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State v. Crespo

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 24, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
Santiago Diaz Crespo, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Katie Bernards-Goodman No. 131902928

          Samuel P. Newton, Attorney for Appellant.

          Sean D. Reyes and Karen A. Klucznik, Attorneys for Appellee.

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          TOOMEY, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Faced with a rape accusation that he believed was motivated by a disputed drug debt, Santiago Diaz Crespo asked his associate (Codefendant) to offer the victim (Victim) cocaine to "get him in the door" to talk to Victim about retracting the rape accusation. Shortly after Victim let Codefendant into her apartment to smoke crack cocaine and talk about the accusation, Crespo appeared in her doorway, gun drawn, and fired three shots. A few moments later, Crespo and Codefendant ran from Victim's apartment, leaving her dead. They were each charged with murder; aggravated burglary; and purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person. In exchange for dismissing the murder charge against him, Codefendant agreed to plead guilty to the other charges and to testify against Crespo at trial.

         ¶2 Crespo was convicted and now appeals, claiming that his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence due to the "self-serving and inconsistent testimony of a highly incentivized snitch, " that defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to request a cautionary jury instruction related to Codefendant's testimony, and that the district court erred in failing to properly inquire into the nature of a conflict Crespo developed with defense counsel. We conclude there was sufficient evidence to convict Crespo of all charges, that defense counsel rendered effective assistance, and that the district court adequately inquired into the nature of the conflict between Crespo and his defense counsel. Accordingly, we affirm.


         The Murder

         ¶3 Crespo was a drug dealer who sold drugs to Victim.[1]Crespo and Victim were friends. But a few days before Victim's murder, she reported to the police that Crespo had raped her. Codefendant, who dealt drugs for Crespo, testified that both he and Crespo believed Victim's accusation was an attempt to avoid paying her drug debt to Crespo. Though Crespo had informed Codefendant that he had already discussed the rape accusation with Victim and that they worked out the issue, the person who drove Crespo during his drug runs (Driver), testified that Crespo was angry about the accusation the day of Victim's murder. During one of their drives, Crespo called Victim's neighbor (Neighbor), another of his customers, to ask if he could borrow a gun, but Neighbor did not have a gun to lend. Neighbor testified that Crespo did not mention why he needed a gun, but that reason soon became apparent. Crespo then made another phone call, during which he expressed his anger about Victim's rape allegation and said, "Dead bitches can't talk."

         ¶4 On the night of the murder, [2] Crespo, Codefendant, Driver, and others met at a hotel to drink alcohol and use drugs. During this time, Victim and Codefendant exchanged text messages and phone calls related to her desire to buy drugs, the drugs Codefendant had available, and when he would bring them to Victim.

         ¶5 Before going to Victim's apartment, Crespo and Codefendant spoke with another individual at the hotel, Friend, about guns and ammunition. Friend loaned a Phoenix .22 caliber gun to Codefendant, assuming it was for safety or for use as a scare tactic. Crespo, who had obtained a gun before meeting the others at the hotel, offered Friend one hundred dollars' worth of cocaine in exchange for .22 caliber ammunition. After collecting the guns and ammunition, Driver drove Crespo and Codefendant to Victim's apartment.

         ¶6 During the drive, Crespo told Codefendant to convince Victim not to press charges for rape. He gave Codefendant cocaine to give to Victim, free of charge, to entice her to allow Codefendant inside her apartment for a conversation. Crespo also said that while Codefendant met with Victim, Crespo would visit another friend in the area, waiting to hear whether Victim wanted to discuss the accusation with him further. Codefendant continued to text Victim that he was on his way to her apartment with the drugs she requested. At 3:24 a.m., Victim, still waiting, sent a text asking, "Where are you?"

         ¶7 Just before reaching Victim's street, Crespo told Driver to park a block away from her apartment, even though he usually parked in front of it. Codefendant and Crespo exited the car and, at first, walked in opposite directions. According to Driver, Crespo originally walked toward another friend's house, but after about thirty seconds turned around and walked toward Victim's apartment. Private security cameras installed on a house where Driver parked his car corroborated Driver's account of this event.

