PEOPLE v. JACKSON

No. C078060.

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. TAEJUAN M. JACKSON, Defendant and Appellant.

Court of Appeals of California, Third District, Sacramento.

Filed April 11, 2017.


NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115

Defendant Taejuan M. Jackson ended a long-simmering feud with Juwan Howard by shooting him in the chest, killing him. A jury convicted Jackson of first degree murder for Howard's death. Jackson contends on appeal that insufficient evidence supports the jury's finding that he killed Howard with premeditation and deliberation, thus requiring us to reduce the conviction to second degree murder. We find his contention without merit and affirm the judgment.

Facts and Proceedings

In April 2012, K.J. and his younger brother William S. were walking in a neighborhood park in south Sacramento. Defendant, who was older than both boys, told K.J. and William not to walk around the park. Defendant then came up behind K.J. and slapped him on the face, causing him to stagger. K.J. and William left the park and returned home. They told their sister, Jada M., and Howard, a close family friend, what defendant had done. Howard was upset about the unprovoked attack on the young boys.

Sometime later, Howard, K.J., William and Jada were returning from a trip. While driving, they happened upon defendant walking down the street. Howard got out of the car and confronted defendant about hitting K.J. Howard and defendant began fighting; Howard won the fist fight. Afterwards, defendant told people that Howard had "jumped" him, and Howard and defendant were "enemies."

In the summer of 2012, Howard and his girlfriend were walking in south Sacramento after having purchased a drink from a convenience store. They saw defendant, and he gestured as if he wanted to shake Howard's hand. Defendant instead tried to punch Howard. Defendant missed, and hit the drink out of Howard's hand. Howard told his girlfriend to go home, and he took off running in the opposite direction. Defendant got in his car and chased Howard.

In 2013, Howard moved with his girlfriend to Oakland. A few days before Christmas, Howard drove his girlfriend's car back to Sacramento to visit with friends and family. While there, Howard met up with Thomas Keegan and Terrence Bobbit. In the early morning hours of December 21, Howard and the two men drove to a gas station to obtain alcohol. Bobbit was on the phone apparently trying to get directions to a party. Howard was in the driver's seat, Bobbit was in the front passenger seat, and Keegan was in the backseat. Howard's driver's side window was rolled down.

After getting the alcohol, Howard pulled the car next to the gas pumps. At the same time, a car drove up on the other side of the pumps. Several men got out of the car, and two men came over to Howard's vehicle.

The first man asked Howard where he was from, which in street parlance was understood as a threatening question. Bobbit told the man that Howard was "cool" and that he was his cousin.

A second man, who Keegan described as having dread locks with blonde tips, also came up to Howard's window. The second man, who the prosecution argued was defendant, accused Howard of previously trying to jump him. He yelled profanities and racial epithets at Howard. While holding onto the car with his left hand, the man began punching Howard through the open window with his right hand. Howard put his arms up to block the blows. Keegan told Howard to drive off, and a second later he heard a gunshot. The man had pulled out a gun and fired a single shot at Howard. The bullet entered the left side of Howard's chest and exited from the right side of his back.

After being shot, Howard slammed on the gas pedal and sped off from the gas station. A few moments later, Howard told his companions he had been shot and he began to lose consciousness. Bobbit grabbed the wheel, and Keegan pulled Howard into the backseat of the car. Howard died a short time later.

Defendant was charged with murder. (Pen. Code, § 187, subd. (a).) The information further alleged that defendant intentionally and personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused great bodily injury or death within the meaning of section 12022.53, subdivision (d) of the Penal Code.

At trial, neither Bobbit nor Keegan could identify defendant as the shooter. Video surveillance evidence, however, showed a man wearing a brightly colored jacket pointing a gun towards Howard's car. When defendant was arrested, a jacket matching the one in the surveillance video was found on his bed. A palm print and finger print matching defendant's left hand were also found near the driver's side window of Howard's car. A gun was never found.

Defendant did not testify. During trial, defendant's mother conceded that he had worn dreadlocks for several years, and that he had dyed the tips. Although she initially told detectives that her son had worn the brightly colored jacket found in his room, she denied making the statement at trial. Defendant's mother, girlfriend, and younger brother all testified that defendant had been home the night of the shooting.

A jury convicted defendant of first degree murder and found the alleged enhancement true. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for the first degree murder of Howard plus an additional and consecutive 25 years to life for the firearm enhancement.

Discussion

At trial, defendant argued he was not present at the gas station when Howard was shot. On appeal, however, he does not deny that he was the shooter. Instead, defendant's sole contention is that his first degree murder conviction must be reduced to second degree murder because there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation. According to defendant, the record in this case shows the shooting of Howard to have been not a premeditated and deliberate crime, but rather a rash, impulsive act that occurred after defendant happened to stumble upon Howard at the gas station. We disagree with defendant's view of the evidence.

