Aluiso
v.
State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District, HoustonMay 17, 2011
No. 14-10-00219-CR (Tex. App. May. 17, 2011)

No. 14-10-00219-CR

Opinion filed May 17, 2011. DO NOT PUBLISH — Tex. R. App. P. 47.2(b).

On Appeal from the 23rd District Court Brazoria County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 57336.

Panel consists of Justices BROWN, BOYCE, and JAMISON.


MEMORANDUM OPINION


Raymond Deleon Aluiso, II appeals his murder conviction on the grounds that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support his conviction. A jury found appellant guilty and assessed punishment at confinement for 99 years and a $10,000 fine. We affirm.

Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.02 (b) (Vernon 2003).

Background

Appellant was indicted for the murder of the complainant Alejandro Nava on June 12, 2008. A four-day jury trial was held on February 1, 2010. Vanessa Ramirez, appellant's former girlfriend and the mother of his young daughter, testified at trial. Ramirez said she was at home with her new boyfriend, the complainant Alejandro Nava, and her son and daughter at approximately 12:30 a.m. on April 23, 2008 when she heard someone knock on the back door of her house. Ramirez opened the door and saw appellant standing at the back door. Appellant "was crying, telling [Ramirez] that he wanted to see his daughter." Ramirez went to the living room to get their daughter. She stepped outside with their daughter in her arms to talk to appellant. Ramirez testified that appellant asked if he could see his daughter "now that [Ramirez has] a boyfriend." Appellant kept telling Ramirez that "he wants to see her, that now he can see his daughter." When Ramirez told appellant that he could not come late to the house and needed to call before coming over, appellant became upset and questioned Ramirez about who was at her house. Ramirez and appellant started arguing about appellant "not being there" for their daughter. Ramirez repeatedly asked appellant to leave. As she opened the door to enter her house, appellant pushed Ramirez and their daughter out of the way and ran into the house. No one was in the living room so appellant ran into the hallway. The complainant was in the doorway of the master bedroom. Appellant ran to the complainant and aggressively "bucked up to him sideways." The complainant told appellant to "chill" but appellant punched the complainant in the face with his fist. Ramirez observed appellant and the complainant "shoving each other" and "grabbing on each other." Ramirez did not see a weapon. The complainant then punched appellant, and appellant dropped on the floor. When appellant got up, he grabbed the complainant in a "bear hug." The complainant pushed appellant off of him and ran in the living room toward the house's front door. Ramirez followed the complainant. Appellant also came to the living room; appellant was "laughing and saying `got him, got him.'" Ramirez then noticed blood dripping down the complainant's face and the left side of his stomach. The complainant fell against the wall and then fell on the floor. Ramirez was holding the complainant and applied pressure to his stomach in an effort to stop the bleeding. Appellant left Ramirez's house slamming the back door behind him. Appellant then returned to the house, and Ramirez saw appellant pick up something from the living room floor and run out the back door again. Ramirez did not know what appellant picked up from the floor. Ramirez's brother later arrived at her house, and he called 911. Ramirez testified that she did not see appellant or the complainant with a weapon; she also testified that the complainant had no wounds and was not bleeding before the fight with appellant. Ramirez admitted that she had smoked a "joint amount" of marihuana with the complainant before appellant came to her house. She denied being intoxicated. Dispatcher Klarisa Yzquierdo McEntire testified that she answered a 911 call reporting a stabbing in the early morning hours of April 23, 2008. McEntire sent police officers and an ambulance to the Ramirez residence. Freeport Police Officer John Rutherford testified that he was dispatched to Ramirez's house. He was the first to respond and arrived approximately five to 10 minutes after the complainant was stabbed. When he arrived, the complainant was still alive. Officer Rutherford was able to speak to the complainant and determine that the complainant was in severe pain from stab wounds. Officer Rutherford also spoke to Ramirez for 10 to 15 minutes. He did not believe Ramirez was intoxicated; Ramirez was focused and spoke in clear and complete sentences. Officer Rutherford testified that a warrant for appellant's arrest was issued on April 23, 2008 and that he arrested appellant for the complainant's murder on May 10, 2008. Freeport Detective Bruce Houston testified that he received a call at approximately 1:30 a.m. on April 23, 2008 to investigate the complainant's death. At Ramirez's house, Detective Houston saw blood on the back door screen and collected swabs from the blood on the door. He later also collected swabs and saliva samples from appellant's mouth. Detective Houston testified that he interviewed Ramirez at the Freeport Police station on the night of the stabbing; Ramirez did not appear to be