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PEOPLE v. SONOQUI et al.*
Inasmuch as we deemed the question of the insufficiency of the evidence as presented by the petition filed in this court for a hearing to be a close one, we granted a hearing in the matter. We have since examined the record, both as to the question of the insufficiency of the evidence to sustain the judgment and also as to the alleged prejudicial conduct of the district attorney. Upon such examination we do not find ourselves able to agree with the contention of appellants that this court would be warranted in holding that the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain the judgment, or that the appellants suffered prejudicial error by or through the conduct of the district attorney during the trial of said causes. We therefore adopt the opinion of the District Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division 2, Archbald, justice pro tempore, author, as the opinion of this court, with a few brief observations added. Said opinion follows:
Defendants were jointly charged with the crime of murder, to which charge each pleaded not guilty. At the first trial defendants Sonoqui were apparently found guilty; the action having been dismissed as to their codefendant Martina Ruiz. Motions for a new trial were granted and the cause was again set for trial, before another judge, at the conclusion of which both were found guilty of murder in the first degree; the verdict fixing the punishment at life imprisonment. Defendants' motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were denied. Each has appealed from the order denying his motion for a new trial and from the judgment entered upon said verdict.
Appellants contend: (1) That the evidence is insufficient to justify the verdict and judgment; (2) that the matter of the sufficiency of the evidence was adjudicated by the action of the judge presiding at the first trial in granting a new trial on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict; (3) that the district attorney conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to appellants; and (4) that the court erred in admitting certain exhibits in evidence.
(1) Vicente Ruiz, who at the time was living with his wife and daughter, was killed on September 15, 1928, in Azusa, Calif., as the result of a gunshot wound in his abdomen, caused by a .22 short bullet. His daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Sierra, testified that she had known defendants Sonoqui for two years before her father's death—that they lived about two blocks from the Ruiz home; that about a month before her father was shot he came home in the middle of the afternoon and found defendant Remigio Sonoqui at their home; that said defendant had been there all morning and afternoon, and when her father arrived her mother was in the dining room and Remigio was in the living room playing the phonograph. Evidence showing quite a different picture just preceding the arrival of Ruiz was excluded by the court. Ruiz asked Remigio what he was doing there, to which the latter replied, ‘Nothing, nothing, just playing the phonograph.’ Ruiz then said, ‘You had better stay away from this house, I don't want you here any more.’ About the same time, according to the testimony of the daughter, she heard a conversation between Remigio Sonoqui and her mother. Asked as to what was said, she testified: ‘Well, Remigio told my mother that he loved her and my mother said, ‘I love you too.’ He said, ‘Shall we run awary?’ My mother says, ‘If I run away I will lose my property and my children both.’ He said, ‘I will fix that.” Mrs. Sierra further testified that she retired on the evening of the murder at about 9:20 p. m. Later she heard a noise at her bedroom window and saw defendant, John Sonoqui outside, about four feet from the house; that shortly thereafter she heard her father go to the kitchen for some coffee; that he returned to his bed and immediately took a lantern and went outside. A few minutes later she heard two shots fired, and on running to the window she saw two men running across a vacant lot next to their home and recognized them as the defendants Sonoqui. Ruiz was taken to the hospital and the witness was taken to the Sonoqui home. Later, when Mrs. Ruiz returned from the hospital with John Sonoqui, she went to the Sonoqui home also. When defendant Remigio arrived, according to Mrs. Sierra, he was crying and pulling his hair, and Mrs. Ruiz said to him, ‘Don't cry, don't be a coward.’
It will be seem from the foregoing that the daughter played a very important part in making plaintiff's case, and she was the only one who testified to seeing defendants, or either of them, at or near the scene of the murder at the time it occurred. It is true that certain investigating officers testified to tracing the tracks across the lot and to a point directly across the street from the Sonoqui home, in the direction of which they pointed, and that such tracks showed that the men ran from the scene of the murder. Defendants were taken by the officers over soft ground and the tracks so made compared in size to those made by the men fleeing from the scene of the crime. There was other evidence which tended to point to appellants as the perpetrators of the act. Their conflicting stories of their whereabouts on the evening in question, told to the officers, did not sound good. There is ample evidence to justify the verdict. The principal contention of appellants is that the testimony of the daughter is unworthy of belief. She testified at the inquest that she saw no one in the yard that night and had no idea who shot her father. She told no one that she saw appellants running from the scene of the murder, or that she saw John Sonoqui near her bedroom window, until she told her husband about it some two weeks before the preliminary hearing, which was held November 18, 1932. However, she had an explanation as to why the story was not told before, which was believed by the jury and which, with other facts in the case, would seem to make it sufficient as an explanation.
