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Martinez v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 28, 2019

RODOLFO MARTINEZ APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72CR-15-703 ] HONORABLE MARK LINDSAY, JUDGE

          Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C., by: Misty Wilson Borkowski, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          ROBIN F. WYNNE, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.

         Rodolfo Martinez appeals from a sentencing order of the Washington County Circuit Court reflecting convictions for capital murder, unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, and terroristic act, as well as a sentence enhancement for employing a firearm in the commission of a felony. He makes the following arguments on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in allowing hearsay testimony and failing to give a limiting instruction to the jury; (2) the trial court erred by denying his motions for directed verdict on the charges of capital murder and terroristic act, Class B felony; (3) the trial court imposed an illegal sentence because he was not found guilty on the firearm enhancement; and (4) comments by the trial court to the jury during the instructions on the terroristic-act charges prejudiced him. We affirm.

         Appellant was charged and tried in connection with the death of Jimmy Rodriguez. The State produced evidence at trial that Rodriguez had been standing in front of his aunt and uncle's home, conversing with a group of people when a blue car drove past. The car returned and pulled up in front of the house. The driver, Giovanni Vasquez, asked a question of the group; then a passenger, identified as appellant, fired several shots at the group. One of the bullets struck Rodriguez, killing him. Bullet holes were discovered in the residence as well as the residence next door. Appellant moved for directed verdicts, and the motions were denied. Appellant was convicted and sentenced as follows: life imprisonment on the count of capital murder; 480 months' imprisonment on the count of unlawful discharge of a firearm, Class Y felony; 60 months' imprisonment on the charge of unlawful discharge of a firearm, Class B felony; 480 months' imprisonment on the count of terroristic act, Class Y felony; 60 months' imprisonment on the two counts of terroristic act, Class B felony; and 84 months' imprisonment for the firearm enhancement.[1] This appeal followed.

         Directed-Verdict Motions

         In his second and third points on appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred by denying his motions for directed verdict. A motion for directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Pratt v. State, 359 Ark. 16, 194 S.W.3d 183 (2004). Double jeopardy considerations require us to consider a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence before other points are raised. Id. This court has repeatedly held that in reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and consider only the evidence that supports the verdict. Navarro v. State, 371 Ark. 179, 264 S.W.3d 530 (2007). We affirm a conviction if substantial evidence exists to support it. Id. Substantial evidence is that which is of sufficient force and character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a conclusion one way or the other, without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Id.

         Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion for directed verdict on the charge of capital murder. A person commits capital murder if, with the premeditated and deliberated purpose of causing the death of another person, the person causes the death of any person. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-10-101(a)(4) (Supp. 2017). As recounted above, the State produced the testimony of Eric Rodriguez, one of the men who was standing in front of the house, that appellant fired a gun at the group of men, killing Jimmy Rodriguez. The State also produced testimony from Viviana Romero that appellant told her he had shot Rodriguez. She further testified that appellant had a gun when he came to her house shortly after the shooting, that appellant told her he urinated on his hands in her bathroom to "destroy gun evidence," and that she and her brother first hid the gun appellant had in their attic, then buried it outside.

         Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient because Romero was not a credible witness, a man named Jose Delatorre confessed to the shooting and testified during the trial that he shot Jimmy Rodriguez, and the State's firearms expert was unable to link the bullet recovered from Jimmy Rodriguez's body to the alleged murder weapon. It is the sole province of the jury to determine a witness's credibility, as well as the weight and value to be given to the testimony. See Simpson v. State, 355 Ark. 294, 138 S.W.3d 671 (2003). Thus, the jury was free to believe the testimony of Viviana Romero and Eric Rodriguez and disbelieve the confession by Jose Delatorre. Further, there is nothing in our capital-murder statute that requires the State to prove anything regarding the weapon alleged to have been used. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction for capital murder.

         Appellant also contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion for directed verdict as to the two counts of terroristic act, Class B felony, [2] because Romero contradicted herself and had motive to lie, police were unable to link the bullets recovered from the residences to the alleged murder weapon, and there was no proof that the bullets recovered were fired during the incident. A person commits terroristic act, Class B felony, if the person shoots at an occupiable structure with the purpose to cause injury to a person or damage to property. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-13-302(a)(2) (Repl. 2013).

         The State produced testimony that appellant fired several rounds toward a group of people standing in front of a residence. The State is correct in its assertion that it was only required to prove that appellant shot at an occupiable structure with the intent to cause harm to a person or property, and that it was not required to prove that actual injury or damage occurred. The evidence adduced at trial was sufficient for the jury to conclude that appellant shot at an occupiable structure (the Rodriguez home) in an attempt to cause injury to the people standing in front of it. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction on two counts of terroristic act, Class B felony. We hold that the trial court did not err by denying appellant's motions for directed verdict on the charges of capital murder and terroristic act, Class B felony.

         Testimony of Detective Hendrix

         At trial, Detective Michael Hendrix testified after Eric Rodriguez. Appellant objected when Det. Hendrix was asked about information Rodriguez gave him during an interview following the shooting, arguing that Det. Hendrix's responses would be inadmissible hearsay. The State responded that the statements were not hearsay because they were not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but rather to explain Det. Hendrix's course of action. Appellant also argued that the testimony of Det. Hendrix would prejudice him by bolstering Eric Rodriguez's earlier testimony. In response to the objection, the trial court offered to give a limiting instruction concerning the purpose of Det. Hendrix's testimony. Appellant agreed to the trial court's offer and Det. Hendrix was permitted to testify regarding Eric Rodriguez's responses to his questioning. The trial court never gave the limiting instruction.

         On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred by permitting the hearsay testimony of Det. Hendrix and failing to give the limiting instruction. The State contends that any error in admitting Det. Hendrix's testimony was rendered harmless by appellant's failure to object to substantially similar testimony of a later witness. Det. Hendrix testified that Eric Rodriguez told him that a blue car driven by Giovanni Vasquez stopped in front of the house, then "words were exchanged, and shots were fired." Rodriguez also said that he recognized the shooter but did not know his name. Later, Benaiah Townsend with the Springdale Police Department testified without objection that Eric Rodriguez stated during an interview that the car was a blue Ford Focus driven by Giovanni Vasquez and that Rodriguez had seen the shooter before but did not know his name. This court will not reverse an evidentiary ruling absent a showing of prejudice. Sauerwin v. State, 363 Ark. 324, 214 S.W.3d 266 (2005). Evidence that is merely ...


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