intoxicated. Forensic scientist Christy Wimsatt testified that she performed a DNA analysis of the swabs Detective Houston took from appellant and the blood on Ramirez's back door screen. Wimsatt conducted a DNA comparison; the results of the comparison established that the DNA profile from appellant's swabs matched the DNA profile from the swabs of blood found on the back door screen in Ramirez's house. The Galveston County deputy medical examiner, Dr. Nobby Mambo, testified that he performed an autopsy on the complainant's body on April 23, 2008. Dr. Mambo noted the complainant was a "very healthy normal individual." He determined that the complainant died from a stab wound "just underneath the nipple." Dr. Mambo determined that the complainant suffered "a stab wound because it had most of the fissures of a stab wound caused by a knife or a serrated blade." In Dr. Mambo's opinion, the stab wound was caused by a knife, knife-like object, or sharp object. Dr. Mambo opined that the knife-like or sharp object travelled about four inches into the complainant's body between his ribs and punctured his heart. Dr. Mambo also opined that this wound caused the complainant's death. Although the complainant had some superficial wounds on his head, left rib cage, left arm, wrist, elbow, and armpit, these wounds would not have caused the complainant's death either independently or cumulatively. Christina Arechiga, who was appellant's girlfriend at the time of the stabbing, testified that she went to sleep at approximately 10 p.m. on April 22, 2008. Arechiga later heard appellant leave their trailer and drive away. At some point, appellant woke her up when he "banged on the door" of the trailer; however, Arechiga could not remember at what time appellant returned to the trailer. Arechiga opened the door; she saw appellant standing there without a shirt on and his shirt was wrapped around one of his hands. Arechiga testified that appellant "was rushing [her]. He was telling [her] come on, let's go, let's go." Arechiga thought appellant's behavior was unusual; nonetheless, she got dressed and left with appellant in a gray Dodge Charger — appellant was not driving his black truck. She did not know where appellant was driving to. Arechiga noticed blood on the car's steering wheel and gear shift; she realized that appellant had a cut on one of his fingers. Arechiga characterized appellant's driving as "crazy;" he was speeding and he was "just out of control." She testified that appellant's behavior was "[o]ut of control," he was "sweating and just panicking." When Arechiga first asked him what was going on, appellant told her to "be quiet and to let him think." Arechiga asked him again later what was going on and appellant told her that he had gone to Ramirez's house; "he had gotten into an argument, into a fight with her boyfriend;" and the complainant started fighting with him first. Appellant refused to tell Arechiga what specifically happened between appellant and the complainant. However, appellant "kept on saying, `What have I done, what have I done.'" Arechiga testified that she became mad at appellant because she "didn't know what he had done. [She] knew it was something bad." Arechiga asked appellant to stop the car, but appellant continued driving. He drove to their friend's house in Angleton; dropped Arechiga off there; and drove off alone. Arechiga testified that they arrived at the friend's house in "the early morning hours of April 23rd, 2008." Appellant later called Arechiga to tell her "[t]hat he was sorry and that he didn't mean to do whatever he did." Arechiga's brother, Marco Santoya, also testified at trial. Santoya testified that he saw appellant rent a gray Dodge Charger on April 22 or 23, 2008. Santoya also testified that he did not know appellant "to carry a knife on him, like a pocketknife." However, after refreshing his memory, Santoya admitted to earlier "testifying that [appellant] always carried a knife with him." Finally, Ida Robertson testified that appellant had called her between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. on April 23, 2008. She testified that appellant had told her that "something bad had happened." Robertson acknowledged that she had given a statement to a Freeport police officer, but she could not remember if appellant had told her, "I've been bad, Mama," or if he had told her that "something bad has happened." Robertson testified that she could not remember testifying before the grand jury on May 22, 2008 that appellant had told her, "I've been bad, Mama." The State then questioned Robertson: "So you did not testify `I've been bad, Mama,' and you were asked, `Yeah, right?' And then you testified, `I did something bad is what — exactly what he said.' You don't remember testifying to that?" Robertson responded that "[T]he wording has changed but, yeah, it was something to that effect." Robertson also testified that she and appellant never talked about what had happened on April 23, 2008. The jury found appellant guilty of murder. Appellant pled true to two enhancement paragraphs alleging that appellant committed two prior felony offenses. After the punishment phase of the trial, the jury assessed appellant's punishment at confinement for 99 years and a $10,000 fine. Appellant filed a timely appeal raising two issues.

