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State v. Candelaria

Supreme Court of New Mexico

December 13, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DAVID CANDELARIA, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Jacqueline Flores, District Judge

          John A. McCall Law Works, LLC Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Maris Veidemanis, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          OPINION

          VIGIL, JUSTICE.

         {¶1} This case stems from the tragic death of an innocent eight-year-old child as a result of a violent confrontation between two groups of men. Consequently, a jury convicted David Candelaria (Defendant) of first-degree depraved mind murder, two counts of shooting at or from a motor vehicle, and three counts of aggravated assault. One count of shooting at or from a motor vehicle was later vacated on double jeopardy grounds. The district court sentenced Defendant to life in prison plus nine years. Defendant now appeals his convictions for depraved mind murder and aggravated assault and asks this Court to vacate the convictions or order a new trial. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm Defendant's convictions and deny the relief requested.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {¶2} On the morning of May 31, 2013, Defendant and his son, David Candelaria, Jr.

         (David Jr.), went to the home of Richard Turrieta, Sr. (Richard Sr.) on the west side of Albuquerque. Defendant and Richard Sr. had been close friends since high school. Sometime later that afternoon, the group-Defendant, David Jr., Richard Sr., and Richard Turrieta, Jr. (Richard Jr.)-left Richard Sr.'s house and drove to Nine Mile Hill, west of Albuquerque, to take Defendant's truck "four-wheeling." Defendant's truck got stuck in the sand and could not be freed, so the group started walking back to town. A nearby resident gave them a ride to Coors Boulevard and Bridge Boulevard, where the group began walking east of Coors toward the Alamosa Community Center (community center). Richard Sr. testified that as the group was walking north to Gonzales Road, a vehicle, later determined to be driven by Rudy Chavez Montoya (Rudy), which was also traveling north towards Gonzales Road, pulled close to the curb and stopped a few feet away from Defendant's group. According to Richard Sr., Richard Sr. asked Rudy for a ride and Rudy cursed at him, made a quick u-turn, and tried to run the group down as the group was walking on Airport Drive, the road that goes into the community center. Rudy, on the other hand, testified that he was headed toward the community center on Airport Drive to pick up some friends when he encountered the group "blocking the road." He explained that the group was walking in the middle of the road, away from the community center. He said the group approached him and asked him for a ride, and Rudy responded that he could not give the group a ride because he was picking up friends and his vehicle was full. Rudy testified that Defendant's group was "mad" when Rudy refused to pick them up. David Jr. testified that Rudy spoke to the group saying, "You guys look familiar," to which Richard Jr. replied, "Don't act hard." Witness testimony differed as to the actual words exchanged by the parties and whether Rudy attempted to run over Defendant's group during this first encounter. According to Richard Sr., approximately twenty minutes passed before his group encountered Rudy again.

         {¶3} Rudy proceeded to the community center where he picked up his friend, Troy Fontanelle (Troy), Troy's younger brother Logan Fontanelle (Logan), and Troy's eight-year-old daughter, Sunni Reza (Sunni). Rudy sat in the driver's seat, Logan in the front passenger seat, Troy in the back seat behind Logan, and Sunni in the back middle seat beside Troy. Logan testified that Rudy told them about the incident with Defendant's group after Rudy picked up Logan and the others. Rudy and his passengers then headed north on Airport Drive toward Gonzales Road to pick up Rudy's daughter at his sister's house at 60th Street and Gonzales Road. Rudy testified that when he turned right onto Gonzales Road, Defendant's group jumped into the road, causing Rudy to stop his vehicle. Logan testified that Defendant's group was about a half a block away, but was walking toward them. Richard Sr. testified that the driver stopped on Gonzales Road; and according to Richard Jr., the vehicle was about eighty to one hundred yards away from Defendant's group. Logan testified that he was seated in the front passenger seat of Rudy's vehicle and could hear Defendant's group yelling at them. He testified that he got out of Rudy's vehicle and said, "Why are you guys trying to jump my friend?" Rudy told the police that Logan had also asked Defendant's group if the group wanted to fight. Rudy testified that after Logan got out of the vehicle someone in Defendant's group started shooting. Logan testified that he heard gunshots and then saw one bullet hit the ground in front of him when he was standing outside Rudy's vehicle. He said he then jumped in the vehicle and at that point the next shot came through the windshield. This was the shot that hit Sunni. Rudy testified that he tried to run over Defendant's group with his vehicle after the group started shooting, but the group ran into an alley. He said that during the shooting he turned the vehicle around to avoid the bullets, headed towards Coors Boulevard, and realized that Sunni had been shot. Rudy drove Sunni to a nearby fire station for assistance and the fire department then took Sunni to the hospital. Sunni died of a gunshot wound to the forehead.

