Hernandez
v.
State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, DallasJul 13, 2010
No. 05-09-00106-CR (Tex. App. Jul. 13, 2010)

No. 05-09-00106-CR

Opinion Filed July 13, 2010. DO NOT PUBLISH. Tex. R. App. P. 47

On Appeal from the Criminal District Court No. 6 Dallas County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. F07-59095-X.

Before Justices RICHTER, LANG-MIERS, and MYERS.


OPINION


A jury convicted Ricardo Rosales Hernandez of murdering his common-law wife, Elsa Rodriguez, and found that he used a deadly weapon during the commission of the offense. It assessed appellant's punishment at forty-five years in prison. In appellant's sole issue on appeal, he contends that the jury's guilty verdict is against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence supporting his insanity defense. We affirm.

Background

The facts surrounding the offense are basically undisputed. Appellant met Rodriguez when he was about nineteen or twenty years old. They lived together and had four children during the relationship. Although Rodriguez never told appellant that the children were not his, he had doubts about whether he was their father because Rodriguez admitted she had been unfaithful, and he did not trust her. Over the years, appellant and Rodriguez had financial difficulties and appellant's stepfather and brother would help them financially. At various times, appellant and Rodriguez lived with both appellant's stepfather and brother. Appellant's stepfather testified that a few years ago, appellant began experiencing paranoid delusions. Appellant drove a truck for a living at the time and believed other truck drivers were trying to run him off the road. He also believed his boss was trying to kill him. He lost his job and his commercial driver's license. Appellant's stepfather took him to Green Oaks Hospital in 2004 for a psychiatric evaluation. A psychiatrist there diagnosed him as having bipolar disorder and prescribed medication. Appellant's condition improved when he took his medications, but he quit taking the medications when he began to feel better because he did not think he needed them. Then the paranoid delusions would return. Around this same time period, appellant's stepfather moved to Colorado "because he could no longer deal with [appellant's] behavior." However, he allowed appellant to stay with him there, and he gave appellant a job. Appellant returned to Dallas on occasion to visit the children. In January 2005, appellant was in Dallas. He threw a shoe at Rodriguez, missing her and hitting their child. The Department of Child Protective Services became involved. Rodriguez told the CPS worker that appellant had been treated at Green Oaks Hospital twice since January 2005. The report noted that Rodriguez had bruises on her arm and leg that she said were inflicted by appellant. Appellant admitted to the CPS worker that he was not taking his medications because they made him feel groggy and he was unable to think clearly or work. It also stated that appellant "is convinced that Ms. Rodriguez is spying on him, that she has installed video cameras in their apartment to monitor his movements, and that she has cheated on him." In a subsequent interview at the apartment, appellant told the CPS worker that his wife was a witch, that she cut off the heads of animals and humans, and that she hid the heads in the apartment. On multiple occasions, appellant agreed to stay away from the apartment, but he always returned. He admitted to the CPS worker that he used cocaine, and the worker stated appellant consumed alcohol in her presence. In February 2005, Rodriguez called the police again because of appellant's cocaine abuse and violent behavior. The police took appellant to Parkland, where he was evaluated and eventually admitted to Terrell State Hospital. Dr. Mitchell Dunn, his treating psychiatrist at Terrell, diagnosed appellant with paranoid schizophrenia and cocaine abuse. Dr. Dunn testified that he initially thought appellant's delusions were caused by cocaine abuse, but he changed his opinion when appellant continued to suffer paranoid delusions over a month after being admitted and without access to illegal drugs. Dr. Dunn testified that appellant thought his wife was a witch and hid parts of animals and humans in the apartment. Appellant was released from Terrell in March 2005. He went back to Colorado to stay with his stepfather, but returned to Dallas permanently in late 2006 or early 2007. When appellant returned from Colorado, his relationship with Rodriguez did not go well. A neighbor, Teresa Molina, testified that appellant was very controlling of Rodriguez and that Rodriguez was scared of him. Molina testified that she heard appellant threaten to kill Rodriguez on two occasions. She said appellant treated Rodriguez "real demeaning," "like she was nothing." She said he had "no respect for her whatsoever." Molina testified that she and Rodriguez got together about three nights a week and smoked crack cocaine; she recalled that on one of these occasions, appellant also smoked crack with them. In October 2007, Rodriguez called the police again. Appellant was