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Castillo-Velasquez v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

April 15, 2019


          WARREN, JUSTICE.

         Appellant Saul Castillo-Velasquez appeals his convictions for malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime stemming from the shooting death of Silverio Acosta.[1] On appeal, Castillo-Velasquez contends that the trial court erred by admitting other-act evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) and by admitting Acosta's bloody clothes into evidence. He also raises one claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. We conclude that his claims have no merit and affirm.

         1. Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdicts, the evidence showed that, on June 16, 2013-Father's Day-Castillo-Velasquez encountered Silverio Acosta ("Acosta") at a recreational soccer league's championship game, which attracted hundreds of attendees. Claudia Acosta ("Claudia"), Acosta's daughter, testified that, after the game was over, she was walking with Acosta when Castillo-Velasquez came running toward them, said "hola, amigo," and began shooting, continuing even after Acosta fell to the ground. She testified that Castillo-Velasquez was about five feet from Acosta when he shot him. Jose Martinez-Orellana, who also witnessed the shooting, testified that Castillo-Velasquez came out from behind a barrel, approached Acosta and said, "do you remember me?" and then started shooting. Acosta, who was unarmed, was shot four times and died from a gunshot wound to the head. After the shooting, Castillo-Velasquez ran away until he was tackled by two Hall County Marshals working security for the soccer game. One of them testified that Castillo-Velasquez was smiling after the shooting and said, "I shot him, I shot him, he killed my father." Claudia testified that there had been rumors about tensions between the Acosta and Castillo-Velasquez families and that Acosta's father had a large machete scar across his cheek that he had gotten from a fight years earlier.

         Castillo-Velasquez testified in his own defense at trial. He testified that, when he was between seven and nine years old in El Salvador, Acosta and Acosta's father killed Castillo-Velasquez's father with machetes as Castillo-Velasquez watched. Sometime in late 2012, Castillo-Velasquez moved to Gainesville, Georgia, where Acosta was also living. According to Castillo-Velasquez, he had two encounters with Acosta between arriving in Gainesville and the time of the shooting. One was in a store, where, according to Castillo-Velasquez, Acosta grabbed a gun that was in his front pants waistline after seeing Castillo-Velasquez. The other was in a restaurant, where Castillo-Velasquez said Acosta looked at him in a "bad way" and then came over with a gun in his hand and threatened to kill Castillo-Velasquez as he had killed Castillo-Velasquez's father.

         Castillo-Velasquez also testified that when he saw Acosta at the soccer game on the day of the shooting, they both stopped walking and Acosta began laughing. According to this account, Acosta said he was laughing because he had killed Castillo-Velasquez's father; Acosta pulled a gun, telling Castillo-Velasquez to defend himself because Acosta was going to kill him; and Castillo-Velasquez then pulled his gun and shot Acosta. Castillo-Velasquez also testified that he has schizophrenia and paranoia and that he hears constant voices in his head and sees black, demon-shaped figures. He testified that those problems began in 2009, and that he took various medications from 2009 until about three months before the shooting, when he stopped taking them.

         At trial, the State introduced evidence that Castillo-Velasquez had previously been arrested for shooting at three men in New York. Specifically, the police officer who responded to that incident testified that in November 2004, Castillo-Velasquez approached an apartment building in New York and shot at three men until his handgun ran out of bullets. After being arrested and advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694) (1966), Castillo-Velasquez signed a written statement saying that the three men had beaten him with a baseball bat four years earlier and that, in the summer before the shooting, the men told him that, if it were not for his daughter, they would have killed him. Castillo-Velasquez stated that, on the day of the shooting, he had been drinking and started thinking about the men who previously had attacked him with a bat and that he then decided to find and shoot at the three men. This evidence was admitted under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) for the purpose of showing Castillo-Velasquez's intent in shooting Acosta.

         The trial court charged on both self-defense and delusional compulsion, and Castillo-Velasquez argued to the jury that, in shooting Acosta, his mental delusion overpowered his will such that he had no criminal intent and that the delusion led him to believe that he was acting in self-defense.

         Castillo-Velasquez does not contest the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. Nevertheless, in accordance with this Court's practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial and summarized above was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Castillo-Velasquez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which he was convicted. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

         2. Castillo-Velasquez contends that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of his New York crime.

         Under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b), "[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts shall not be admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith," but such evidence is admissible for other purposes, including to prove intent.

The party offering evidence under OCGA § 24-4-404 (b) must show three things: (1) the evidence is relevant to an issue in the case other than the defendant's character; (2) the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice; and (3) there is sufficient proof for a jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed the other act.

Kirby v. State, 304 Ga. 472, 479 (819 S.E.2d 468) (2018).[2]

         Looking to the first element of a Rule 404 (b) evaluation, the evidence of the New York crime was relevant here to prove intent. "Relevant evidence" is defined broadly as evidence "having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." OCGA § 24-4-401. We have held that a defendant puts intent at issue when he pleads not guilty and does not affirmatively take steps to remove intent from being at issue. See Kirby, 304 Ga. at 480; Olds v. State, 299 Ga. 65, 72-75 (786 S.E.2d 633) (2016). Here, Castillo-Velasquez not only put his intent at issue by pleading not guilty, he affirmatively put it at issue with his defense that he acted from delusions that overpowered his will and negated his criminal intent. Indeed, he specifically argued that the jury should find him not guilty by reason of insanity because he was acting under a delusional compulsion such that his "will to do the right thing [was] overpower[ed] . . . so that there's really no criminal intent at the time." Similarly, Castillo-Velasquez argued that

when someone doesn't have the criminal intent because his will is . . . overpowered by the voices and the visions and what he sees about that man with a gun over and over and over again to commit this particular act . . . ...

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