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State v. Breton

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 27, 2016

Jose A. Breton.

         Providence County Superior Court (P2/12-1929ADV) Associate Justice Daniel A. Procaccini

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Layne C. Savage, Esq. Martin D. Harris, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          Francis X. Flaherty, Associate Justice

         Early in the morning of October 25, 2011, as she was leaving for work, the complaining witness, Dilcia Lora, was viciously attacked by a masked assailant in the front hall of her home and was severely cut on her face with a small blade. Ms. Lora subsequently identified her attacker as the defendant, Jose A. Breton a.k.a. Pappi Valdez, a man with whom she had previously had a two-year-long romantic relationship. In a three-count information, the defendant was charged with one count of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of simple assault on Ms. Lora. The third count was for a simple assault against Ms. Lora's daughter, Jani Tolentino, which was alleged to have occurred on May 26, 2010. When the case was reached for trial, the defendant was convicted of the two counts of assault against Ms. Lora, but he was acquitted of the third count against Ms. Tolentino. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial justice denied.[1] It is from that ruling that the defendant has timely appealed, arguing that the trial justice misconstrued the evidence when he found Ms. Lora to be a more credible witness than the alibi witnesses produced by the defendant. We have examined the record and have considered the written submissions and oral arguments advanced by the parties. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of conviction.

         Facts and Travel

         On May 26, 2010, Ms. Lora and defendant had an argument, during the course of which defendant struck and pushed Ms. Lora's daughter, Jani Tolentino. The police were called, but when they arrived, Ms. Lora told them that she did not know defendant's real name, only his alias, "Pappi Valdez, " and that they had been dating for only three months when in fact they had been dating for two years. At trial, Ms. Lora explained that she had not been truthful with the police because she was afraid of what defendant would do if she reported him to law enforcement.

         According to Ms. Lora, she and defendant had been in a two-year relationship that had been replete with assaults and threats. The romance, she said, came to an end in December 2010. However, Ms. Lora said that she never explained to defendant that the relationship was over and that she never "officially" broke up with him, but instead she simply left the country. Ms. Lora said that she went to the Dominican Republic to stay with her mother, remaining there for approximately two months. Ms. Lora did not tell defendant she was leaving the country or where she would be going, nor did she inform her mother why she had come to stay. However, shortly after she got to the Dominican Republic, defendant showed up at her mother's house, unexpected and uninvited. The defendant repeatedly asked Ms. Lora to resume their relationship and he promised to enter counseling. But Ms. Lora was unmoved, and, when she refused to get back together with him, he left.

         Ms. Lora moved to Florida and then back to Santo Domingo before finally returning to Rhode Island in August 2011. In Rhode Island, she lived with her brother, her sister, her daughter, and her niece and nephew. Eventually, Ms. Lora secured employment at Kenny Manufacturing, where she worked with the mother of defendant's children. Occasionally, she saw defendant as he brought that woman to work but, she explained, she avoided interacting with either of them.

         On October 25, 2011, as she was leaving her apartment to go to work, Ms. Lora was accosted by a hooded and masked assailant. Ms. Lora made an effort to defend herself with her hands "so he wouldn't cut [her]" and, during the course of the struggle, she was able to pull part of the mask up. When she did, she recognized defendant's nose and chin. Ms. Lora also recognized the ski mask as belonging to defendant. Ms. Lora screamed for help and attempted to defend herself as the attacker kept slashing at her with the knife. Ms. Lora's brother, niece, daughter, and sister, hearing her screams, rushed to her aid. When they arrived, the assailant ceased attacking Ms. Lora, fled the apartment building and ran down the street. Lisandro, Ms. Lora's brother, chased the assailant out of the building but was unable to catch him. Ms. Lora immediately told her family that "Pappi" had cut her.

         At the hospital, Ms. Lora informed the doctors that Jose Breton had cut her face, that she had been in a relationship with him for a long time, that he "always threatened [her]" and that she had never before reported the abuse because she feared that he "would leave [her] paralyzed." She also told the medical personnel that defendant had followed her to the Dominican Republic and had confronted her at her mother's house. Although Ms. Lora related these events to the doctors, she did not immediately notify the police about who had attacked her because she was still afraid of defendant. However, the following day Ms. Lora advised Det. Emilio Matos of the Providence police department that defendant had assaulted her, that she knew it was him because of his height and build, and that she recognized the "little bit" of his face that had become uncovered when she tugged on the mask. She also explained that "the only person threatening [her] was [defendant]. And he was always threatening [her] if [she] left him he was going to kill [her], this that [sic], that he was going to take [her] eyes out, that he was going to leave [her] paralyzed."

         At trial, the attending emergency room physician, Dr. Leo Kowayashi, testified that Ms. Lora presented with three lacerations above her right eye as well as a large deep laceration to the left side of her face, and that these wounds would result in permanent scarring. Ana Cruz, defendant's mother, testified for her son. She said that she had brought defendant to New York City on October 24, 2011, the day before the assault, dropping him off there as she traveled to Virginia for a funeral service for a recently deceased family member. She said that she rented a minivan at the T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, on October 24, 2011, traveled to New York City with defendant, and arrived in Manhattan around 3:30 a.m. on October 25, 2011. Ms. Cruz testified that she left defendant in Manhattan and picked up other family members who were going to the funeral, and that defendant went to stay with her brother's former girlfriend, "Fam, " for the day in Brooklyn. Ms. Cruz produced receipts for the rental car, gas, and tolls for the trip to Virginia. She testified that she returned the rental van on October 26, 2011.

         Femije Tairi, or "Fam, " testified that defendant's mother called her on October 24, and asked if defendant could stay with her because there were too many people going to the funeral and not everyone could afford to go. She said that she met Ms. Cruz and defendant in Manhattan early in the morning on October 25, 2011, and Ms. Cruz picked up other family members; Ms. Tairi said that she then drove with defendant back to her home in Brooklyn, where she lived with her daughter and two small sons. She testified that she and defendant arrived at her home around 4 a.m., at which point they started talking about the deceased family member and "goofing around like normal families" before making breakfast at about 6 a.m. The defendant's aunt, Marilyn Castillo, arrived around 6:15 a.m. "to grieve, " and Ms. Tairi explained that "[w]e have our own way of ...

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