"In reviewing a criminal conviction challenged as lacking evidentiary support, the court must review the whole record in the light most favorable to the judgment below to determine whether it discloses substantial evidence—that is, evidence that is reasonable, credible, and of solid value—such that a reasonable trier of fact could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." (People v. Brady (2010) 50 Cal.4th 547, 561 (Brady).) We "must accept logical inferences the jury might have drawn from the evidence, even if [we would] have concluded otherwise." (Ibid.) "`"The standard of review is the same when the prosecution relies mainly on circumstantial evidence."'" (Ibid.)

"Review on appeal of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the finding of premeditated and deliberate murder involves consideration of the evidence presented and all logical inferences from that evidence in light of the legal definition of premeditation and deliberation. . . ." (People v. Perez (1992) 2 Cal.4th 1117, 1124 (Perez).) "`"`Deliberation' refers to careful weighing of considerations in forming a course of action; `premeditation' means thought over in advance. [Citations.] `The process of premeditation . . . does not require any extended period of time. "The true test is not the duration of time as much as it is the extent of the reflection. Thoughts may follow each other with great rapidity and cold, calculated judgment may be arrived at quickly. . . ." [Citations.]'"'" (Brady, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 561.)

Premeditation and deliberation exists if an intentional killing occurred "`"`as the result of preexisting thought and reflection rather than unconsidered or rash impulse.'"'" (Brady, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 561.) Reviewing courts generally consider three types of evidence when determining whether a finding of premeditation and deliberation is adequately supported—preexisting motive, manner of killing, and planning activity. (Id. at pp. 561-562.) These three factors, discussed by our Supreme Court in People v. Anderson (1968) 70 Cal.2d 15, 26-27, need not be present in any particular combination to find substantial evidence of premeditation and deliberation, however. (People v. Burney (2009) 47 Cal.4th 203, 235.) Instead, the factors "are merely a framework for appellate review; they need not be present in some special combination or afforded special weight, nor are they exhaustive." (Brady, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 562; People v. Sanchez (1995) 12 Cal.4th 1, 32 (Sanchez) ["We have recently explained that the Anderson factors do not establish normative rules, but instead provide guidelines for our analysis"].)

In this case, the totality of the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the judgment, is sufficient to support the jury's verdict. The undisputed evidence showed defendant and Howard had a violent and acrimonious history and that the two were "enemies." After defendant's unprovoked attack on Jahree, who was like a brother to Howard, Howard confronted defendant in front of his peers and beat him in a physical fight. In defendant's mind, Howard had "jumped" him. Later, when defendant came upon Howard and his girlfriend coming out of a convenience store, defendant tried to attack Howard and even chased him in his car when Howard ran away. Howard, who was on foot, would have been no match for defendant's speeding car. Defendant, moreover, initially attempted to disguise his attack by acting as if he was going to shake Howard's hand.

When defendant attacked and shot Howard at the gas station, he shouted that Howard had "tried to jump him," clearly still enraged over the incident. From this evidence, the jury reasonably could have inferred that defendant had a motive to kill Howard, thus tending to indicate premeditation and deliberation.

While defendant concedes this evidence was sufficient to support a finding of a vengeful motive, he argues it does not support a motive to kill. Defendant's contention, however, views the evidence in the light most favorable to him rather than in the light most favorable to the judgment. (Brady, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 561.)

In any event, courts have "`never required the prosecution to prove a specific motive before affirming a judgment, even one of first degree murder.'" (People v. Thomas (1992) 2 Cal.4th 489, 519 (Thomas).) Notably, a sufficient motive for purposes of premeditation and deliberation has been found where the defendant sought to avoid arrest and parole revocation (see e.g., People v. Mendoza (2011) 52 Cal.4th 1056, 1070), and where the defendant perceived that his victims had shown him a lack of respect. (See e.g., People v. Cruz (1980) 26 Cal.3d 233, 240-241.) According to the court in Cruz, the "[d]efendant's pent-up resentment towards his victims establishe[d] the prior relationship from which the jury reasonably could infer a motive for the killings." (Id. at p. 245.) That same reasoning applies here.

Like in Cruz, it was reasonable to infer that defendant felt that Howard had shown him a lack of respect in their earlier dealings. He was clearly angry from having been beaten by Howard during the fight and a jury could reasonably infer that defendant resented Howard even more after he was unable to strike Howard during their second encounter in front of the convenience store. As the People point out, killing Howard represented the ultimate "revenge" against him, especially since defendant's prior attempts to match Howard physically failed miserably.

