Hector D. MOLINA, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Robert W. FOX, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Decided: July 09, 2020
Before: SMITH and HURWITZ, Circuit Judges, and ROYAL,** District Judge.
Dena Marie Young, Law Offices of Dena Marie Young, Santa Rosa, CA, for Petitioner - Appellant Peggy S. Ruffra, Esquire, AGCA - Office of the California Attorney General, San Francisco, CA, Pamela Kay Critchfield, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice, San Francisco, CA, for Respondent - Appellee
Hector Molina appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging two murder convictions. We issued a certificate of appealability on the issue of whether the convictions for the second-degree murder of Lisa Thayer (count eight) and first-degree murder of Rico McIntosh (count nine), which were committed by Molina's co-conspirators while he was in custody, were supported by sufficient evidence. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291 and 2253. We review the district court's denial of a § 2254 motion de novo, Avena v. Chappell, 932 F.3d 1237, 1247 (9th Cir. 2019), and we affirm.
An applicant is “entitled to habeas corpus relief if it is found that upon the record evidence adduced at the trial no rational trier of fact could have found proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 324, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). In denying § 2254 habeas relief, the district court appropriately held under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that the California Court of Appeal did not make an unreasonable determination of fact or apply Jackson unreasonably in sustaining Molina's murder convictions on counts eight and nine. See Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011).
Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to find the essential elements of the two murder convictions under California conspiracy law beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324, 99 S.Ct. 2781. The jury heard sufficient evidence that Molina was an active participant in an on-going conspiracy to murder rival gang members which continued after he was arrested and from which he never withdrew. See People v. Vega-Robles, 9 Cal.App.5th 382, 224 Cal. Rptr. 3d 19, 64-65 (2017); see also People v. Smith, 60 Cal.4th 603, 180 Cal.Rptr.3d 100, 337 P.3d 1159, 1166-67 (2014). The jury convicted Molina of the conspiracy to commit murder and assault (count four). The evidence sufficiently showed that the murders in counts eight and nine were the natural and probable consequences of that conspiracy. Molina does not challenge the conspiracy conviction.
Molina also claims that the first-degree murder of McIntosh was not a natural or probable consequence of the conspiracy. But, because a target offense for the unchallenged conspiracy conviction is murder, there is a sufficient connection between his culpability and the perpetrator's premeditative state. See People v. Rivera, 234 Cal.App.4th 1350, 184 Cal. Rptr. 3d 801, 805-06 & n.4 (2015).
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