First-degree murder convictions of two gang members were overturned Tuesday by an appellate court that ruled Sacramento Superior Court Judge Kevin J. McCormick gave the jury erroneous instructions on the law.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office has the option to accept reduction of the convictions to second-degree murder and allow the gangsters to be sentenced accordingly, or it can retry them on the first-degree charges within 60 days, appeal justices said.
Jaime Enrique Torres and Jose DeJesus Gonzalez were found guilty by a jury in 2011 of the May 2008 shooting death of Jose Isabel Guerrero in front of the victim’s Lindley Drive home.
Gonzalez was said by authorities to be the shooter, but he took the witness stand and denied it, placing the blame instead on a 14-year-old who was among the gangsters present at the time of the incident.
Deputy District Attorney Scott Triplett told the jury it didn’t matter who pulled the trigger, the outcome was enough to convict both of them of first-degree murder.
Torres, 27, is serving a sentence of 50 years to life at High Desert State Prison in Susanville. Gonzalez, 27, is serving a sentence of the same length at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.
Six reputed Norteño street gang members were convicted of varied crimes in connection with the killing of Guerrero, 47.
Those six and others marched up to Guerrero’s house spoiling for a fight with his two stepsons, who were members of a rival Sureño gang, according to Tuesday’s 36-page opinion from a three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Guerrero, who was holding his baby daughter in his arms, called police on his cellphone, according to reports on the trial in The Sacramento Bee. Torres then used a pistol to slug Guerrero, who dropped the baby and gained the upper hand on Torres, Bee accounts of the trial said.
They said Guerrero knocked the pistol away and another gangster picked it up and shot Guerrero in the head.
The three justices found McCormick’s instructions to the jury “were erroneous because they did not allow the jury to consider whether the defendants might have been guilty of only second-degree murder even if the shooter committed first-degree murder.”
“Consistent with our prior decisions on this issue, we will reverse Jaime’s and Jose’s convictions and remand for retrial unless the People accept reduction of the convictions to second-degree murder,” the panel declared in the unpublished opinion.
The unanimous opinion was authored by Associate Justice Ronald B. Robie, with the concurrences of Acting Presiding Justice George Nicholson and Associate Justice Elena J. Duarte.
Correct instructions, the justices said, would have informed the jurors that, even if they found the perpetrator committed first-degree murder, they still had to determine whether the defendants could have reasonably foreseen which offense – first- or second-degree murder – was the natural consequence of the gangsters’ actions.
Instead, according to the justices, McCormick’s instructions “were misleading because they implied that the degree of murder of which defendants were guilty as aiders and abettors depended solely on the degree of murder of which the perpetrator was guilty.”