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Guerrero v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 23, 2015


Session May 12, 2015.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Maury County No. 17884 Stella Hargrove, Judge.

Andrew B. Love (on appeal and at hearing), Nashville, Tennessee, and John M. Schweri (at hearing), Columbia, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert Guerrero.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Assistant Attorney General; Michel Bottoms, District Attorney General; and Kimberly Cooper, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



The evidence at the petitioner's jury trial revealed that, on April 12, 2008, a fight erupted during a "Quinceanera, 'Sweet 15' birthday party, at the National Guard Armory in Columbia, Tennessee." State v. Robert A. Guerrero, No. M2008-02839-CCA-R3-CD, slip op. at 2 (Tenn. Crim. App., Nashville, June 8, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 21, 2011). Law enforcement officers "were called to the scene and people were escorted out of the building." Id. Witnesses placed the petitioner at the party during the fracas. Id. One of the victims, Jose Castro, left the party and drove away in his Ford Expedition, in which 10 others were passengers, including Mr. Castro's girlfriend, Sarah Garcia; Ms. Garcia's sister, Patricia Garcia; and Mr. Castro's 10-year-old brother, Juan Castro. Id.

On the way home, Mr. Castro noticed that the vehicle behind him was repeatedly speeding up and slowing down. The driver of the car following him then turned off the headlights. Mr. Castro told everyone in his vehicle to duck down because the "car behind [him] was acting suspicious." He testified that the car pulled up beside him and he heard gunshots. Mr. Castro testified that it was too dark for him to see the color of the vehicle or the people inside. He "just saw sparks." Mr. Castro was shot in his upper thigh and his "body went numb." He began "swerving and hitting the car to run it off the road." The other driver appeared to have lost control of his vehicle. Mr. Castro drove to the Williamson County Medical Center. He testified that on their way to the hospital, Sarah Garcia told him that she had been shot in the leg, and Juan Castro said that he had been "hit."
. . . .
Emergency room physician Dr. Jerry Edwards testified that when the victims arrived at the Williamson County Medical Center in the early morning hours of April 13, 2008, he helped Sarah Garcia out of the vehicle. She was bleeding profusely from her left leg. Juan Castro and Patty Garcia were brought into the hospital in full cardiac arrest. Patty Garcia had been shot in the head, and Juan Castro had been shot in the chest. Both victims died. Dr. Edwards also treated Jose Castro, who had been shot twice in his leg.
Forensic pathologist Amy McMaster performed the autopsies on Patty Garcia and Juan Castro. She testified that Patty Garcia died from a gunshot wound to her head. Juan Castro had three gunshot wounds, two to his back and one to his shoulder. Two bullets were recovered from Mr. Castro's shoulder and chest. A third bullet that had entered Mr. Castro's back and then exited his chest was not recovered but it produced the fatal wound.

Id., slip op. at 2-3. Columbia Police Department Officer Jeremy Humphrey arrived at the scene of the shooting to find the petitioner and "another male standing beside a vehicle that was in the ditch." Id., slip op. at 3. The petitioner told the officer that "they had been in a fight at the Armory" and that a sport utility vehicle "had run them off the road." Id., slip op at 3-4. Officer Alex McPherson recovered an "'SKS' assault rifle with a collapsible stock" lying near the petitioner's vehicle, and the petitioner and the other man were placed under arrest. Id., slip op. at 4.

Detective Jeremy Alsup interviewed [the petitioner] at the police department on April 16, 2008. Detective Alsup testified that [the petitioner] also gave a written statement in which he denied having been involved in a fight at the Armory. [The petitioner] stated that one of the victims had approached him and tried to hit him and that [the petitioner] and his two friends were escorted out of the party by police. They waited outside with another friend and then left together. After leaving, he saw the victim's vehicle, and he stated that he handed "Chas" a .38 handgun and that "Chas" passed "Bodie" the SKS out of the trunk, and when they got beside them, "they opened fire." The vehicle then wrecked, and "Bodie and Chas" ran, and [the petitioner] and his cousin stayed at the scene. In his statement, [the petitioner] admitted "I understand what we did was wrong, but all I can do is pray and beg for another shot at life and to let me take care of my family, please. I am not a murderer."


A corrections officer located a letter in co-defendant Javoris Sparkman's cell, and, following analysis by a Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic handwriting examiner, the "'overwhelming majority'" of the letter was determined to have been written by the petitioner. Id., slip op. at 4-5. The letter stated as follows:

You got me f[ ]ed up bro, I didn't even want to give no statement until I talked to a lawyer that's why they kept me in the front, so I couldn't talk to little Eric and get our sh[ ] together. You act like you got away and I told on you. We left the damn chopper right next to the car. Me and E stayed looking for the gun. When they pulled up on us after you turned yourself in they questioned me and I tried to lie and say we were taking E home to the creek. And they hit us first before we started dumping, but they already knew everything from me giving Chase the gun to me saying light them up. As I started to speed up I didn't say sh[ ]. So f[ ]k what you talking about. That's some ho-a[ ]-sh[ ] for you to think like that after everything. I f[ ]ed with you fool, but f[ ]k it, I guess you can think what you want.

Id., slip op. at 4-5.

Detective Cory Cooper testified that, in processing the crime scene, he never recovered a .38 caliber handgun. Id., slip op. at 5. Detective Cooper testified that "there were no weapons found in the victim's vehicle" and that orange-colored paint chips collected from the vehicle the petitioner was driving were consistent with the color of the victim's vehicle. Id. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") Agent Steve Scott examined the rifle found at the crime scene and determined that "the bullet recovered from Sarah Garcia had been fired from the rifle" but that the bullets recovered from the bodies of Juan Castro and Patricia Garcia had been "fired from a .38 caliber handgun." Id., slip op. at 5-6. TBI Agent Mark Dunlap "compared DNA profiles collected from the rifle found at the scene with [the petitioner's] DNA sample" and determined that the petitioner "was a 'major contributor' in that his DNA was found in the highest levels on the grip of the rifle." Id., slip op. at 6. Additionally, Agent Dunlap determined that the petitioner "was a 'minor contributor' to the forearm and strap of the rifle." Id.

The petitioner testified that he and co-defendants Javoris Sparkman, Charles Kelly, and Eric Guerrero attended the birthday party together; the petitioner stated that the group arrived at the party "earlier that night and left, and after they returned, they were not there long before the party broke up." Id. The petitioner testified that, when they returned to the party, "'it looked like a riot.'" Id. The petitioner testified that his grandfather had been struck in the mouth but that he did not see the attacker. Id. After law enforcement officers arrived on the scene, the petitioner was attempting to leave "when someone from the victim's family tried to grab him, " and ...

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