Friday, July 31, 2015
Yesterday, I posted an entry about how Cristina Gutierrez was involved in four 1st degree murder cases in four different jurisdictions in 1999/2000. One of those cases was in Puerto Rico. As Susan Simpson has pointed out to me, however, Gutierrez was actually involved in two other first-degree murder cases in Puerto Rico during Adnan's second trial.
The first of these cases was United States v. Bernacett Cosme, 127 F.Supp.2d 271 (D.P.R. 2001). Angel Bernacett Cosme was indicted on murder charges on November 22, 1999 and detained pending trial. On December 6, 1999, the case was scheduled for trial on February 1, 2000. On December 10, 1999, Bernacett moved for the appointment of learned counsel because the government indicated that it planned to seek the death penalty.
Gutierrez was appointed as learned counsel on this case on January 14, 2000, i.e., one week before the start of Adnan's second trial. On February 1, 2000, "the Court issued an order finding that because this was a death penalty case, it was unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for the trial within the limits of the [Seedy Trial Act]." According to the court,
The discovery in this case has included psychological testing of Bernacett and DNA analysis of hair and blood samples. These complicated pretrial investigations, combined with the Government's potentially seeking the death penalty, have made this case a complex one for which the normal seventy-day period would not provide time for adequate preparation.
Defense counsel did not object to this order.
Subsequently, at a status conference on March 1, 2000, "the Court ruled that once the Government decided whether to seek the death penalty, a new trial date would be set." At some point thereafter, the Government informed the defense that it was not seeking the death penalty. The defense, however, failed to timely inform the court of this decision. Months later, the defense moved for (1) a review of the detention decision; and (2) dismissal based upon violation of the Speedy Trial Act, prompting the court to respond as follows:
The Court was first notified that this was no longer a death penalty case when Bernacett stated in his present motion that at some unspecified date the Government had decided against seeking the death penalty. Bernacett should have informed the Court of this change as soon as it happened....Accordingly, the Court finds Bernacett's claim of a STA violation to be unavailing.
This is pretty serious stuff. As we've noted on the podcast, there's no right to bail in capital cases. The second the government decided not to pursue the death penalty, the defense should have moved for bail review. Moreover, pursuant to the court's March 1st order, the second the government decided not to pursue the death penalty, the defense should have so informed the court, which could have eventually led to a Speedy Trial Act dismissal. Unfortunately for Bernacett, this was not done in a timely fashion.
On February 9, 2000, i.e., during Adnan's second trial, Gutierrez was appointed as learned counsel for David Vega Molina. The case seems to be pretty complicated. According to the First Circuit's opinion, there was a five count indictment in the case based upon a robbery/hostage-taking/murder that occurred at "Fernándes Editores (FE), a Mexican company, publishes coloring books and other materials for children."
On January 31, 1995, Zuñiga, the two women, and defendant-appellant Victor Villega–Angulo (Villega) proceeded in two cars to FE's premises. When they arrived, Zuñiga and Villega entered the building. Once inside, they encountered three FE employees, namely, Alberto Morales, Benjamin Ocasio Duran, and Guillermo Muñoz. Brandishing firearms, they ordered the men to lie face down on the floor. When Zuñiga and Villega were unable to find any money, they called Rodríguez–Matos, who provided suggestions about where to look.
Zuñiga and Villega were unable to locate any company funds. They helped themselves to the cash that the three employees had on their persons and shot Morales and Ocasio Duran (the shots killed the former and seriously wounded the latter). They then kidnaped the branch manager (Muñoz); placed him in the trunk of his own car; and drove the automobile from the scene.
The four miscreants rendezvoused at the house that Zuñiga and Rodríguez–Santiago shared with their children and Rodríguez–Santiago's sister, Jessica Rivera Santiago (Rivera). Once there, they placed Muñoz in an empty bedroom and held him hostage for approximately one week. During that interval, Rodríguez–Matos stayed at the house to assist in guarding Muñoz. The defendants also recruited Falau and defendant-appellant David Vega Molina (Vega) to aid in that effort.
As part of the new plan, Zuñiga contacted FE and demanded a ransom. Contrary to Zuñiga's instructions, FE contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). An undercover FBI agent posed as an FE executive and began to negotiate the conditions of Muñoz's return. At some point, he provided the kidnapers with a telephone number that they could call to firm up the arrangements for delivery of the ransom. Rodríguez–Matos's stepmother worked for the telephone company and Zuñiga asked Rodríguez–Matos to contact her in order to match a subscriber's name to the telephone number. When the kidnapers learned that the number belonged to the FBI, the men decided that Muñoz would have to be assassinated (the two women, Rodríguez–Santiago and Rodríguez–Matos, dissented from this decision). On February 5, 1995, Muñoz was driven to a remote location and murdered.
I'm not sure what exact role Gutierrez played in trial preparation given that the trial didn't take place until 2002, a year after she was disbarred. That said, this docket gives you a pretty good idea of what was going on in the case during Adnan's trial and thereafter.
What seems clear to me is that the only real evidence the government had against Molina in connection with the murder and hostage-taking charges was a statement by co-defendant Villega that incriminated him. But don't take my word for it. According to the First Circuit,
The totality of evidence against Vega was noticeably thinner than that against Zuñiga. More importantly, the prosecution relied heavily on Villega's statement in a misguided effort to prove Vega's guilt.
In any multi-defendant case involving incriminatory statements, the key doctrine is the Bruton doctrine, which precludes the prosecution from introducing statements by a co-defendant that incriminate another defendant unless the co-defendant testifies at trial. Therefore, while Gutierrez was involved in the case, there should have been a motion for severance, i.e., a motion to have Molina's case heard separately and/or a motion in limine asking to preclude the prosecution from introducing Villega's statements incriminating Molina unless Villega testified at trial.
No such motion was made by Molina despite the fact that a severance motion was filed by another co-defendant in August 2001. When trial was finally held in 2002, the prosecution introduced Villega's statement without objection by defense counsel (not Gutierrez). After he was convicted, Molina appealed, and the court reversed his murder and hostage-talking convictions, finding a Bruton doctrine violation based upon plain error despite defense counsel failing to object. If the proper pre-trial motions were made, however, Villega's statement likely never would have been admitted.