Analysis

In his first and second issues, appellant argues that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support his murder conviction. We address appellant's sufficiency challenges under a single standard for evaluating legal sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding required to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. See Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 895, 912 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (plurality opinion) (holding that the Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S 307 (1979) legal sufficiency standard is the only standard that a reviewing court should apply in determining whether the evidence is sufficient to support each element of a criminal offense that the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt); id. at 913-14 (Cochran, J., concurring) (concluding that a separate factual sufficiency standard no longer applies in criminal cases). That standard requires us to determine whether, after considering all the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, a jury was rationally justified in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 902 (plurality opinion). Reconciling conflicting evidence is within the exclusive province of the jury. See Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001). The jury may choose to believe some testimony and disbelieve other testimony. Lancon v. State, 253 S.W.3d 699, 707 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). A jury is in the best position to evaluate the credibility of witnesses, and we afford due deference to the jury's determinations. See id. at 705; Marshall v. State, 210 S.W.3d 618, 625 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). The State is not required to present direct evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, to establish guilt. See Guevara v. State, 152 S.W.3d 45, 49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). "Circumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing guilt of the actor, and circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to establish guilt." Hooper v. State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). The logical force of the combined pieces of circumstantial evidence in the case, coupled with reasonable inferences from them, may be sufficient to establish guilt. Evans v. State, 202 S.W.3d 158, 166 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). The law does not require that each fact "point directly and independently to the guilt of the appellant, as long as the cumulative force of all the incriminating circumstances is sufficient to support the conviction." Hooper, 214 S.W.3d at 13; see Guevara, 152 S.W.3d at 49. A person commits murder if he (1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual; or (2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.02 (b) (Vernon 2003). Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his murder conviction because (1) the evidence does not show appellant stabbed the complainant with a knife or sharp object; (2) the State presented no evidence that appellant had a weapon to stab the complainant; (3) there was no testimony that appellant "made stabbing motions which the jury could rely on in finding [a]ppellant used some object to stab [the complainant] or that [the complainant] attempted to retreat into the bedroom he stood at the doorway of;" (4) "the State was unable to present any evidence that [the complainant]'s blood was found on [a]ppellant's clothing," or in the car appellant drove the night of the stabbing; (5) "[i]t is reasonable to conclude [a]ppellant suffered an injury to his fist, a common result in a fist fight, and the blood . . . Christina Arechiga witnessed . . . was that of the [a]ppellant;" (6) there is no evidence excluding Vanessa Ramirez and her brother as the ones who "committed the murder of [the complainant] after [a]ppellant fought with the complainant;" (7) there is no direct evidence indicating appellant inflicted the complainant's injury causing his death; and (8) "[a]lthough the evidence showed [a]ppellant inflicted blows to [the complainant] with his fist, no testimony was provided to show [a]ppellant stabbed [the complainant], no weapon was recovered, and no evidence supports [a]ppellant even possessed an object to stab [the complainant]." Based on the record before us, there is sufficient evidence to support appellant's murder conviction. The jury heard evidence that appellant and Ramirez had an argument outside of Ramirez's house on April 23, 2008. Ramirez asked appellant to leave, but he refused. Instead, appellant pushed Ramirez and their daughter out of the way and ran into the house to see who was with Ramirez at the house. Appellant aggressively approached the complainant, who was neither injured nor bleeding at the time, and then punched him in the face. Although Ramirez did not see a weapon, she did observe appellant and the complainant "shoving each other," "grabbing on each other," and "pushing back and forth." After appellant grabbed the complainant in a "bear hug," the complainant pushed appellant off of him and ran toward the house front door. Ramirez testified that she followed the complainant while appellant was in the living room "laughing and saying `got him, got him.'" Ramirez