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State v. Nino-Estrada

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 11, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JUAN ANTONIO NINO-ESTRADA, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L. Poulson, Judge.

         Juan Nino-Estrada appeals the judgment and sentence imposed after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of willful injury. AFFIRMED.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Nan Jennisch, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Juan Nino-Estrada appeals the judgment and sentence imposed after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of willful injury. He challenges the adequacy of the jury instructions regarding both murder charges, as well as the sufficiency of the evidence to support one count of first-degree murder. He also argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Nino-Estrada's convictions stem from events that occurred on the night of November 7, 2013. Louis Sanchez, a drug dealer, was in the attic room of his home conducting drug transactions while a group of people, including Nino-Estrada, gathered with him and smoked methamphetamine. At one point in the evening, an argument began between Nino-Estrada and Sanchez, and Nino-Estrada drew a gun and pointed it at Sanchez.

         Michael Delgado, who had been living in the basement of the home, entered the room pointing a gun at Nino-Estrada. After Nino-Estrada turned his gun on Delgado, they left the room and a scuffle ensued on the stairway landing outside the room. Four or five gunshots were fired. Sanchez went to stairway landing's door and was shot in the knee by Nino-Estrada. Nino-Estrada chased Delgado back into the room and fired several shots at Delgado, who was attempting to hide behind a desk. Delgado, who had been shot in the leg and elbow, then attempted to crawl to the room's door. Nino-Estrada shot him in the back of the head.

         Nino-Estrada then turned his gun to Sanchez. The gun misfired when he pulled the trigger, and Sanchez grabbed Nino-Estrada and pulled him to the floor. As the two men fought, another person in the room attempted to stab Nino-Estrada but accidentally stabbed Sanchez in the back. Sanchez survived both the stabbing and the gunshot wound to his knee. Delgado died from his gunshot wounds, as did Yolanda Valdez, a bystander who was hit by stray gunfire.

         Nino-Estrada fled the house and drove to his girlfriend's apartment with both his gun and Delgado's gun in his possession. Law enforcement officers located Nino-Estrada at the apartment a short time later and transported him to the hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to his leg. Afterward, he was transported to the police station and interviewed about the night's events. Nino-Estrada denied he had been at Sanchez's home, instead claiming he was shot while walking down the street.

         The State filed a trial information charging Nino-Estrada with two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and willful injury. Nino-Estrada moved to suppress statements made during his interrogation, alleging law enforcement failed to inform him of his constitutional rights in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 473-76 (1966). The trial court denied the motion. A trial was held, and a jury found Nino-Estrada guilty as charged. He was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. Nino-Estrada appeals.

         II. First-Degree Murder of Delgado.

         Nino-Estrada first challenges the jury instructions marshaling the elements of first-degree murder with respect to Delgado. Because an objection to the instruction was never made before the trial court, Nino-Estrada admits error is not preserved. See State v. Fountain, 786 N.W.2d 260, 262 (Iowa 2010). He instead argues his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the erroneous instruction. Therefore, we analyze his claims under an ineffective-assistance rubric. See id. at 263.

         To succeed on an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel-claim, a defendant must show that counsel failed to perform an essential duty and, as a result, prejudice occurred. See State v. Effler, 769 N.W.2d 880, 890 (Iowa 2009). Unless the defendant proves both prongs, the ineffective-assistance claim fails. See State v. Clay, 824 N.W.2d 488, 495 (Iowa 2012).

         The State charged Nino-Estrada with the first-degree murder of Delgado under the felony-murder rule. Under this rule, a person who kills another while participating in a nonexempt forcible felony is guilty of felony murder. See State v. Tribble, 790 N.W.2d 121, 125 (Iowa 2010). The trial court instructed the jury that to find Nino-Estrada guilty of murder as charged in count I of the trial information, the State was required to prove the following:

1. On or about the 7th day of November, 2013, [Nino-Estrada] shot [Delgado].
2. [Delgado] died as a result of being shot.
3. [Nino-Estrada] acted with malice ...

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