The matters above referred to go but to the weight of the evidence, which it is the function of the jury to determine in the first instance and the trial court on motion made after verdict; ‘and before the verdict of the jury, which has been approved by the trial court, can be set aside on appeal’ upon the ground herein discussed, it must be made clearly to appear that upon no hypothesis whatever is there sufficient substantial evidence to support the conclusion reached in the court below. People v. Tom Woo, 181 Cal. 315, 326, 184 P. 389. Under the evidence in this case, even in the face of the contention of appellants as to the testimony of the daughter, we cannot so say.
(2) Nor can we see any merit in appellants' claim that the ruling of the judge presiding at the first trial, in granting a new trial on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence, established the law of the case on that question in the second trial, even assuming that the evidence might be substantially the same. To so hold would mean that there could be no new trial. Instead of granting a motion on that ground the court should make some order finally disposing of the case, which of course it has no jurisdiction to do. In few cases is there any very substantial change in the evidence on the new trial. Such order was not a final judgment, and yet that is the effect appellants claim for it. The cases cited show that the phrase ‘law of the case’ arises out of a final determination of a question of law on appeal. City of Los Angeles v. Oliver, 102 Cal. App. 299, 283 P. 298. It is true the judge presiding on the first trial with brutal frankness, but without judicial poise, branded the daughter as a ‘liar’; but an equally honest man might come to an entirely different conclusion in that regard.
(3) Appellants urge that the conduct of the district attorney in his opening statement in the trial in chief and in his argument to the jury was calculated to and did prejudice the rights of defendants and prevented them from having a fair trial. * * * The record shows, however, that appellants either did not object, or if objection was made the court admonished both the district attorney and the jurors in such a way that we fail to see how prejudice could have resulted; and we must presume that the jurors followed such admonition and instruction, in the absence of an express showing to the contrary in the record before us.
(4) In the investigation of the case appellants were asked by the officers if they had any guns or shells of .22 caliber, to which they replied that they did not. This was after the officers had found some .22 short caliber shells at the scene of the homicide. Subsequently in the Sonoqui home the investigators found a rifle and revolver of .22 caliber, as well as some .22 short caliber shells. Asked as to why they said they had no guns in the house except two shotguns, they responded that it was because they ‘didn't want to get mixed up in this murder of Ruiz.’ The lantern being used by Ruiz when he was shot was found with a nick in the handle, as though made by a bullet, and an irregular piece of lead smaller than a bullet was found near by, which might have been a piece of the bullet cut off and deflected after striking the lantern handle. These were all introduced in evidence over appellants' objection that they were incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial, and no proper foundation laid. The guns and bullets found in the home of appellants were properly introduced in connection with the evidence of their finding, in rebuttal of the statement made to the officers denying possession of any such articles. Being the same size and caliber as those used in perpetrating the crime, they were also competent evidence showing that appellants had the means at hand to commit the offense charged against them. People v. Mooney, 177 Cal. 642, 171 P. 690. The lantern and piece of lead found were necessary to show a complete picture of the physical surroundings of the crime as a part of the people's case and as furnishing a circumstance bearing upon the charge, ‘whether directly or remotely’ being ‘for the jury to decide in view of all the other facts and circumstances.’ People v. Mar Gin Suie, 11 Cal. App. 42, 51, 103 P. 951, 956.
A letter written by appellant Remigio Sonoqui to Martina Ruiz, wife of decedent, was admitted in evidence against said appellant and over his objection. The missive was dated at San Quentin, Calif., Wednesday, July 23, 1930, some nineteen months after the crime charged, and it might well be characterized as a fervent love letter. It was introduced in connection with a statement made by Remigio to Officer Morrell, in the course of which he was asked if he was ever in love with decedent's wife, to which he replied, ‘No, I was not.’ He was then asked if he ever wrote her any love letters, to which he answered, ‘Well, that one you had [referring to the letter in question] is the only one, because I didn't know who she was.’ The letter was addressed to ‘Miss Margaret Sonoqui.’ When first asked if he wrote to Mrs. Ruiz under the name of Sonoqui, Remigio denied it and said, ‘That is a forged letter.’ After admitting in the statement that he wrote the letter he stated that he did not know it was Mrs. Ruiz, but that it was in reply to a letter signed by the same name which he received and thought came from a cousin of his. It was stipulated that defendant Remigio Sonoqui was either in jail or prison from the day following the homicide up to the time of writing the letter in question, and that he did not visit Mrs. Ruiz during such time. The particular objection appellants' counsel seem to have to the letter is that it was dated at San Quentin. After the stipulation above referred to was made the court instructed the jury that the fact as to defendant Remigio Sonoqui being in custody was not for their consideration except to show his inability to have personal relationship with Mrs. Ruiz, and that they were not under any consideration whatsoever to allow the fact of some other offense having been committed to enter into their deliberations, which admonition was stated to be satisfactory by appellants' counsel. It would seem, however, that with the evidence already before the court as to the love existing between such appellant and the wife of decedent prior to the murder, the fact that it could endure in spite of bars from the day after the murder until the date of the ardent letter had a very material bearing on the depth of such affection and as to whether or not it was deep enough to motivate an act such as that here in question. Furthermore, the fact that the correspondence with Mrs. Ruiz was carried on under an assumed name might evidence a desire to keep the relationship secret, and to some degree at least point to a guilty conscience on Remigio's part.