         {¶4} David Jr. testified that a person got out of Rudy's vehicle on the passenger side and he thought someone in the vehicle "possibly" had "a handgun or a rifle," but they were a "hundred yards out" and he "couldn't get a clear description of what it was." When police asked David Jr. who fired the shots, however, he said, "I'm pretty sure it was our party." In a statement to police, Defendant said that a person jumped out from what appeared to be the front passenger side of Rudy's vehicle with a machine gun. Defendant also told police that the person was pointing a rifle straight at him. Richard Sr. testified that it seemed like the driver, as well as a passenger, exited Rudy's vehicle but stayed behind the doors, and when they got out of the vehicle he and Richard Jr. fled the scene. Richard Sr. indicated that he was too far from the vehicle to be able to see if anyone in Rudy's vehicle had a weapon. Rudy and Logan testified that no one in Rudy's vehicle had a weapon or a firearm.

         {¶5} David Jr. testified that Defendant had a handgun on him that day that had been retrieved from Defendant's truck at Nine Mile Hill when Defendant's group left the truck to walk back into town. It is unclear from the testimony who retrieved the gun from Defendant's truck. David Jr. testified that during this second encounter with Rudy's vehicle, Defendant fired the gun twice in the air and twice at the vehicle. In his statement to police, Defendant admitted firing the gun twice in the air and twice at the vehicle. David Jr. testified that he and Defendant then ran. David Jr. further testified that when Defendant dropped the gun, David Jr. picked it up and tried to hide it under a building. Officers testified to finding the gun under a portable school building. David Jr. later pled guilty to possession of a gun on school grounds and tampering with evidence.

         {¶6} The State introduced two witness statements given to police that indicated that one of the occupants in Rudy's vehicle may have had a pistol and that one of the occupants was possibly shooting from the vehicle. An officer testified that police used those statements to obtain search warrants for locations where Rudy was believed to have gone after the incident. Officers found a rifle in Rudy's parents' home, but Rudy's parents testified that it did not work and Rudy's mother said their children did not even know about it.

         {¶7} Detectives found five shell casings in the road that matched the cartridges in Defendant's gun that was hidden under the school building. No other shell casings were found at the scene and no firearms or rifles were found in Rudy's vehicle.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Depraved Mind Murder in New Mexico

         {¶8} We begin our examination of Defendant's convictions with an explanation of depraved mind murder in New Mexico. In New Mexico, depraved mind murder is classified as a first-degree offense. See NMSA 1978, § 30-2-1(A)(3) (1994). As such, depraved mind murder is a capital felony, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. See NMSA 1978, § 31-20A-2 (2009). Depraved mind murder is defined as "the killing of one human being by another without lawful justification or excuse . . . by any act greatly dangerous to the lives of others, indicating a depraved mind regardless of human life." Section 30-2-1(A)(3).

         {¶9} Our courts, receiving little guidance from our Legislature, have struggled to distinguish first-degree depraved mind murder from second-degree murder. Although the parties do not address the fine distinction between depraved mind murder and second-degree murder in their briefing, we take this opportunity to define the distinction between the two types of murder in an effort to assist parties and lower courts in the future. Second-degree murder, which carries a basic penalty of fifteen years in prison, is defined as follows:

Unless [the person] is acting upon sufficient provocation, upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion, a person who kills another human being without lawful justification or excuse commits murder in the second degree if in performing the acts which cause the death [the person] knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another.

         Section 30-2-1(B). See NMSA 1978, § 31-18-15(A)(4) (2016). The knowledge requirement of depraved mind murder-knowledge that an act is "greatly dangerous to the lives of others, indicating a depraved mind regardless of human life," as distinguished from the knowledge requirement of second-degree murder-knowledge that an act "create[s] a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to [an] individual or another [person]," "has vexed New Mexico courts since 1980, when New Mexico's current statutory definitions of the mens reas for murder in the first-and second-degree were enacted." Section 30-2-1(A)(3); Section 30-2-1(B); State v. Suazo, 2017-NMSC-011, ¶ 18, 390 P.3d 674; see UJI 14-203 NMRA; UJI 14-210 NMRA. Recently, in Suazo, this Court clarified that first-degree depraved mind murder and second-degree murder share the same subjective knowledge requirement-that a defendant know "the probable consequences" of the defendant's act, as opposed to should have known of the probable consequences. 2017-NMSC-011, ¶ 16. These requirements being equal, we turn to the defining characteristic of depraved mind murder-that the defendant acted with a depraved mind-to better understand the difference between the two crimes. See State v. Reed, 2005-NMSC-031, ¶ 21, 138 N.M. 365, 120 P.3d 447.

         {¶10} Prior to 2009, our depraved mind murder jury instruction provided the following:

The defendant is charged with first degree murder by an act greatly dangerous to the lives of others indicating a depraved mind without regard for human life. For you to find the defendant guilty [as charged in Count ___ ][ ], the state must prove to your satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements of the crime:
1. The defendant ___ (describe act of defendant);
2. The defendant's act caused[ ] the death of ___ (name of victim);
3. The act of the defendant was greatly dangerous to the lives of others, indicating a depraved mind without regard for human life;
4. The defendant knew that his act was greatly dangerous to the lives of others;
5.This happened in New Mexico on or about the ___ day of ___, ___.

