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United States v. Amador-Huggins

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 26, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
ALEXIS AMADOR-HUGGINS, a/k/a/ Negro, Defendant-Appellant

As corrected August 31, 2015.

Page 125

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 126

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Jay A. García-Gregory, U.S. District Judge.

Arza Feldman and Feldman and Feldman were on brief, for appellant.

Susan Jorgensen, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Thompson, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 127

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

Alexis Amador-Huggins was convicted of attempted carjacking resulting in death, 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3), aiding and abetting the same, id. § 2, and use of a firearm resulting in death, id. § 924(j). The district court sentenced him to life imprisonment and also imposed restitution in the amount of $13,332.86. He now appeals his conviction and the order of restitution. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

I. Background

Amador-Huggins's appeal trains on a number of the district court's evidentiary rulings. We therefore recite the facts in a " balanced" manner in which we " objectively view the evidence of record." United States v. Burgos-Montes, 786 F.3d 92, 99 (1st Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In June 2012, seventeen-year-old Stefano Steenbakkers Betancourt departed from his sister's birthday party driving his grandmother's white Lexus. His mother left with his sister and other party guests a few minutes later. As she was driving, Stefano's mother received a call from Stefano, who said that another vehicle was hitting[1] him from behind and that he was scared and didn't know what to do. His mother told him to read her the license plate number, which he did, and she repeated it over and over to the passengers in her vehicle. The phone then went dead. A bit further on, Stefano's mother found the Lexus on the side of the road with her son inside, shot in the head. He died three days later.

Law enforcement officers arrested Amador-Huggins and John Anthony Morales Lopez (" Morales" ), charging them with attempted carjacking, 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3), use of a firearm, id. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii), use of a firearm resulting in death, id. § 924(j), and with aiding and abetting each other in furtherance of those crimes, id. § 2.

At Amador-Huggins's trial, the key testimony came from Morales, who pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, and who admitted to shooting Stefano as part of an attempted carjacking. Morales testified to the following:

Amador-Huggins introduced the idea of the carjacking while he and Morales were driving together in a white Jeep, saying that friends of his would pay the two of them $1,500 to carjack an SUV. They drove to a housing project in Catano and got a gun from a man who introduced himself as " El Gordo." They left after about 20 minutes and drove toward Dorado, with Amador-Huggins driving and

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Morales in the passenger seat. They saw the white Lexus driven by Stefano and decided to steal it.

Amador-Huggins then explained the plan: he would give the Lexus " a little bit of a bump" and the driver would pull over, thinking it was an accident. At that point, they would pull a gun on the driver. Amador-Huggins bumped the Lexus once; when Stefano didn't stop, Amador-Huggins bumped it again, this time a little harder. However, Amador-Huggins told Morales he didn't want to hit the Lexus too hard because he was driving his mother's car and didn't want to damage it. Morales also estimated that the traffic was moving at only about 10 to 15 miles per hour.

When Stefano didn't pull over after a third bump, Morales and Amador-Huggins got " ticked off." Amador-Huggins gave Morales the gun and told Morales that he was going to cut off the Lexus, at which point Morales should do " whatever it took" to get the Lexus. The Jeep pulled in front of the Lexus and Morales got out and shot into the vehicle five or six times. Morales got back into the car, and Amador-Huggins calmly said, " Man. I think you killed him." Amador-Huggins was smiling as he said it.

The two drove back to the housing project in Catano. They found El Gordo with some associates in front of the basketball court. After Amador-Huggins explained what had happened--that they didn't manage to steal a car but they did manage to kill someone--the group " congratulat[ed] [Morales] for what happened" as they hung out, " celebrating."

In addition to the foregoing testimony by Morales, the government also presented: evidence that a white Jeep Compass registered to Amador-Huggins but used by and paid for by his mother bore the exact plate number read by the victim to his mother; testimony by Amador-Huggins's mother that her son had borrowed the Jeep the night of the shooting; highway toll booths records showing the location of the Jeep at various times the night of the attempted carjacking; testimony by an eyewitness to the shooting describing an individual in the Jeep that matched Morales's description; and testimony by a witness who knew them both and saw them together in the Jeep the night of the attempted carjacking. Presumably because of the overwhelming evidence that Amador-Huggins was driving the Jeep that ...


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