Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals. Case No. 09CA572.
In this case, the supreme court considers the effect of an erroneous deliberation instruction in a first-degree murder trial where defense counsel's trial objection failed to identify the ground that rendered the deliberation instruction erroneous. The supreme court holds that the plain error standard applies because the defense objection provided the trial court with no meaningful chance to avoid the instructional error. The supreme court concludes that the instructional error does not merit reversal under the plain error standard because overwhelming evidence proved that the defendant deliberated, and the jury instructions as a whole adequately explained the law. The court also holds that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict the defendant of first-degree murder after deliberation.
Attorneys for Petitioner: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Shann Renee Jeffery, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, CO.
Attorneys for Respondent: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Elizabeth Fraser Rohrbough, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, CO.
[¶1] In this appeal, we review the court of appeals' opinion upholding the petitioner's conviction for first-degree murder after deliberation under a complicity theory. When the trial court defined the element of " after deliberation" for the jury, it used language that this court has held to be constitutionally deficient. At trial, defense counsel objected to the language on the grounds that it was cumulative and unnecessary but erroneously acknowledged that it correctly stated the law. The trial court overruled the objection, and the jury later found the defendant guilty as charged. On appeal the defendant raised for the first time the argument that this court previously disapproved of the definition of " after deliberation" used in the jury instructions, and that the erroneous deliberation instruction was so prejudicial as to require reversal under the plain error standard. He also renewed his claim, first raised in a motion for a judgment of acquittal, that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of first-degree murder after deliberation. The court of appeals reviewed the instruction for plain error and ultimately upheld the defendant's conviction. We now affirm.
[¶2] We hold that the plain error standard applies because defense counsel's trial objection failed to identify the ground that rendered the instruction erroneous. We conclude that the instructional error did not amount to plain error because overwhelming evidence proved that the defendant deliberated, and the jury instructions as a whole adequately explained the law. Additionally, we hold that there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant of first-degree murder after deliberation. We therefore affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to that court with instructions to return the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I. Facts and Proceedings Below
[¶3] During the early morning hours of June 29, 2005, the victim, Daniel Medina,
called his ex-wife, Christine Sayesva, eighteen times. Then, around 3 a.m., he woke the ex-couple's son and told him that they had to " go take care of something." The victim was angry and wanted to bring guns, but his son convinced him to leave the firearms at home and " handle it like men." The victim drove his son to Sayesva's house, got out of the car, and sent his son inside to find Sayesva. At the time, the defendant, Joe Martinez, lived with Sayesva, his girlfriend. When the victim and his son arrived, Sayesva was in the kitchen. Sayesva, the defendant, and Gabriel Tapia (the co-defendant), had recently returned to Sayesva's house after a late night out. As the victim's son approached the house, he noticed that the porch light was off, but the door was open, and the family's dogs were nowhere to be seen. He testified that this was " pretty odd." He saw neither the defendant nor the co-defendant, but spoke briefly with his mother in the kitchen. She seemed upset. Within minutes, he heard gunfire and rushed his little sister and her friend, who were asleep on the couch, to an upstairs bedroom. When he went back downstairs, the victim was dead in the street, and the defendant and co-defendant had left in Sayesva's car.
[¶4] Physical evidence showed that the victim confronted the defendant and co-defendant on Sayesva's porch. No witnesses saw what happened on the porch, but several heard a loud argument followed bye gunshots. One neighbor heard a male voice shout, " Get out of my house," followed by a series of " popping noises." The victim was shot five times and dragged, alive but incapacitated, into the street in front of Sayesva's house. One bullet had broken his right femur, another had disabled his right arm, and three more had pierced his chest and abdomen. A bullet impact on the porch suggests that a sixth round was fired, though investigators later recovered only five intact fired bullets and several metal fragments. The evidence conflicts as to whether one or both men dragged the victim away from the house, but several neighbors saw both the defendant and co-defendant standing over the victim as he lay in the street. The defendant stood by the victim's head and the co-defendant by his feet while both men continued to shout at the victim. One neighbor heard the defendant say, " See what happens when you mess with my house." The co-defendant then shot the victim in the face with Sayesva's six-shot revolver, killing him.
[¶5] A neighbor saw the defendant " grab [the co-defendant] to lead him away," and the two fled in Sayesva's car. The defendant drove, and the co-defendant sat in the front passenger's seat. Alerted by witnesses, the police soon stopped the car and arrested both men. Officers found Sayesva's revolver under the car on the passenger's side; it appeared that the co-defendant had tried to abandon it as he got out of the car when he was arrested. Officers also found unspent cartridges in the car and in the defendant's pockets. All were the same caliber and brand as the rounds fired ...