Friday, April 22, 2011
Justices Affirm Convictions in East L.A. Gang Murders
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The murder convictions of a man and a woman sentenced to prison for killing an East Los Angeles man in a drive-by shooting just after Christmas 2006 were affirmed yesterday by this district’s Court of Appeal.
Div. Three, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Patti S. Kitching, rejected claims of instructional error by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito at the trial of Sandra Fabiola Bustos and Adam Alexander Trujillo.
Prosecutors said Bustos was the driver and Trujillo the shooter in the Carmelita Street incident in which Joe Salazar was killed and Richard Salazar and Gerardo Santoyo were shot at in the driveway of Richard Salazar’s home. Richard Salazar was identified as a member of the El Hoyo Maravilla gang and his cousin Joe Salazar as a member of the rival Varrio Nuevo Estrada gang, although the cousins got along.
Evidence showed that Trujillo belonged to El Hoyo Maravilla. Bustos told police that she grew up in the gang’s territory and knew members, including Trujillo, but was not a member herself.
She reiterated that denial at trial, but prosecutors presented rebuttal testimony linking her to the crime through gang graffiti she drew in her jail cell.
Sheriff’s detectives investigating the shooting found the vehicle driven by Bustos, a black truck, in front of a house less than a mile from the shooting scene. They detained Trujillo after he exited the house and refused their commands to stop.
They later ordered the occupants of the house, including Bustos—who said she was merely visiting friends, one of whom she said was an El Hoyo Maravilla member—to come out. They searched the house and found the keys to the truck.
One of the detectives spoke to Trujillo as he sat in the patrol car. He said he had nothing to do with any shooting or with the truck, and in response to an officer’s question, said there was no way anything of his could be in the truck.
Among the items police retrieved from the truck was a beer can containing Trujillo’s DNA. Other DNA obtained from the vehicle may have come from Trujillo as well, according to expert testimony.
Police conducted a field showup, at which Richard Salazar identified Bustos as having driven a truck that had driven suspiciously in front of the house and that he and his cousin had pursued earlier in the evening. Bustos then admitted having driven the black truck, but she initially denied knowing about any shooting.
She later claimed, and testified at trial, that she had been the driver and Trujillo her passenger, at the time of the shooting. She testified that while she heard two pops, she did not realize until later that they had come from her vehicle and that Trujillo had a gun and had fired it at the victims.
Jurors found Bustos guilty of first degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, with findings that a principal had used a firearm and that the shootings were gang-related. Trujillo was found guilty of second degree murder and two counts of shooting at a vehicle, with firearms-use and gang findings as well.
Ito sentenced Trujillo to 55 years to life in prison, and Bustos to 50 years to life.
Kitching rejected all of the defendants’ arguments on appeal, including Trujillo’s contention that his statements to the detective should have been suppressed because he received no Miranda warnings. Kitching said there was no basis for a finding that his detention constituted a “de facto arrest.”
The justice explained that their had been nothing more than a brief conversation between the defendant and the detective, and there was no coercion. Nor could the detective’s asking two brief questions, the first based on information Trujillo volunteered about the truck, amount to an interrogation that would require self-incrimination warnings, Kitching said.
Attorneys on appeal were Waldemar D. Halka, by appointmed, for Bustos, John Steinberg, by appointment, for Trujillo, and Deputy Attorneys General Susan D. Martynec and Lance E. Winters for the state.
The case is People v. Bustos, B220474.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company