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State v. Garcia-Mejia

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 28, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Angel Garcia-Mejia, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Vernice S. Trease No. 141901008

          Alexandra S. McCallum, Robin K. Ljungberg, and Katherine A. Conyers, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Lindsey L. Wheeler, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Stephen L. Roth and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          OPINION

          MORTENSEN, Judge

         ¶1 A jury convicted Defendant Angel Garcia-Mejia of sexually abusing five of his six children. Now, on appeal, Defendant argues that his convictions were based on insufficient evidence because the testimony of his children was "inherently improbable" and the evidence failed to establish the requisite mental state associated with his crimes. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 "Defendant is appealing from a jury verdict; thus we recite the facts in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict, but present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal." See State v. Vigil, 922 P.2d 15, 18 (Utah Ct. App. 1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶3 On Son's ninth birthday, while traveling to pick up his cake, Son confided to Mother that Defendant "was doing inappropriate things" to him. Son explained that one morning, about a month before, Defendant had been lying in bed, covered by a blanket. He pushed Son's "head down on his private" and Defendant's blanket-covered "middle private in the front" went inside Son's mouth, hurting Son's throat. Furthermore, Defendant and Son sometimes shared a bed, and "two or three times a week, " Defendant would "pull down his underwear, " then pull down Son's "pants a little bit and then put" Defendant's "private" on Son's unclothed butt cheek. Defendant sometimes masturbated while Son was in bed next to him.

         ¶4 Mother drove home immediately, separated the children, and asked each of them if Defendant had "ever done anything that is inappropriate and made them feel uncomfortable." Including Son, five of the six children told Mother that Defendant had sexually abused them. The State charged Defendant with one count of sodomy on a child, a first degree felony, and eight counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, also first degree felonies.

         ¶5 At trial, Son's twin brother (Twin) testified that when he and Defendant slept in the same bed, Defendant "did some bad stuff" to him, including touching Twin's "private." Twin clarified, "The one that I use to pee with." Defendant would "move his hand" while touching Twin. Other times, Defendant would "pull down his pants" and "try and put his private up" Twin's "butt." When this happened, Defendant's penis would touch the "outside, like [the] butt cheek, " sometimes over Twin's pants and sometimes on his bare skin.

         ¶6 Another of Son's brothers (Brother) testified about interactions with Defendant when Brother was nine years old. He explained that in the bathroom, Defendant "touched me in my private spot . . . [with h]is hand" when Brother's clothes were off. And while the two were in Defendant's bed, Defendant, with his hand, touched Brother in his "private spot" over Brother's clothes. Brother later clarified that when he referred to his "private spot" he meant his penis. The touching in the bathroom and in Defendant's bed happened "more than one time." Brother also recounted abuse that had happened while he was showering with Defendant. Defendant "put his private spot in [Brother's] butt, " touching Brother's "butt cheek."

         ¶7 Son's oldest brother (Oldest) testified to events that occurred when he was eleven years old. When he was alone with Defendant in Defendant's bedroom, "more than one time, " Defendant put his hands down Oldest's pants, touching his "front private" inside his underwear; Defendant "was moving his hand" while inside Oldest's underwear. Oldest further testified that he and Defendant sometimes showered together. While in the shower, Defendant "was trying to put his front private up [Oldest's] butt" when his penis touched "the left part of" Oldest's butt cheek. Oldest also testified that he was present in Defendant's bedroom on the morning that Defendant "was putting his private in [Son's] mouth" and "holding" Son's head. See supra ¶ 3.

         ¶8 Finally, Son's sister (Sister) testified that, when she was twelve years old, Defendant "would touch [her] breast . . . [o]n top of [her] clothes." This happened "a couple of times, " and each time, she "would try to slap him away." Sister also testified that Defendant "once tried to touch [her] below the waist." "He tried to put his hand . . . in [her] pants, but he didn't succeed because [she] slapped him away."

         ¶9 Defendant maintained that he never touched his children inappropriately. He suggested that someone might have encouraged the kids to fabricate their accusations against him. He also believed that the children had learned about different sexual behaviors from inappropriate television shows or movies and were "acting that stuff out." In an interview with police, Defendant acknowledged that Son's mouth had "come into contact with his penis, " but he explained that "it hadn't happened the way the kids were saying it [had]." Instead, according to Defendant, one morning he was in bed with an erection. Son "grabbed his erect penis through the blanket, and one of the boys, " either Oldest or Twin, "pushed [Son's] head onto his penis which was under the blanket." Defendant was on the phone and "told the boys to stop it." Although Defendant denied all of the other incidents testified to by the children, he admitted showering with the boys and claimed that the boys did "sexually inappropriate things in the shower in front of him."

         ¶10 Defendant moved for a directed verdict on all of the charges against him. The trial court denied the motions, concluding that the State had presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find Defendant guilty of sodomy on a child and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The court highlighted the testimony given by Son and Oldest that Defendant had pushed Son's "head down on his privates." It further specified that the testimony regarding "the way the touching occurred, " "the number of times that it occurred and so forth, are all things that would lead to an inference that would ...


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