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People v. Sanchez

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

December 21, 2017

The People of the State of New York, Respondent,
Alexis Sanchez, Defendant-Appellant.

         Defendant appeals from the judgment of the Supreme Court, Bronx County (Margaret L. Clancy, J.), rendered March 20, 2015, convicting him, after a jury trial, of murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, and imposing sentence.

          John W. Sweeny, Jr., J.P., Richard T. Andrias, Karla Moskowitz, Marcy L. Kahn, Ellen Gesmer, JJ.

          Richard T. Wojszwilo, New York, for appellant.

          Darcel D. Clark, District Attorney, Bronx (Eric C. Washer and Nancy D. Killian of counsel), for respondent.

          KAHN, J.

         Defendant Alexis Sanchez was convicted, after a jury trial, of murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, arising out of the shooting death of Stephen Mari. Defendant, who did not testify, put forth a justification defense based on a videotaped statement that he gave to the police giving his version of the shooting, which the People introduced into evidence to definitively place the defendant at the scene.

         On this appeal, we are asked to decide whether the jury's verdict convicting defendant of murder in the second degree was against the weight of the evidence.

         I. Standards of Review

         Weight of the evidence review involves a two-step approach. (People v Romero, 7 N.Y.3d 633, 643 [2006]). First, the Court must determine whether, based on all the credible evidence, an acquittal would not have been unreasonable (id.; People v Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d 490, 495 [1987]). If so, then the appellate court must weigh the relative probative force of conflicting testimony and the relative strength of conflicting inferences that may be drawn from the testimony (People v Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d 342, 348 [2007]; Romero, 7 N.Y.3d at 643; Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d at 495). That step is performed by weighing the evidence against the elements as charged to the jury (Danielson, 9 N.Y.3d at 349). The evidence must be of such weight and credibility as to convince the Court that the jury's finding of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was justified (People v Mateo, 2 N.Y.3d 383, 410 [2004], cert denied 542 U.S. 946');">542 U.S. 946 [2004]).

         The relationship between the role of the jury in the finding of facts and the role of the intermediate appellate court in review of the facts has been stated as follows:

         "Empowered with this unique factual review, intermediate appellate courts have been careful not to substitute themselves for the jury. Great deference is accorded to the fact-finder's opportunity to view the witnesses, hear the testimony and observe demeanor. Without question the differences between what the jury does and what the appellate court does in weighing evidence are delicately nuanced, but differences there are" (Romero, 7 N.Y.3d at 644, quoting Bleakley, 69 N.Y.2d at 495).

         This Court has held that reversal of a judgment of conviction on weight of the evidence review is not warranted in the absence of record evidence indicating "that the jury's findings of credibility and fact were manifestly erroneous and so plainly unjustified by the evidence that rejection is required in the interest of justice'" (People v Bartley, 219 A.D.2d 566, 567 [1st Dept 1995], quoting People v Corporan, 169 A.D.2d 643, 643 [1st Dept 1991]; see People v Castillo, 223 A.D.2d 481, 481 [1st Dept 1996] [same]).

         The defense of justification of use of deadly physical force may be raised where the defendant "believes that [another] person is using or about to use deadly physical force" (Penal Law § 35.15[2][a]) and "to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person" (Penal Law § 35.15[1]). Weight of the evidence analysis is applicable to the defense of justification, which the People are required to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt (see People v Umali, 37 A.D.3d 164, 165 [1st Dept 2007], affd 10 N.Y.3d 417');">10 N.Y.3d 417 [2008], cert denied 556 U.S. 1110');">556 U.S. 1110 [2009]; see People v Gibson, 141 A.D.3d 1009, 1011-1012 [3d Dept 2016]).

         II. The Trial

         The following facts were uncontested at trial. During the evening hours of November 2, 2011, Stephen Mari was shot in an alleyway located in the vicinity of 1523 Purdy Street in the Bronx, 130 yards from the high school defendant had attended, and left to die. There were no eyewitnesses to the actual shooting. Shortly after the shooting took place, police officers found Mari's body lying facedown in a pool of blood inside the alleyway, which was 20 feet 6 inches in length and 7 feet wide. Mari, who was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds, had sustained six gunshot wounds - one each to his head and upper left arm and four to his torso. There was no blood found on the tee shirt Mari was wearing and no fouling or stippling on the skin near any of the entrance wounds on his body. The police, who arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting, recovered a wallet from Mari's body containing Mari's identification, but no money. Police detectives also recovered eight shell casings, one of which was found just outside the alleyway.

         The People's case at trial was as follows. Mamadou Bah testified that on the night of the shooting, he saw an Hispanic man wearing a hooded sweatshirt sitting alone in the driver's seat of a car which was double-parked on Purdy Street. He then witnessed the man exiting the car and proceeding toward the alleyway. Bah then heard several shots fired, and then saw the man run back from the alleyway to the car and drive off.

         Ricardo Campos, a New York Police Department sergeant who was off duty on the night of the shooting, testified that on that night he was waiting in his car to pick up his girlfriend's son from school when he heard four shots fired in quick succession. Two seconds later, he heard two more shots. He walked in the direction of the shots and then saw a man run out of an alleyway, jump into a dark sports utility vehicle and drive off.

         Faye Rosa, who also heard the shots, called 911. Her statement was that she told the 911 operator that she heard "four shots followed by a pause followed by four shots" but was too scared to look outside.

         The People presented evidence that after the shooter fled, the investigating detectives ascertained further information from conversations with Mari's son, Stephen Mari, Jr. Mari, Jr. stated that two days before the shooting a man named "Alex" had come to Mari's house in order to buy drugs from him. Mari, Jr. stated that Mari let "Alex" into his home and told his son to make him "feel comfortable" while Mari assembled his drugs and accepted only partial payment for the drugs from "Alex, " allowing him to depart amicably, with "Alex" promising to pay the balance of $35 in a couple of days. Mari, Jr. told police that "Alex" still owed Mari the money. He also mentioned that his father could bench press 350 pounds and would "manhandle" him. Using Mari's cell phone records, police identified "Alex" as defendant. A detective went to defendant's house several times, but defendant's mother told the detective that defendant was in "a ...

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