Appellants vigorously assail the testimony of Dorothy Sierra, the daughter of the deceased, as being inherently incredible. Said daughter, who was but fourteen years of age at the time of the homicide, gave testimony at the coroner's inquest held shortly after the homicide to the effect that she did not see any one about the yeard or grounds of her father's residence at about the time her father received the fatal shot. She did not communicate to the peace officers who were engaged in apprehending the murders that she had seen the appellants in the yeard and saw them flee from the scene of the homicide shortly after the shots were fired (as she afterwards testified), until a period of approximately four years thereafter. She did testify that she told her husband what she had seen some time after marriage. She claimed that she was under the dominating and deterring influence of her mother, and that she had been admonished by her that it would be better for all concerned if she did not make public the identity of the defendants. Appellants make much of the fact that the daughter stated under a somewhat confused situation that the mother did not instruct her not to relate what she had seen until some four years after the incident had happended. The daughter, who is of Mexican blood, was not an adept in the use of the English language, and her lack of comprehension of the full import of questions propounded to her plainly appears. Some of her answers as reported may be said to literally support appellants' claim, while others do not. The construction contended for by appellants would lead to a palpable absurdity. It would have her saying that her mother admonished her four years after the incident had passed not to make mention of it.
The jury, under the state of the evidence, may have well given her testimony the natural and only reasonable construction that can be placed upon it, to wit, that the daughter was instructed by the mother to remain mute at the time the peace officers were investigating the crime. The daughter was then of the immature age of fourteen years. What prompting effect the reflections of maturer years may have had upon her conscience after the mother's influence had been broken by their separation was a question of fact entirely within the province of the jury.
It was not error to show that the defendant Remigio wrote from San Quentin under a fictitious name to the wife of the deceased. The evidence was sufficient to show that a love liaison existed between the defendant Remigio and the wife, which began before the homicide and continued thereafter while he was serving a term in the state prison, from which he wrote said letter. This meretricious relation, which was interfered with by imprisonment, was a legitimate subject of consideration as furnishing a motive for the crime.
We think the court erred in favor of the other brother, John, in refusing to permit the prosecution to show that John was having carnal relations with the fourteen year old daughter at the time of and prior to the killing of the father. The record contains evidence tending to show that the deceased had reason to doubt the purposes of the Sonoqui brothers' visits at his home.
There is no merit in the claim that it was error to bring before the jury the fact that said defendants had served terms in the state prison. Such evicence was admissible on several grounds. It was proper to show the place from which said letter was written. It was admissible to explain why said liaison, the existence of which was evidenced by said letter, had become suspended.
The pistol and cartridges found in the home of the defendants—the possession of which had been denied by them, and which corresponded to the size of the bullet which caused the death of the decedent—were properly admitted in evidence. The weight and effect of this evidence was entirely for the jury's consideration. The district attorney was not required, as contended by defendants, to call a ballistic expert whose ability or integrity he may have had cause to doubt. He introduced the cartridges recovered from the defendants' home and the empty shells found at the scene of the homicide, and it was the province of the jury to determine as a question of fact whether or not the cartridges or shells corresponded to the shells or bullet which it was shown produced death.
The case is a typical one of facts upon which two juries found the defendants guilty, and in which two courts have held the evidence sufficient to support the judgment. We see no reason why this court should disturb the judgments of conviction.
Judgment and orders affirmed.
We concur: WASTE, C. J.; CURTIS, J.; PRESTON, J.; IRA F. THOMPSON, J.
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Docket No: Cr. 3692.
Decided: April 02, 1934
Court: Supreme Court of California.
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