Wednesday, January 19, 2005
C.A. Upholds No-Parole Sentence for Man Who Killed Wife
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The fact that a killer stalked his victim for months before murdering her did not preclude a jury from finding that the killing involved the element of surprise required to establish the special circumstance of lying in wait, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
In a Dec. 16 opinion, certified yesterday for partial publication, Div. Three rejected Salvador Arellano’s challenges to his conviction and life-without-parole sentence for the murder of his estranged wife.
Police said Angelica Gomez-Arellano, 20 years of age, and her then-15 year-old sister were confronted by a gunman in their driveway on 81st Street in Los Angeles early on the morning of June 8, 2002. Gomez-Arellano, who was married in 1997 at age 17, had left her husband and moved in with her parents prior to the birth of the couple’s second child.
The gunman, later identified as Arellano, opened fire while the victims were still in the car. Gomez-Arellano sustained numerous gunshot wounds to her upper torso and died, while her sister sustained a superficial wound to her hip.
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that the defendant had harassed his wife for months, expressing his ire at her seeing other men and preventing him from seeing the children. He had left threatening messages on her home answering machine and cell phone, and threatened to shoot the manager of the store where she worked when the manager would not let him speak to his wife on the phone.
Arellano was convicted of the special circumstances murder of his wife, premeditated attempted murder of her sister, and five counts of making criminal threats, four counts of disobeying a restraining order, and stalking in connection with his behavior in the months leading up to the murder.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tricia Ann Bigelow sentenced Arellano to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for the murder, plus 49 years, eight months to life in prison for the other offenses.
Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that the murder victim was taken by surprise for purposes of the lying-in-wait finding triggering the life-without-parole sentence.
In its appellate brief, the defense argued that because Gomez-Arellano knew her husband “was hell bent” on killing her, she could not have been surprised when he showed up and did it.
But Klein said it was the defendant’s conduct and intent at the time of the commission at the crime that was determinative.
“While a victim of domestic violence and continuing death threats might well suspect she will be attacked sometime in the future, she has no way of knowing exactly when or where that attack will occur,” the presiding justice wrote. “The very fact Arellano repeatedly told Angelica her death was imminent tended to dilute the effect of those warnings. Indeed, [her sister] Daisy testified Angelica pointedly refused to curtail such activities as going to the movies in the face of Arellano’s continual death threats.”
Evidence of Concealment
There was also sufficient evidence of concealment, Klein said, despite testimony that neighbors had seen the defendant on the street prior to the shooting. There was also testimony that Arellano was “lurking” by the house; the victim’s sister testified that she did not see anyone in front of the house as the car pulled up, and the fact that he started shooting before anyone got out of the car supports the inference that he positioned himself so that the victims would be unaware of any danger before he started shooting, Klein wrote.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Klein said there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction for the attempted premeditated murder of Daisy Gomez, rejecting the contention that all of the defendant’s criminal conduct was directed at his wife.
The fact that he shot at his wife and sister-in-law at close range, Klein said, was enough to show that he acted toward both of them with deliberation and premeditation. “That Arellano could have fired more shots at Daisy does not establish a less culpable state of mind,” the presiding justice wrote.
In another unpublished part, the court upheld the imposition of an aggravated term on one of the criminal threat counts, rejecting the contention that the Supreme Court’s Blakely decision bars such a sentence unless the facts supporting it are found by a jury.
There is an exception to Blakely, Klein explained, where the sentence is based on prior convictions. Since the trial judge specifically found that the sentence was supported by the defendant’s record of “repeated criminal activity of...very increasing seriousness,” the presiding justice wrote, the exception applies.
Attorneys on appeal were Edward H. Schulman, a Northridge sole practitioner appointed by the court, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Michael C. Keller and Lauren E. Dana for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Arellano, B170571.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company