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State v. Guzman

Supreme Court of Minnesota

April 12, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Manuel Guzman, Appellant.

         Hennepin County Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Sara L. Martin, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The district court did not err when it denied appellant's pretrial motion to quash the indictment.

         2. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellant's pretrial motion to disclose the entire grand jury transcript.

         3. The district court did not violate appellant's right to present a defense when it excluded reverse-Spreigl evidence on the grounds that it was inadmissible under the rules of evidence governing relevancy, unfair prejudice, hearsay, and impeachment.

         4. The district court's admission of evidence regarding appellant's incarceration for an unrelated offense was harmless.

         5. The district court did not plainly err when it allowed a witness to testify on redirect examination that during one of the recorded calls between appellant and his girlfriend, appellant was talking in code about selling a gun.

         6. Any alleged error in the district court's jury instructions was harmless. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          ANDERSON, Justice.

         A Hennepin County grand jury indicted appellant Manuel Guzman for first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2016), for the fatal shooting of Rufino Clara-Rendon. Appellant filed several pretrial motions, including motions to quash the indictment, to compel production of the entire grand jury transcript, and to exclude recorded jail calls between appellant and his girlfriend. The district court denied each of appellant's pretrial motions and the matter was scheduled for a jury trial. During the trial, the court made a number of evidentiary rulings that appellant now challenges on appeal. The jury found appellant guilty as charged and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. On appeal, appellant contends that the district court committed reversible error in its pretrial and evidentiary rulings, as well as in its instructions to the jury. Because the court did not commit reversible error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         The events that led to the fatal shooting of Rufino[1] began in spring 2014, when appellant and several other men, including Hector Lopez Rios, Guillermo Ayala-Enriquez, and J.A.E., robbed Rufino's friend, J.R.[2] Several months later, on August 7, 2014, appellant and Guillermo called Rufino a "snitch" in a face-to-face confrontation that occurred at appellant's home. The confrontation was witnessed by several people, including A.J., who was at appellant's home to repay a debt.

         At trial, A.J.'s testimony provided the following outline of events. Appellant, Guillermo, Rufino, Hector, A.J., and appellant's roommate were in the yard outside of appellant's home. Appellant told Rufino that he had 10 minutes to explain himself, and A.J. heard appellant and Guillermo say the word "snitch" throughout the conversation. At one point, Hector told appellant and Guillermo to "beat his *ss already, " but Guillermo responded that "he wanted blood" and that he would "dump [Rufino] over the Minnehaha River." Later, the men went inside appellant's home, and appellant held a gun to Rufino's forehead. Rufino was "stuttering, " his "hand movements were everywhere, " and "[h]e was basically trying to explain himself, trying to basically beg for his life." A few minutes later, appellant, who was still holding the gun, told Rufino to follow him and Guillermo from the kitchen down the hallway that led to the bathroom. Shortly thereafter, Hector said, "F*ck it, " and followed the three men down the hallway. "Almost instantly" after Hector went down the hallway, A.J. heard a gunshot.[3] When Hector came back to the kitchen, he had a look of "regret, " "[a]s if he shouldn't have saw what he saw." Guillermo had a "[s]atisfied grin, almost, " and appellant "didn't have an expression at all." A.J. heard appellant tell Guillermo: "It had to be done. He was a liability." A.J. immediately left appellant's home after telling appellant and Guillermo, "I wasn't here. I didn't see anything. I didn't hear anything."