noticed that blood was dripping down the complainant's face and the left side of his stomach. Ramirez testified that the complainant was not bleeding and had no wounds before his fight with appellant. The complainant collapsed on the floor, and appellant fled the house. Appellant returned to the house to retrieve something from the living room floor. Thereafter, he immediately ran out the back door. Evidence of flight can support an inference of guilt. See Burks v. State, 876 S.W.2d 877, 903 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994); Robinson v. State, 236 S.W.3d 260, 267 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. ref'd). Arechiga testified that appellant arrived at their trailer with his shirt wrapped around his hand. Appellant rushed her to leave the trailer with him in the car he had rented. Once in the car, Arechiga noticed that appellant had a cut on his finger. Arechiga described appellant's driving as "crazy" and "out of control." According to Arechiga, appellant was "[o]ut of control" and "sweating and just panicking." Appellant told her that he had been in a fight with Ramirez's boyfriend. Although appellant refused to tell Arechiga what had happened, she "knew it was something bad." Appellant "kept on saying, `What have I done, what have I done.'" Arechiga also testified that appellant called her later to tell her "[t]hat he was sorry and that he didn't mean to do whatever he did." Robertson testified that appellant had called her between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. on April 23, 2008. When the State questioned Robertson whether she had testified before the grand jury that appellant had told her, "I've been bad, Mama" or "I did something bad," Robertson responded that she could not remember and that "it was something to that effect." Dr. Mambo testified that the complainant was a healthy individual who died from a stab wound. According to Dr. Mambo, the complainant's stab wound was caused by a knife, knife-like object, or sharp object. The jury heard that the complainant was not bleeding and had no wounds before the fight with appellant. After the fight, appellant was bleeding and died from a stab wound. Appellant fled the scene and only came back shortly to retrieve something from the living room floor. Even though the complainant's blood was not found on any of appellant's clothing, the jury was free to conclude that, because appellant was arrested nearly two weeks after the stabbing, he had plenty of time to dispose of the clothing he was wearing at the time of the stabbing. The jury also could consider that appellant was driving a rental car and not his own truck at the time of the stabbing. Further, the jury was free to believe that the cut on appellant's finger was not caused by a fist fight but by the same sharp object used to stab the complainant. Contrary to appellant's assertion that there is no evidence that appellant "even possessed an object to stab [the complainant]," Santoya testified that appellant "always carried a knife with him." Citing Pickering v. State, 596 S.W.2d 124, 128 (Tex. Crim. App. 1980), appellant incorrectly asserts that "[a] conviction based on circumstantial evidence cannot be sustained if the circumstances do not exclude every other reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt of the defendant." This requirement followed by the court in Pickering was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeals in Geesa v. State, 820 S.W.2d 154, 158 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991), overruled on other grounds by Paulson v. State, 28 S.W.3d 570, 573 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). See Scillitani v. State, 297 S.W.3d 498, 500 n. 1 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2009), rev'd on other grounds 315 S.W.3d 542 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). As we have stated above, "[c]ircumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing guilt of the actor, and circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to establish guilt." Hooper, 214 S.W.3d at 13. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, we find the combined force of the incriminating circumstances allowed the jury rationally to conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that appellant caused the complainant's death by stabbing him with a knife-like or sharp object. See Hooper, 214 S.W.3d at 13; see also Spiller v. State, No. 01-10-00399-CR, 2011 WL 1435075, at *3-4 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Apr. 14, 2011, no pet. h.) (evidence sufficient to find appellant possessed or used a deadly weapon to stab complainant when witnesses saw appellant chase complainant around a corner; appellant and complainant were momentarily alone; appellant fled the scene; witnesses found complainant's body; appellant was the only person to leave the area during the short span of time in which complainant was killed; no weapon was found on the scene; appellant was arrested a few hours after the stabbing; and blood on appellant's clothes and car door linked appellant to complainant). The evidence supporting appellant's guilt is sufficient in this case. Accordingly, we overrule appellant's two issues presented on appeal.

Conclusion

We affirm the judgment of the trial court.