threatening to kill himself by jumping off a bridge on Interstate 30. The police took appellant to Green Oaks Hospital. During the psychiatric evaluation, appellant denied a history of psychotic symptoms or illegal drug use, and he "requested something to calm him down from his anger." He stated he had no hallucinations or delusions. Appellant was admitted to Green Oaks on October 2, 2007 and discharged on October 3, 2007. On the evening of November 11, 2007, three of Rodriguez's children were staying with a neighbor; only the youngest, two-year-old V., was at home. Appellant came home that evening around 8 p.m., and he and Rodriguez fought. Rodriguez told appellant to get out of the apartment because she was tired of him. And appellant was mad at Rodriguez because she "won't do anything" around the house. At some point that night, appellant went to his son's room to watch television; he said he was watching The Bourne Identity. Rodriguez was lying on the living room floor watching television, and V. was asleep on the couch in the living room. Appellant said God spoke to him through the television and told him to kill Rodriguez. He went to the kitchen, got a steak knife, walked into the living room, and stabbed Rodriguez repeatedly. Rodriguez screamed and woke up V. V. saw what was happening, so appellant put the knife on the kitchen counter, picked up V., moved her to the bedroom, and told her not to leave. One of the officers at the apartment testified that appellant told her he knew V. "did not need to see what she was seeing," so he moved her to the bedroom and turned the television volume up. He went back into the living room and continued to stab Rodriguez "all over." He said "she wouldn't die for a while." After he stabbed Rodriguez about seventy times, he stopped and called 911. He told the 911 operator that he had just killed his wife. He also told the operator he was "bipolar," "mentally ill," and suffered from "psychotic behaviors, that's behaviors, with an `s.'" He said he took his medications "every now and then." And he told the operator God told him to kill his wife. Appellant waited inside the apartment for the police to arrive. He showed them the location of the knife and told them about his daughter in the bedroom. Appellant gave the police consent to search the apartment. He sat in a police car for over forty minutes as the police conducted the search. The in-car camera recorded appellant looking straight ahead, almost motionless, for most of the time. Officer Christopher Weckenmann sat in the car with appellant. He testified that appellant did not complain of hearing voices or having hallucinations, seemed aware of his surroundings, and followed what was happening. For example, the officer testified that he ran appellant's driver's license number on his in-car computer and when the address appeared on the screen, appellant said, "That's my old address." At the police station, appellant waived his rights and agreed to speak with Detective Richard Duggan. Appellant told Detective Duggan that God talked to him through the television and told him to kill Rodriguez. Later in the interview, appellant said he killed Rodriguez because of a combination of God telling him to do it and his anger toward her. Appellant said, "I didn't want to . . . but in my head I thought I had to" because God told him to do it. After describing how he killed Rodriguez, appellant said he was diagnosed as bipolar in 2004 at Green Oaks and also was treated at Dallas Metrocare Services (formerly Dallas County MHMR). He said he went to Green Oaks because he was hallucinating and Rodriguez made him "real angry." He said he attacked Rodriguez in the past and his life with her was "misery." He and Rodriguez never talked, never had any fun together, and she put him "through misery." He was not happy with her and he became psychotic and bipolar. He accused Rodriguez of stealing his property and said she always denied it when he confronted her about it. He thought Rodriguez was the cause of his depression, but said he did not feel depressed now because he felt "like a monkey off my back." He also agreed that killing Rodriguez made him feel like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. At the end of the interview, appellant told the detective "it was something I had to do . . . I was called to do it . . . God told me to do it. . . ." In jail after his arrest, appellant tried to scrape a tattoo off his arm; he kept toilet paper in his ears, nose, and belly button to prevent the bugs from getting in his body; and said he continued to hear God telling him to hurt himself and others. He told the jail psychiatric interviewer that he "just murdered my old lady" and that "she gave me a headache." He said his wife was the devil and "the Lord told me to kill her." And he said the only time he heard voices was when he was on drugs. The State and defense presented conflicting testimony on the insanity issue. The jury resolved the insanity issue against appellant. He contends in his sole issue on appeal that the jury's rejection of his insanity defense is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust.