         A.J.'s testimony largely corroborated Hector's testimony. Hector testified as follows. When the men were outside of appellant's home, Guillermo made Rufino call J.R. twice, and during the second call, Guillermo took the phone and left a voicemail saying: "Hey, b*tch. I got your friend kidnapped. Call me at this number." After Guillermo left the voicemail, the men went inside appellant's home. Hector claimed that he did not go down the hall to the bathroom until after he heard the gunshot. When Hector entered the bathroom, he started to panic and go "into shock" because he saw Rufino in the bathtub with a "hole" in his forehead. Meanwhile, appellant and Guillermo started making plans to dispose of the body. Appellant and Guillermo took a mattress from the living room, Guillermo cut a hole in it, and then appellant and Guillermo put Rufino's body into the mattress. Guillermo used bleach to clean up the bathroom. Guillermo later drove his Chrysler Pacifica to the front door of the house where appellant and Guillermo put the mattress inside the SUV. Guillermo then drove appellant and Hector to a gas station, where appellant and Guillermo discussed buying gas to dispose of the evidence. After appellant purchased the gasoline, Guillermo drove the men to the "back of some apartments, " near East 39th Street and Snelling Avenue in Minneapolis. Hector testified that he remained in the car while appellant and Guillermo attempted to put the whole mattress in a dumpster. As the two men lifted the mattress into the dumpster, Rufino's body fell out. Leaving the body where it fell, appellant poured gasoline on the body and the mattress and set both on fire. According to Hector, appellant and Guillermo told him not to talk to anyone about what he had seen.

         Firefighters and police officers responded to the dumpster fire on the night of August 7, 2014. When they arrived, the fire was burning in the dumpster, and Rufino's burned body was on the ground next to the dumpster. The medical examiner determined that Rufino was already dead at the time he was burned because there was no soot in his airways. The medical examiner also determined that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and that the manner of death was homicide.

         Sergeant Charles Green was assigned to the investigation. Rufino's body was so badly burned that initially it could not be identified. However, the medical examiner located a tattoo on Rufino's arm during the autopsy. Therefore, as part of Sgt. Green's investigation into the homicide, a depiction of Rufino's tattoo was released to the media. Two hours later, Sgt. Green had a telephone conversation with a caller who reported that Rufino had a similar tattoo and had been missing since August 7. Sgt. Green subsequently interviewed J.R., who disclosed that he had received a voicemail indicating that Rufino had been kidnapped. J.R. told Sgt. Green that he listened to the voicemail on the Sunday following the murder and did not recognize the caller's voice.

         Sergeant Luis Porras assisted in the investigation. In speaking with Rufino's brother and cousin, Sgt. Porras learned that Hector was the last person they saw with Rufino. Hector talked to the police with his attorney present roughly one week after Rufino's death. During the interview, Hector told Sgt. Porras that appellant and Guillermo were involved in Rufino's murder, that the murder occurred at appellant's home, and where the gas used to burn Rufino's body was purchased. The next day, Hector also provided addresses for appellant and Guillermo and identified Guillermo as the driver of a Chrysler Pacifica. Sgt. Porras obtained the surveillance video from the gas station and determined that appellant was holding two gas cans in the footage. Still photographs also showed appellant purchasing two gas cans and $10 in gasoline. Sgt. Porras learned from the manager at the gas station that only two gas cans had been purchased that day. After obtaining search warrants, police executed simultaneous searches of the homes of appellant and Guillermo to avoid the destruction of evidence. Although police did not recover the gun that was used in the homicide, they recovered two gas cans from a side garage area behind appellant's home.

         On August 20, 2014, the State filed a complaint charging appellant with second-degree intentional murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2016). The following day, appellant made his first court appearance. On September 8, 2014, the court held a hearing to discuss a discovery issue. At the close of the hearing, the court scheduled a follow up hearing for September 19, 2014, and asked the State to "notify the Court and [defense counsel] if there [was] a grand jury presentation as [the follow up] hearing would be pretty much useless if you're going to seek an indictment." Seventeen days later, on September 25, 2014, the State commenced grand jury proceedings. On November 6, 2014, the grand jury indicted appellant on the charge of first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1).

