day of the shooting, Green, Valtierra, and Medal-Mendoza left Saint Paul, and drove Medal-Mendoza's car as far as Chicago, where they stopped at a motel. Valtierra testified that he decided that night that he should not be "running for something [he] didn't do." In the morning, Valtierra told the other two he wanted to return to Saint Paul. Green ...


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