Wednesday, April 15, 2009
C.A. Upholds Gang Member’s Conviction in Van Nuys Shooting
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has confirmed a Van Nuys gang member’s murder conviction, rejecting claims of prejudicial instructional error.
Div. Seven Monday affirmed the conviction of Ramiro Munoz in the April 2006 shooting death of Mario Juarez. A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Munoz guilty of murder in the first degree and shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Judge Darlene Schempp, since retired, sentenced Munoz to 60 years to life in prison, including a 10-year gang enhancement. While otherwise upholding the conviction and sentence, the appellate panel held that the gang enhancement does not apply to a murder conviction and cut the sentence to 50 years to life.
Among the prosecution witnesses was Clemente Rodriguez, who testified under a grant of immunity. Rodriguez, who said he was not a gang member, testified that he was standing near a vendor truck parked on Calvert St. when Juarez drove up.
Juarez, he said, remained in the car while a passenger, Paul Gomez, got out of the car and approached the truck to make a purchase. Munoz and another gang member approached the car and asked Juarez and his other passenger, Kristian Gomez, where they were from.
Munoz and his companion, Rodriguez testified, yelled out “Barrio Van Nuys,” the name of their gang. Juarez, whom Rodriguez said appeared frightened, began to drive away while the gang members chased on foot.
Rodriguez spoke to Paul Gomez, whom he said was a distant relative, and then ran towards Munoz, yelling at him not to shoot because Juarez was not a gang member.
Rodriguez said Juarez turned his car around and was heading back to pick up Paul Gomez at the vendor truck when Munoz shot twice through the passenger side window. Juarez was struck by both shots, causing his car to careen out of control and crash into another vehicle.
Rodriguez said he and Munoz both ran to the defendant’s apartment and showered.
Several other witnesses testified for the prosecution, including one who said she saw Munoz’s companion toss him a gun, heard the shots, and saw Munoz run away, although she did not actually see him fire the gun.
At the close of the evidence, Schempp told the lawyers that Rodriguez could be considered an aider and abettor or an accomplice, and said she would instruct the jury accordingly and tell jurors that he was given immunity.
Following the jury’s verdict, the defense moved for a new trial, arguing that it was error to give aider and abettor and accomplice instructions 3.01 and 3.10 without giving CALJIC 3.11 on the requirement of corroboration. Schempp denied the motion, saying it was up to the jury to determine whether Rodriguez was a credible witness and that the evidence as a whole was so overwhelming that the additional instruction would have made no difference in the verdict.
Justice Fred Woods, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
Woods said it was unclear whether Rodriguez was an accomplice, but that any error in the accomplice instructions was harmless because there was sufficient evidence to corroborate Rodriguez’ testimony.
It was not necessary for the corroborating witness to actually see Munoz fire at the car, Woods explained; it was enough that she connected him to the crimes. Other witnesses corroborated parts of Rodriguez’s testimony, the justice said, and the instructions as a whole sufficiently advised jurors how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of the testimony.
Attorneys on appeal were Edward H. Schulman, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Paul M. Roadarmel and Sarah J. Farhat for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Munoz, B207341.
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