Friday, October 7, 2011
C.A. Upholds Conviction in Home Invasion Murder
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The first degree murder conviction of a man who shot and killed a Covina Hills resident during a home invasion burglary in 2008 was affirmed yesterday by the Court of Appeal for this district.
Div. Five upheld the conviction of Christopher Kevin Santana, serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for the murder of Michelle Hsu. Hsu, 46, was shot three times while on the phone with a 911 operator.
Two other men, Christopher Stratis and Victor Maurtua, were also convicted and were separately sentenced to life without parole. Christine Allegre was acquitted, and Megali Fernandez accepted an offer to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and testified against the others.
All were between 16 and 20 years old at the time of the crime.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sanjay Kumar, sitting on assignment in Div. Five, authored the unpublished opinion on Santana’s appeal. He rejected claims that the defendant was entitled to a unanimity instruction with regard to whether the crime was premeditated murder or felony murder, and that it was error to admit evidence that Stratis identified Santana as the shooter.
Fernandez and Alegre testified that they waited outside while the men entered the home. The robbery was said to be Santana’s idea.
Hsu and her husband apparently bought the home from the family of Santana’s ex-girlfriend, whom Santana thought still lived there. Santana reportedly told the others that the house had “nice stuff” and would be easy to enter.
Fernandez and Alegre said that on the drive to Santana’s house after the shooting, Stratis said it was Santana who shot the victim. Alegre said Santana admitted the shooting.
Fernandez gave police a recorded interview in which she said Santana told her he shot Hsu because “she was talking on the phone” and “wouldn’t shut up.”
Santana testified that Stratis and Maurtua conceived the burglary and talked him into participating. He said he heard gunshots once inside, and that he and the other two then ran from the house.
He denied shooting anyone or intending to do so. Confronted with evidence that the murder weapon was found in his backpack, which he discarded at the scene, he suggested the others must have put it there.
In rejecting the argument that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher should have given a unanimity instruction, Kumar noted that the state Supreme Court has repeatedly held that no such instruction is required.
As for Stratis’ hearsay statement implicating Santana, the jurist said it was not testimonial, so its admission did not violate the Confrontation Clause The trial judge, Kumar said, allowed the statement in as an adoptive admission or spontaneous statement, and the defense did not argue in the trial court that those exceptions did not apply.
Even if the statement was inadmissible, Kumar went on to say, there was no prejudice because the other evidence implicating Santana as the shooter was “overwhelming.”
“The murder weapon was found in his discarded backpack. A holster found under appellant’s bed contained impressions corresponding to the murder weapon. Additionally, in his conversation with a fellow inmate, appellant implied that he was the shooter. Fernandez heard appellant say he shot the victim. And appellant himself twice told Alegre that he shot Hsu. Moreover, the only evidence pointing to anyone else as the gunman was appellant’s self-serving testimony that although he heard gunshots in the house, he did not shoot anyone. It is not reasonably probable the jury would have found appellant was not the shooter absent evidence of Stratis’s out-of-court statement.”
Attorneys on appeal were Donald R. Tickle, by appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorneys General Victoria B. Wilson, Joseph P. Lee and Jonathan J. Kline for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Santana, B227143.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company