Evidence of the manner of killing especially supports the jury's determination. Intentionally firing a .40 caliber bullet into victim's chest from close range is sufficient to support a finding that a defendant had a preconceived plan to kill. (See e.g., People v. Halvorsen (2007) 42 Cal.4th 379, 422 (Halvorsen).) In Halvorsen, for example, the defendant shot two victims in the head or neck within a few feet. (Ibid.) In finding sufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation, the court characterized the manner of killing as "sufficiently `"particular and exacting"' to permit an inference that defendant was `acting according to a preconceived design.'" (Ibid.; see also People v. Manriquez (2005) 37 Cal.4th 547, 577 [after verbal altercation with victim, defendant "pulled a firearm from his waistband, cocked weapon, and fired several shots to the victim's head, neck and chest areas—conduct that, viewed as a whole, supported the jury's findings of premeditation and deliberation"].)

Here, defendant fired a gun at close range into Howard's chest. More specifically, he fired the gun into the left side of Howard's chest where his heart was located. The bullet tore through both of his lungs and severed his aorta, the largest vessel in the body that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. The severed aorta was a fatal injury.

While the beating defendant inflicted on Howard before he shot him might be suggestive of rage, it does not preclude an inference of premeditation. In Thomas, supra, 2 Cal.4th at page 518, the court found sufficient evidence of premeditation even though, like here, the defendant beat the victims before shooting them with single contact shots to the head and neck.

The evidence, moreover, shows that Howard tried to block defendant's blows but not that he fought back or otherwise hit defendant. The autopsy revealed no injuries to his hands. Nor was there any evidence that Howard provoked the attack. (Halvorsen, supra, 42 Cal.4th at p. 422 [victims did not provoke or struggle with defendant].) Instead, defendant approached Howard's vehicle and immediately began punching him.

Defendant finally contends there was no evidence of a prior plan to kill since their encounter that night at the gas station appeared entirely fortuitous. But defendant's actions once he found Howard that night are themselves highly indicative of planning and premeditation albeit it was over a short period of time. While it may be true that defendant had not anticipated seeing Howard that night, the jury was entitled to consider the full panoply of defendant's actions in deciding whether Howard's killing was premeditated and deliberate.

The jury reasonably could have inferred that defendant was always on the lookout for Howard after Howard supposedly "jumped him." After losing the fight to Howard, defendant subsequently confronted him when Howard was with his girlfriend buying drinks at a convenience store. At that point, defendant tried, unsuccessfully, to attack Howard. After Howard took off running, defendant hopped in his car and chased him. This evidence strongly suggests a preconceived plan to attack Howard whenever defendant encountered him.

The night Howard was killed defendant had armed himself with a loaded .40 caliber firearm. Although that fact alone may be insufficient to establish the requisite planning, when considered in light of defendant's long history of animosity with Howard, and his attempt to avenge being beaten by Howard, the jury reasonably could infer that defendant planned on using the firearm to gain an advantage over Howard if he did encounter him (or anyone else if in defendant's estimation, the circumstances called for it) Howard being physically stronger and bigger than defendant.

Even if we consider defendant's actions simply from the time the two met at the gas station, it is well settled that "`"[t]houghts may follow each other with great rapidity and cold, calculated judgment may be arrived at quickly. . . ."'" (Thomas, supra, 2 Cal.4th at p. 518.) In Brady, supra, 50 Cal.4th at pages 563-564, for example, the defendant shot a police officer only a few minutes after the officer first shined his patrol vehicle's spotlight on the defendant's car. In rejecting the argument that evidence of extensive planning was lacking, the court found that a rational trier of fact could have concluded that the defendant, knowing he illegally possessed a firearm, rapidly and coldly formed the idea to use his firearm before the officer found it during a search.

In this case, the jury rationally could have concluded that defendant rapidly and coldly formed the idea to use his firearm before Howard could drive off. Keegan testified that he told Howard to drive away when defendant started accosting him. A reasonable inference from such testimony is that defendant, who was standing next to the open driver's side window, heard Keegan tell Howard to drive away. To stop Howard from leaving, defendant coldly pulled his firearm out and shot it into the left side of Howard's chest.

Even where evidence of planning is somewhat minimal, our Supreme Court has stated that "[a] first degree murder conviction will be upheld when there is extremely strong evidence of planning, or when there is evidence of motive with evidence of either planning or manner." (People v. Romero (2008) 44 Cal.4th 386, 401.) As explained above, there is sufficient evidence of motive and manner to sustain the jury's premeditation and deliberation finding.

Disposition

The judgment is affirmed.

BLEASE, Acting P. J. and ROBIE, J., concurs.


Comment

1000 Characters Remaining

Leagle.com reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

User Comments

Listed below are the cases that are cited in this Featured Case. Click the citation to see the full text of the cited case. Citations are also linked in the body of the Featured Case.

Cited Cases

  • No Cases Found

Listed below are those cases in which this Featured Case is cited. Click on the case name to see the full text of the citing case.

Citing Cases