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State v. Cordero

Supreme Court of Iowa

March 20, 2015

STATE OF IOWA, Appellee,

Page 254

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Scott D. Rosenberg, Judge. A criminal defendant challenges his convictions and sentences for first-degree murder and attempt to commit murder.


Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Bradley M. Bender, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kyle P. Hanson, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Jaki L. Livingston, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.


Page 255

CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal involving convictions for first-degree murder and attempt to commit murder, the defendant asserts numerous claims of error arising out of his trial and sentencing. These claims included insufficiency of evidence to support the convictions, trial court error in refusing to give a jury instruction, ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and insufficient reasons for the imposition of consecutive sentences. We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals addressed all the issues on appeal and affirmed the judgment and sentence of the district court. On further review, we only address the issue concerning the jury instruction. The issue presented is whether the district court abused its discretion by failing to give a jury instruction at trial on the defense of intoxication under the record in this case. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion. We affirm in part and vacate in part the opinion of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment and sentence of the district court.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Mario Guerrero Cordero lived in Des Moines in 2008. He was distantly related to Miguel and Manuel Cano Basurta, brothers who also lived in Des Moines. Miguel and Manuel worked at an automobile repair shop called El Tarasco's. In May 2008, Guerrero Cordero damaged a truck belonging to a customer of the shop when he struck it with his vehicle after entering the parking lot. Miguel demanded that Guerrero Cordero pay for the damage. Guerrero Cordero failed to pay, which upset Miguel and caused tension

Page 256

between the two men. This tension reached a tipping point on Independence Day of that year.

On the morning of July 4, Miguel and Manuel went to work at El Tarasco's. After friends arrived at the shop, the brothers stopped working and began to socialize with them. The fellowship included the consumption of beer. Guerrero Cordero also arrived at the shop, and Miguel and Manuel asked him to leave. Guerrero Cordero and Miguel began to argue, and eventually, Miguel insulted Guerrero Cordero's family and challenged him to a fight. However, no physical confrontation occurred, and Guerrero Cordero left the shop without incident.

After leaving El Tarasco's, Guerrero Cordero went to an automotive repair shop owned by Rogelio Carlos Basurto, another distant cousin. While Guerrero Cordero was at Basurto's shop, Guerrero Cordero displayed a handgun and ammunition to those present before placing the gun in his waistband. When he and Basurto left the shop together to buy beer, Guerrero Cordero told Basurto that he had wanted to shoot Miguel the other day, but did not do so because they were family. Basurto told Guerrero Cordero he should not think about hurting family and that the gun would only bring him trouble. Basurto left the shop late in the afternoon. Guerrero Cordero was still present. He was drinking beer, but Basurto did not believe he was drunk. At some point, Guerrero Cordero returned to El Tarasco's, where Miguel again asked him to leave. He complied with the request. Manuel subsequently saw Guerrero Cordero at an apartment complex in the early evening and told him not to return to the shop until he could talk with Miguel.

Despite the admonition, Guerrero Cordero returned to El Tarasco's once again.[1] Upon entering the shop, he said, " What's up?" He then pulled the gun from his waistband and fired several shots at Miguel. Miguel was hit by three shots and fell to the floor. Guerrero Cordero then began firing at the others gathered in the shop, who had begun to flee. As Guerrero Cordero turned to leave the shop, he shot Hector Casillas, hitting him in the foot and causing him to fall. Casillas continued to flee, and Guerrero Cordero shot him again, this time in the back as he ran away. Guerrero Cordero then fled the scene. Casillas was taken to the hospital for surgery and survived. Miguel died of his wounds shortly after he was transferred to the hospital trauma center.

Police executed a search warrant on Guerrero Cordero's home on July 5. They found ammunition and the pants he had worn the previous day. Two days later, Guerrero Cordero's roommate led police to a buried handgun, which forensics testing was later able to match as having fired five bullets recovered at the scene, including one removed from Miguel's body. The police also discovered Guerrero Cordero had purchased a ticket to Mexico under an assumed name and left Des Moines. They subsequently began a lengthy process of obtaining an international warrant for the arrest of Guerrero Cordero. Three years later, in 2011, Mexican authorities arrested Guerrero Cordero on the international warrant. He was eventually extradited to the United States.

The State of Iowa charged Guerrero Cordero with first-degree murder and attempt to commit murder. At trial, testimony was presented about the consumption

Page 257

of alcoholic beverages on July 4 by the persons present at El Tarasco's and Basurto's. Miguel and many of the persons who spent the day at El Tarasco's were intoxicated by the time the shooting started. There were coolers of beer at the shop and numerous beer cans. Multiple witnesses testified that Guerrero Cordero had been drinking beer during the day, but nearly all of them said he was not intoxicated or did not appear intoxicated. Not all witnesses were asked at trial if they believed Guerrero Cordero was intoxicated. Only one witness, who had never met Guerrero Cordero before and was himself intoxicated at the time of the shooting, testified Guerrero Cordero was " probably" intoxicated. Photographs of the inside of Guerrero Cordero's truck revealed an unopened can of beer and unopened bottle of beer, as well as a single open can of beer in the cup holder. The investigating officer did not question ...

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