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Leanos v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

May 7, 2018


          Peterson, Justice.

         Margarita Jean Leanos appeals her convictions for felony murder and other crimes in connection with the killing of a taxi driver, Isaias Tovar-Murillo.[1] Leanos challenges the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict her. She also argues that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) notice that Leanos had been medicated into incompetence, (2) present a cohesive defense theory, (3) object to references to Leanos's character, and (4) request a severance of the gang charges. We affirm because the evidence was sufficient to sustain the convictions and Leanos has not shown that trial counsel was ineffective.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury verdicts, the trial evidence showed the following. Leanos was a member of the local criminal street gang BOE 23, and BOE 23 was associated with SUR 13, a larger international criminal street gang. Both BOE 23 and SUR 13 were involved in various criminal activities, including armed robberies, drug sales, and homicides.

         On March 15, 2015, Leanos called Valentin Hernandez and asked him to call Misty Moran. Moran, a co-defendant, was a member of SUR 13 and an aunt of Leanos's boyfriend. Moran asked Hernandez for a gun, and he gave her a 9-millimeter handgun.

         Later that day, Leanos went to Moran's house. Moran had been shooting the handgun in her backyard when Leanos arrived, and was carrying the gun when she greeted Leanos. Sometime later, according to statements made to police by co-defendants Moran and Nicholas Allen Gonzalez, who both testified at Leanos's trial, Leanos participated with Moran, Gonzalez, and two other co-defendants - Ignacio Mondragon and Justin Adams - in planning the robbery of a taxi driver. Gonzalez was a member of BOE 23 and SUR 13; Mondragon was a member of BOE 23. The group planned to summon a taxi for Moran, who would convince the driver to pull over after driving some distance, at which point Leanos's co-defendants would appear and rob the driver and Leanos would drive the get-away car.

         Around 11 p.m. that night, Leanos drove her co-defendants to an apartment complex in Hall County and, once there, called for a taxi. Moran waited for the taxi at the complex while Leanos drove the other defendants a short distance away to wait. The taxi driver picked up Moran; the defendants followed in Leanos's vehicle. At some point, Gonzalez saw smoke come out of a window of the taxi; the taxi then drove off the road. The taxi driver had been shot in the back of the head and fell out of the vehicle as it continued traveling until it hit a tree. The driver died as a result of the gunshot wound.

         When the taxi came to a stop, Moran exited the taxi and made her way to Leanos's vehicle, which Leanos had pulled over. Leanos remained in the vehicle while the three male passengers exited her car and went to the taxi hoping to retrieve money. The men left empty-handed, however, deciding not to enter the taxi once they saw that the interior was covered in blood and a light on the porch of a nearby home was on.

         Moran confessed that she shot the taxi driver and hid the gun in the sunroof of Leanos's vehicle as the group drove away. The group then began planning another crime. Leanos suggested a home invasion of her mother's house, but the idea was rejected given the possibility that someone could get hurt. The co-defendants, including Leanos, burglarized a trailer instead. Afterward, the defendants returned to Moran's residence, where Moran had Leanos shine her car lights so that Moran could see what she was doing as she hid the gun under a concrete slab. Moran later returned the gun to Hernandez and told him that she had used it to shoot a taxi driver.

         1. The evidence was sufficient to sustain Leanos's convictions.

         Leanos argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain her convictions because the evidence shows that she did not knowingly participate in the crimes. Instead, she argues, the evidence shows that her co-defendants purposefully deceived her and concealed their true intent to rob the taxi driver. We disagree, because the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict establishes that she knowingly participated in the crimes.

         Under OCGA § 16-2-20 (a), "[e]very person concerned in the commission of a crime is a party thereto and may be . . . convicted of commission of the crime." But mere presence at the scene of a crime is insufficient evidence to convict one of being a party to a crime; "[p]roof that the defendant shares a common criminal intent with the actual perpetrators is necessary." Robinson v. State, 298 Ga. 455, 457 (1) (782 S.E.2d 657) (2016) (citation and punctuation omitted); see also Belsar v. State, 276 Ga. 261, 262 (1) (577 S.E.2d 569) (2003). Such shared criminal intent may be inferred from presence, companionship, and conduct before, during, and after the offense. See Belsar, 276 Ga. at 262 (1).

         In support of her argument that she was merely present for the crimes and did not have the requisite intent, Leanos cites the trial testimony of co-defendants Moran, Gonzalez, and Mondragon in which the co-defendants stated that Leanos knew nothing of the plan to rob the taxi driver. But Gonzalez testified at trial that although Leanos did not know about the plan initially, she became aware of the plan while she and the co-defendants were waiting for Moran to drive by in the taxi prior to the shooting and that she nevertheless agreed to be the getaway driver. Moreover, Moran and Gonzalez both made pre-trial statements to the police that Leanos helped to plan the armed robbery of the taxi driver. This evidence, along with testimony establishing that Leanos helped Moran acquire the gun that was used in the crimes and helped Moran conceal it after the crime, authorized the jury to conclude that Leanos was a party to the crimes and to find her guilty. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Trial counsel was not ineffective.

         Leanos argues that her trial counsel was ineffective on several grounds. To prevail on her claim, Leanos "must show that trial counsel's performance fell below a reasonable standard of conduct and that there existed a reasonable probability that the outcome of the case would have been different had it not been for counsel's deficient performance." Scott v. State, 290 Ga. 883, 889 (7) (725 S.E.2d 305) (2012) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (104 SCt 2052, 80 LE2d 674) (1984)). Where an appellant fails to meet her burden in establishing one prong of the Strickland test, we need not review the other, as a failure to meet either of the prongs is fatal to an ineffectiveness claim. See Lawrence v. State, 286 Ga. 533, 533-534 (2) (690 S.E.2d 801) (2010). On review of an ineffectiveness claim, we review a trial court's factual findings for clear error and its legal conclusions de novo. Id. When conducting that ...

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