         ¶8 Sometime between 3:24 and 3:56 a.m., Codefendant arrived at Victim's apartment. Crespo's plan to offer her free cocaine was successful, and she invited Codefendant inside to smoke it. They began smoking, but their conversation about the rape accusation did not get far. Victim said that "there [was] no way in heaven to hell" she would ever talk to or see Crespo again, and she refused to recant her accusation. Codefendant did not push her on this and said he would let Crespo know how she felt. But before he left, Crespo, who Codefendant testified was waiting outside the door listening to the conversation, "flew through the door with his gun drawn, " pointing it first at Codefendant then at Victim. He walked closer to Victim and started shooting. Codefendant claimed he "blacked out" when the shooting began, and it was as though he "saw it but [did not] remember seeing it." The next thing he remembered was standing at the front door and listening as more shots were fired before Crespo pushed him, saying, "Come on, let's get out of here."

         ¶9 They both ran from the apartment toward a gas station rather than back to Driver's car. When Codefendant reached the gas station, he deleted his text message conversation with Victim but, at 3:56 a.m., sent her a final text saying, "I'm not coming" in an effort "to hide the fact" that he was at Victim's apartment when she was murdered. Codefendant ordered a taxicab to drive him and Crespo back to the hotel.

         ¶10 Neighbor heard the gunshots and went to Victim's apartment to check on her. He found her lying behind the front door, bleeding from her head, and checked for a pulse while calling 911. When the dispatcher asked Neighbor to attempt to resuscitate Victim, he informed the dispatcher she had no pulse. Victim was pronounced dead on the scene and had sustained three gunshot wounds. She had been shot in the arm, the chest (puncturing a lung and her heart and lodging in her spine), and the head. The wounds to Victim's chest and head were independently lethal.

         ¶11 Meanwhile, Driver waited at his car for Crespo and Codefendant for about forty-five minutes, unaware of the events that had transpired or that Crespo and Codefendant had taken a taxicab to the hotel. Driver eventually grew impatient and drove past Victim's apartment in an effort to find his companions, but instead discovered police cars and an ambulance. When he returned to the hotel room and saw Crespo and Codefendant already there, he was upset and had "a million questions" about what happened but refrained from asking them after Crespo gave him a look that Friend interpreted as: "I'll talk to you later." Crespo fell asleep soon after Driver returned to the hotel while Codefendant attempted to create an alibi for everyone at the hotel to agree upon.

         ¶12 The next day, Driver drove Friend to a fast food restaurant and noticed that Friend's gun, which he had allowed Codefendant to borrow the night before, was on the floor of the car. Driver asked Friend why he would bring the gun, and Friend responded, "I didn't bring that." Driver became worried because Codefendant had not been in his car since the previous evening. The two men suspected Codefendant might be trying to frame Driver, so Driver decided to thoroughly search his car. During his search, Driver found some keys that Codefendant asked him to hold onto the night before, but he had refused to do so. He also found women's clothing he did not recognize and had not been there the previous evening.

         The Investigation

         ¶13 During the next few months, the police investigated Victim's murder. Codefendant contemplated turning himself in but did not do so. And at trial, Codefendant admitted he had been "rather deceitful" in his initial police interviews. In each interview, Codefendant provided more details regarding the events surrounding the murder. First, he claimed that he never went into Victim's apartment but had stayed outside and that only Crespo went inside. In subsequent interviews, he admitted bringing the gun he had borrowed from Friend to Victim's apartment. Then, in his final interview, he admitted he entered her apartment to smoke crack cocaine and claimed that his fingerprints were likely on the murder weapon because he had loaded Crespo's gun.

         ¶14 The police recovered the gun Codefendant had borrowed from Friend, compared the ballistics from the crime scene, and concluded it was not the murder weapon. The ballistics expert testified that the casings recovered from the crime scene were .22 caliber casings and they were all fired from the same gun. Crespo's .22 caliber gun was never recovered. Neither was the murder weapon.

         ¶15 Crespo was charged with murder; aggravated burglary; and purchase, transfer, possession, or use of a firearm by a restricted person. Codefendant was charged with murder; aggravated burglary; and obstruction of justice with a gun enhancement for the possession of a firearm by a restricted person.[3] Codefendant entered into a "conditional agreement" with the State to testify truthfully against Crespo at trial and pled guilty to the remaining charges in exchange for the State dismissing his murder charge.

         The ...

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