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State v. Medal-Mendoza

August 3, 2006

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
MICHAEL MEDAL-MENDOZA, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The district court did not violate defendant's right to present a defense by prohibiting the defendant from introducing evidence of his co-defendants' gang affiliation with each other and with a third person where the defendant failed to lay a proper foundation to establish that the evidence had an inherent tendency to connect the third person to the commission of the charged crime.

2. The district court erred by allowing expert police testimony on "triangulation," but the error did not substantially influence the jury's decision and does not warrant a new trial where the defendant's guilt was independently supported by strong evidence.

3. The district court erred by instructing the jury that defendant's guilty intent could be inferred if the jury determined that defendant fled, but the error had no significant impact on the verdict where the defendant's guilt was independently supported by strong evidence and the particular evidence of flight was rebutted by other evidence.

4. The district court did not deprive the defendant of his right to confront his accusers, and the defendant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is without merit.

Affirmed.

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

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

OPINION

On January 12, 2004, a shooting incident occurred in Saint Paul, during which Ronald Edward Glasgow and Wayne Louis Costilla were shot to death. A third victim, Andria Rai Crosby, was severely injured. In December 2004, a Ramsey County jury found appellant Michael Medal-Mendoza guilty of six felony counts related to the shootings. Medal-Mendoza was then convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison for two first-degree murder convictions and to a consecutive term of 180 months in prison for an attempted first-degree murder conviction.

On direct appeal to this court, Medal-Mendoza argues that the district court committed prejudicial error during his trial because (1) the court violated Medal-Mendoza's right to present a defense by not allowing him to present evidence of his co-defendants' gang affiliation with each other and with a third person; (2) the court improperly allowed a police officer to testify as an expert regarding "triangulation" evidence; and (3) the court instructed the jury that it could consider Medal-Mendoza's flight as proof of his guilty intent. In his pro se supplemental brief, Medal-Mendoza additionally claims that he was deprived of his right to confront his accusers because the state introduced evidence that was provided by a confidential informant. He also claims ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We affirm the district court.

Some time after 4:00 a.m. on January 12, 2004, the Saint Paul Police Department Communications Center received a 911 call from a woman at a St. Paul address who reported that she had been shot and needed medical help. Several officers responded to the call, entered the basement apartment and found Andria Rai Crosby lying on the kitchen floor with gunshot wounds to her leg and chest. Crosby informed the officers that "three dudes, two Mexicans and a mulatto" had shot her. The police officers found Ronald Edward Glasgow and Wayne Louis Costilla in the living room of the apartment. Glasgow was shot in the head and chest and appeared to be dead. Costilla, who received gunshot wounds in his head and neck, was breathing but unconscious. Later, Costilla died at the hospital.

Crosby testified at Medal-Mendoza's trial. According to Crosby, on the evening of January 11, 2004, she was at a hotel room with her boyfriend, Glasgow, and her friend, Costilla. The three of them played video games and dominos. Crosby testified that they all used methamphetamine that evening, and that she also smoked some marijuana. At some point, Costilla received a telephone call from a person seeking to buy some methamphetamine. Crosby and Glasgow decided that they would sell one ounce of methamphetamine to Costilla for $1,500 to $1,600, and Costilla in turn told the caller that he had methamphetamine for sale.

Crosby, Glasgow, and Costilla went to Costilla's apartment on Burns Avenue to wait for the caller, who was coming from a Perkins restaurant with some friends. At about 1:30 a.m. on January 12, 2004, the caller, who Crosby later learned was James Green, arrived at Costilla's apartment. Crosby testified that she recognized Green as someone that she had known from high school. Green was friendly, and after about 15 or 20 minutes Costilla invited the two men that Green was with into the apartment. Crosby described the taller man as a "whitish Mexican," who had "pitch black eyes" that were "stone cold," and the shorter man as a "blackish Mexican," who was "well dressed" and "more preppy." Crosby testified that the three men stayed for about 15 minutes and discussed the transaction, during which period the shorter Mexican, whom Crosby identified in court as Michael Medal-Mendoza, made a telephone call to someone named "Lucky." Costilla then gave Medal-Mendoza a sample bag of methamphetamine, and the three men left the apartment to meet some buyers at a gas station down the street.

Crosby testified that the three men came back to Costilla's apartment after about 30 minutes. They kicked the apartment door open, and Medal-Mendoza came in first with a big, shiny, silver gun. Green and the other "whitish Mexican" came in together after Medal-Mendoza, also carrying guns. Medal-Mendoza pointed his gun at Glasgow, and the following exchange ensued:

Medal-Mendoza: I am robbing you, mother f*****.

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


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