Discussion

A defendant who was legally insane at the time of the offense cannot be convicted of the offense. Ruffin v. State, 270 S.W.3d 586, 591-92 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). A criminal defendant has the burden to prove his insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 2.04, 8.01(a) (Vernon 2003); Ruffin, 270 S.W.3d at 592. Insanity means that at the time of the offense, the defendant, because of a severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong. Ruffin, 270 S.W.3d at 592. "Wrong" means "illegal." Id. "[T]he question for deciding insanity is this: Does the defendant factually know that society considers this conduct against the law, even though the defendant, due to his mental disease or defect, may think that the conduct is morally justified?" Id. In resolving this issue, "the correct standard of review is whether after considering all the evidence relevant to the issue at hand, the judgment is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence so as to be manifestly unjust." Ex parte Schuessler, 846 S.W.2d 850, 852 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Meraz v. State, 785 S.W.2d 146, 155 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)). The jury determines the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence. Bigby v. State, 892 S.W.2d 864, 878 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994). And before we may overturn a jury's decision, "the fact issue must be undisputed or resolved to one end of the spectrum, and that fact determination must be found to lie outside the realm of discretion accorded the jury under the applicable standard. . . ." Id. (quoting Graham v. State, 566 S.W.2d 941, 952 n. 3 (Tex. Crim. App. 1978)). The State presented the testimony of the officers involved in appellant's arrest and subsequent investigation, Rodriguez's friend and neighbor, and the maintenance manager at the apartment complex where appellant and Rodriguez lived. During cross-examination in the defense case-in-chief, the State also introduced the report of its expert, Dr. Michael Pittman, a psychiatrist who evaluated appellant and concluded that appellant was sane at the time of the offense. The officers involved in the arrest and search testified that they believed appellant was sober that night. Appellant said he did not use alcohol or illegal drugs that evening, but he smoked crack cocaine a couple of days before, used crack on and off for about a year, used marijuana and heroin in the past, and last used heroin about two to three weeks before that evening. The evidence showed that appellant also regularly used methamphetamine and used cocaine on an almost daily basis over a ten- or eleven-year period up until the day he killed Rodriguez. Detective Duggan testified that appellant appeared calm, relaxed, and attentive. Appellant answered all his questions and was "pretty detailed" about what happened. He thought appellant seemed sad a couple of times, but he did not think appellant seemed remorseful. In his experience of interviewing hundreds of homicide suspects, he did not think appellant's behavior, demeanor, and attitude were out of the ordinary or unusual. One of the officers testified that appellant looked relieved when he told them that God made him do it. Dr. Pittman's report stated that he interviewed appellant and reviewed the jail records, the medical records, the CPS report, the arrest report, the investigation report, the 911 call, and the video from the squad car. Although Dr. Pittman did not deny that appellant may have suffered from a severe mental illness at the time of the offense, he concluded that appellant was sane and that his conduct was caused by abuse of cocaine and other illegal substances. He thought appellant's claim to have acted on God's command was suspicious because appellant was not overtly religious and he did not seem to have a particular interest in religion. Dr. Pittman stated his opinion was based more on appellant's anger toward his wife "over more mundane issues," such as drug use, money problems, his refusal to take the medications, her lack of industry, and her infidelity. And he believed that the number of stab wounds indicated appellant was very angry when he killed Rodriguez. Appellant presented the testimony of two expert witnesses, his stepfather, and his brother. In addition to the treating psychiatrist at Terrell State Hospital, Dr. William Flynn testified for the defense. Dr. Flynn worked twenty-seven years as a prison psychologist and twenty-seven years as a neighborhood psychotherapist treating individuals with symptoms similar to appellant's. He interviewed appellant for over two hours, administered two tests, reviewed appellant's medical records from Terrell and Dallas Metrocare, and reviewed the CPS and police reports and Dr. Pittman's report. Based on his evaluation, Dr. Flynn concluded that appellant did not know that killing Rodriguez was wrong when he did it, and, as a result, he was legally insane. He based this conclusion on several factors: appellant's extensive history of mental illness, he made no effort to conceal what he did, he did not flee, he did not hide the knife, he called 911, he was cooperative with police, and he did not show any guilt. Dr. Flynn explained that appellant's call to 911 was not evidence that appellant knew what he did was wrong, but merely that appellant needed the police to do something with the body. He also explained that the multiple stab wounds were not indicative of appellant's anger, but only that he was told to kill Rodriguez and she would not die. When asked whether appellant's moving V. to the bedroom indicated he knew that what he was doing was wrong, Dr. Flynn testified:
A. To me, it shows that he wishes to protect his child from further horror.
Q. But if he thinks he's doing the right thing, why does he feel a need to protect?
A. Because God didn't tell him to stab this poor woman. God told him to kill this woman, and it wasn't finished yet.
Although Dr. Flynn stated he did not believe appellant was trying to create a defense to murder, he also testified, "There is no way really to get inside of another person's mind and whether that was manipulative or not. . . . [A]t that particular moment, . . . only this defendant can know what his motivations were." Dr. Flynn agreed that abuse of illegal drugs could produce the same symptoms as a major mental illness. He also agreed that appellant seemed able to resist the voices' commands at times. And he thought appellant expressed remorse and sadness in the interview with Detective Duggan.
Appellant argues that his lack of knowledge of the wrongfulness of his actions was shown by the evidence that he had a substantial history of mental illness, the illness was not drug induced, he heard God telling him to kill Rodriguez, he called 911 and told the operator that he killed Rodriguez, he waited for the police to arrive, he did not try to hide the knife or elude police, he directed the officers to the knife, he cooperated fully with the police, he consented to a search of his apartment, and he gave a voluntary statement. He also argues that there is no evidence he was remorseful or feared the consequences of his conduct.
But Dr. Flynn testified that he thought appellant was remorseful during the interview at the police station, and appellant told the detective that he was scared. Additionally, other circumstantial evidence showed that appellant was aware of the wrongfulness of his actions. He abused drugs and said he only heard voices when he was on drugs. He said Rodriguez made his life miserable, that they fought earlier in the evening, and that one of the reasons he killed her was because he was angry at her. Appellant said he moved his two-year-old daughter to another room because "she did not need to see what she was seeing." And he told a jail interviewer that he "just murdered my old lady."
In conclusion, the jury heard conflicting expert and lay testimony. A rational jury could have resolved the conflicting evidence on insanity against appellant. See Bigby, 892 S.W.2d at 878; Plough v. State, 725 S.W.2d 494, 499 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1987, no pet.) ("If there is evidence on both sides of the issue of insanity, as is evident in this record, it is difficult to find that a jury has acted irrationally."). And the jury's rejection of appellant's insanity defense was not beyond the discretion afforded to the jury to decide this issue. Id.; see Love v. State, 909 S.W.2d 930, 943 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1995, pet. ref'd). After reviewing all the evidence, we conclude that the jury's rejection of appellant's insanity defense was not so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust. We overrule appellant's sole issue.