         Appellant filed a number of pretrial motions, including motions to quash the indictment as untimely, to compel production of the entire grand jury transcript, and to exclude recordings of jail calls between appellant and his girlfriend. The district court denied these motions. Before trial, appellant also notified the State that he intended to offer alternative perpetrator evidence that suggested that Hector was the shooter. After considering the proffered evidence, the district court concluded that appellant had established the foundational requirements for the introduction of alternative perpetrator evidence against Hector.

         On March 30, 2015, the parties appeared for trial. During the prosecutor's opening statement, she discussed the recorded calls between appellant and his girlfriend. As part of her discussion, the prosecutor explained that, at the time of the calls, appellant was incarcerated on an unrelated matter. After the prosecutor finished her opening statement, defense counsel requested a bench conference and objected to the prosecutor's opening statement. After defense counsel delivered her opening statement and the jury was excused, defense counsel moved for a mistrial, arguing that the prosecutor's reference to appellant's incarceration on an unrelated matter was highly prejudicial because it left the jury with the impression that he was a criminal. The court denied the motion, concluding that the reference to appellant's incarceration was necessary to explain why the State had a recording of appellant's phone calls with his girlfriend. The State then presented evidence, including testimony by Sgt. Porras that was consistent with the facts outlined above.

         During his direct examination, Sgt. Porras described the process of making a telephone call from a jail or correctional facility, including the automated notification that all calls are recorded. When the prosecutor asked whether appellant was in custody on an unrelated matter during the period of August 19-20, 2014, defense counsel objected on the ground of undue prejudice. The district court overruled the objection. Sgt. Porras then testified that appellant made recorded phone calls to his girlfriend on August 19 and 20. During the August 19 call, appellant's girlfriend informed appellant that the police had already confiscated some items, including gas cans. When the prosecutor asked Sgt. Porras how appellant responded to this information, Sgt. Porras said: "Well, he appeared to be talking . . . in code because he says, 'How should I say it?' and 'Did you go to the house and grab the things from the garage?' " Defense counsel objected, asserting that this line of questioning was based on improper speculation, but the district court overruled the objection. Sgt. Porras went on to testify that during the August 20 call, appellant told his girlfriend that police came to talk to him and that he gave them a false address.

         Later that same day, appellant made a third call to his girlfriend, during which he told her to sell "this sh*t I have" "for six or seven, " but then said that he was not sure he wanted her to sell it because "there [could] be a war" and he was "going to be stuck in the middle of it." During cross-examination, defense counsel questioned Sgt. Porras both about the portions of the calls and about Sgt. Porras's opinion of appellant's intentions when he made certain statements during the calls. On redirect, the prosecutor asked Sgt. Porras his opinion of what appellant wanted to sell for "six or seven." Defense counsel objected on grounds of speculation, but the district court overruled the objection. Sgt. Porras then opined that appellant wanted to sell a gun for $600 to $700.

         The State also called Hector as a witness. According to Hector, Rufino was already dead when Hector entered the bathroom. Defense counsel vigorously cross-examined Hector on several topics, including his presence in the bathroom and purported possession of a gun at the time of Rufino's death, his suggestion that appellant and Guillermo beat Rufino's "*ss already, " and his possible motive to kill Rufino.

         After the State rested, appellant proffered a witness summary for Guillermo's brother J.A.E., who was one of the men who robbed J.R. in the spring of 2014. According to the summary, J.A.E. was expected to testify to the following: Hector had a gun during the robbery of J.R. in the spring of 2014; Hector was drunk at the time of the robbery; Hector, J.R., and Rufino were all members of the Vatos-Locos gang; and Hector told J.A.E., Guillermo, and appellant that J.R. confronted him about the robbery. The State moved in limine to exclude most of J.A.E.'s testimony as inadmissible, irrelevant, or hearsay. After the district court ruled that most of J.A.E.'s proposed testimony was inadmissible, appellant rested without calling J.A.E. as a witness.

         Following deliberations, the jury found appellant guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, and the district court sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of release. On appeal, appellant contends that the district court committed reversible error in its ...


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