UJI 14-203 NMRA (2008). To assist jurors in understanding what constitutes a depraved mind, our jury instruction was amended in 2009 to add the following explanation:

A person acts with a depraved mind by intentionally engaging in outrageously reckless conduct with a depraved kind of wantonness or total indifference for the value of human life. Mere negligence or recklessness is not enough. In addition, the defendant must have a corrupt, perverted, or malicious state of mind, such as when a person acts with ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent. Whether a person acted with a depraved mind may be inferred from all the facts and circumstances of the case.

UJI 14-203 NMRA (2009). No further modifications of the language of the instruction have been made. As may be gleaned from the amended instruction, this Court has established four primary indicators of a depraved mind that aid in distinguishing first-degree depraved mind murder from second-degree murder. The four indicators of a depraved mind are as follows: (1) "more than one person [was] endangered by the defendant's act," (2) the defendant's act was "intentional" and "extremely reckless," (3) the defendant had "subjective knowledge that his act was greatly dangerous to the lives of others," and (4) the defendant's act "encompass[ed] an intensified malice or evil intent." State v. Dowling, 2011-NMSC-016, ¶ 11, 150 N.M. 110, 257 P.3d 930 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). We explain each of these indicators, below.

         {¶11} First, depraved mind murder is "limited to acts that are dangerous to more than one person," such as "shooting into a crowd" or "placing a bomb in a public place." Reed, 2005-NMSC-031, ¶ 22 (citations omitted). Other types of conduct evidencing a high degree of risk include "starting a fire at the front door of an occupied dwelling, shooting into the caboose of a passing train or into a moving automobile necessarily occupied by human beings, and driving a car at very high speeds along a main street." UJI 14-203 committee commentary (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Thus, we have looked to the "number of persons exposed to danger by a defendant's extremely reckless behavior." UJI 14-203 committee commentary (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This Court appeared to momentarily abandon the first indicator in State v. Brown, when it announced that "the number of persons may be a factor in assessing the degree of the risk disregarded . . . [but] should not be determinative of the degree of murder charged." 1996-NMSC-073, ¶ 14, 122 N.M. 724, 931 P.2d 69 (omission in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court subsequently clarified, however, that it was declining to depart from prior precedent, and would continue to limit depraved mind murder to acts dangerous to more than one person. Reed, 2005-NMSC-031, ¶ 37.

         {¶12} Second, depraved mind murder requires an intentional act of "extremely reckless character." Dowling, 2011-NMSC-016, ¶ 11. The act must be "greatly dangerous to the lives of others." UJI 14-203. "[T]he accused must subjectively intend to commit an act that has a great likelihood of resulting in death." Dowling, 2011-NMSC-016, ¶ 11 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The act must be "outrageously reckless," as "[m]ere negligence or recklessness is not enough." UJI 14-203.

         {¶13} Third, depraved mind murder requires "proof that the defendant had subjective knowledge that his act was greatly dangerous to the lives of others." Reed, 2005-NMSC-031, ¶ 23 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As noted above, both first-degree depraved mind murder and second-degree murder require that a defendant know the possible consequences of the defendant's act. See Suazo, 2017-NMSC-011, ¶ 16. Subjective knowledge requires that a defendant know that his act is greatly dangerous to the lives of others, but the "defendant does not have to actually know that his victim will be injured by his act." State v. Ibn Omar-Muhammad, 1985-NMSC-006, ¶ 21, 102 N.M. 274, 694 P.2d 922, holding modified on other grounds by State v. Cleve, 1999-NMSC-017, ¶ 22, 127 N.M. 240, 980 P.2d 23. "The required mens rea element of 'subjective knowledge' serves as proof that the accused acted with 'a depraved mind' or 'wicked or malignant heart' and with utter disregard for human life." UJI 14-203 committee commentary (emphasis, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted). Because the subjective knowledge requirement is the same for first-degree depraved mind murder and second-degree murder, the only distinguishing factor in this regard is a defendant's knowledge that the defendant's act is greatly dangerous to the life of more than one person. Cf. Section 30-2-1(B) (providing that second-degree murder encompasses acts that create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to an individual or another person).

         {¶14} That leaves us with the fourth primary indicator our Court has used to distinguish depraved mind murder-"an intensified malice or evil intent." Reed, 2005-NMSC-031, ¶ 24 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). As explained in our depraved mind murder instruction, depraved mind murder requires that a defendant "intentionally engag[e] in outrageously reckless conduct with a depraved kind of wantonness or total indifference for the value of human life." UJI 14-203; seeReed, 2005-NMSC-031, ΒΆ 24. "In addition, the defendant must have a corrupt, perverted, or malicious state of mind, such as when a person acts with ill will, hatred, spite, or evil intent." UJI 14-203. "Whether a person acted with a depraved mind may be inferred from all the facts ...


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