Monday, January 23, 2012
C.A. Upholds Convictions in Two Gang-Related Murder Cases
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district Friday affirmed the convictions of three people involved in two gang-related murders.
Div. Three rejected challenges to the convictions of Javier Fuentes and Maria Alaniz, both 21 at the time, for the shooting of 18-year-old North Hollywood resident
Walter Lopez in October 2006. The pair were also convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on two victims in August 2006, and Fuentes was convicted of an assault with a deadly weapon on two other men in June or July of that year.
The appellate panel upheld those convictions as well.
Fuentes is serving consecutive terms of 75 years to life, life plus 25 years to life, and 27 years, eight months in prison. Alaniz is serving terms of 15 years to life, plus nine years.
In an unrelated case, the court upheld Joel Aguilar’s conviction and sentence for the 2005 murder of James Pardue outside and apartment building at Sixth and Alvarado. Aguilar was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
Lopez was killed by a shotgun blast to the back. Witnesses said Alaniz drove Fuentes and another man to the location, and that both men began shooting at Lopez and two other men.
Alaniz was also identified as the getaway driver in the August shootings. Prosecutors also presented testimony that the crime was committed for the benefit of a street gang.
No evidence was presented on behalf of Fuentes. Alaniz’s counsel presented testimony that she was present during the August shootings but not involved, and that she was elsewhere on the night of the murder.
On appeal, the defense argued that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan M. Speer erred in allowing Billy Lazaro, outside whose residence the murder occurred, to testify that Fuentes told Lopez “we’re gonna get you” and that he had on multiple occasions told Lazaro that Lopez was going to be the victim of a “187”—the Penal Code section on murder.
The defendant’s lawyers claimed that the testimony violated the Bruton/Aranda rule, which generally bars using the out-of-court statements of a non-testifying defendant to incriminate another defendant at a joint trial before a single jury.
Justice Patti Kitching, in an unpublished opinion, explained that the evidence did not violate the rule as to Fuentes because they were his own statements, and that there was no violation as to Alaniz because the statements did not incriminate her. Nor, the justice said, were Alaniz’s Confrontation Clause rights violated, because the statements were not made to police and could not be held testimonial.
The court also upheld the judge’s denial of instructions on third party culpability. While the evidence indicated that a third person was present and may have been involved in the crimes, there was no evidence from which jurors could have concluded that Fuentes was uninvolved.
“Fuentes, as was his right, presented no defense evidence, a fortiori, none pointing to a culpable third party,” the justice explained. “Nor did Alaniz present evidence that someone else, and not Fuentes, committed the crimes.”
Fuentes was represented on appeal by Lynda A. Romero, by appointment; Alaniz by Susan K. Shaler, also by appointment; and the state by Deputy Attorneys General Blythe J. Leszkay and David Zarmi.
In the other appeal, Aguilar claimed that Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo gave an erroneous instruction with regard to evidence that the defendant was a member of the 18th Street gang. Kitching, however, said the instructions were proper and were appropriately limited to the relevant issue of whether the crime was gang-related.
Even if the instructions were erroneous, or the evidence so unduly prejudicial with regard to other issues that its admission was an abuse of discretion, the error was harmless, Kitching said, because there was sufficient independent evidence that the defendant committed premeditated murder.
Daniel G. Koryn represented Aguilar by appointment; the state was represented by Deputy Attorneys General James W. Bilderback II and Sonya Roth.
The cases are People v. Fuentes, B220827, and People v. Aguilar, B225759.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company