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State v. Muralles

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 28, 2017

Oscar Muralles.

         Providence County Superior Court P1/10-998A Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

          For State: Christopher R. Bush Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Angela M. Yingling Office of the Public Defender

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


          William P. Robinson III Associate Justice

         The defendant, Oscar Muralles, appeals from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree child molestation and two counts of second-degree child molestation-all involving the complaining witness, Rick, [1] the defendant's former stepson, who was born on October 13, 1998 and was fifteen years old at the time of trial in February of 2014. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for a new trial because, in the defendant's view: (1) the trial justice overlooked and misconceived the evidence; and (2) the verdict failed to truly respond to the evidence and failed to do substantial justice between the parties.

         This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on October 5, 2016. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I Facts and Travel[2]

         On October 24, 2008, Oliver, the eight-year-old half-brother of Rick, disclosed to their mother, Danielle, that he had witnessed Rick perform oral sex on defendant (who is Rick's former stepfather and Oliver's biological father).[3] Upon being questioned about that allegation by Danielle, Rick testified that he initially denied the incident out of fear and embarrassment, but that he later confirmed its veracity to her.

         On March 23, 2010, a Providence County grand jury indicted defendant on two counts of first-degree child molestation, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 11-37-8.1 and 11-37-8.2 (Counts Two and Five), and five counts of second-degree child molestation, in violation of §§ 11-37-8.3 and 11-37-8.4 (Counts One, Three, Four, Six and Seven). A jury trial commenced on February 24, 2014. On February 26, upon defendant's motion pursuant to Rule 29 of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, the trial justice granted judgment of acquittal on Counts Three, Four, and Six. The remaining counts (Counts One, Two, Five, and Seven) were submitted to the jury, which found him guilty of each of those counts. The trial justice proceeded to sentence defendant to concurrent sentences of: (1) fifty years, thirty-five years to serve, the balance suspended with probation, for the first-degree child molestation convictions; and (2) twenty-five years, ten years to serve, the balance suspended with probation, for the second-degree child molestation convictions.

         We summarize below the trial testimony that is relevant to the sole issue raised on appeal-viz., whether the trial justice erred in denying defendant's motion for a new trial. We note at the outset that Rick testified in highly specific detail about the multiple incidents of molestation that he accused defendant of having perpetrated between January of 2002 and October of 2008. No beneficial purpose would be served by reproducing here his very graphic testimony (other than that which is essential)-especially since defendant has opted not to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the counts of which he stands convicted, limiting himself instead to questioning the weight of the evidence and challenging the credibility of various witnesses. See State v. Cook, 45 A.3d 1272, 1273 (R.I. 2012).


         The Testimony at Trial

         1. The Testimony of Oliver

         Oliver (Rick's younger half-brother) testified that, in October of 2008, when he was eight, he saw Rick engaged in "sucking" defendant's penis in the basement. When asked by the prosecutor to clarify about the "sucking, " Oliver stated that Rick had brought "his mouth and hands" into contact with defendant's penis. It was Oliver's testimony that, on October 24, 2008, he told his mother that he had seen "[his] dad do[] * * * bad stuff." On direct examination, the prosecutor engaged in the following exchange with Oliver:

"[PROSECUTOR]: And when you told your mom, did you say those words or did you demonstrate it somehow?
"* * *
"[WITNESS]: I demonstrated.
"[PROSECUTOR]: Can you just show the jury what demonstration you were doing[?]
"[WITNESS]: I got my hand and went like that (demonstrating). I showed it to my mom like that.
"[PROSECUTOR]: So you showed your mom that demonstration. Okay. For the record, that's you with a fist in your hand, going up and down towards your mouth?
"* * *
"[WITNESS]: Yes."

         When Oliver was asked by defense counsel why he decided to tell his mother about the just-referenced sexual incident, he replied: "Because * * * I know that it was wrong, but [defendant] was still doing it." He stated that his mother "told [him] to tell the truth." In addition, defense counsel posed questions to a seemingly confused Oliver about whether or not he and Rick discussed the incident.[4]

         2. The Testimony of the Complaining Witness

         It is clear from the testimony of Rick, the complaining witness, that, at the time of the incidents at issue, he was living with his mother, Danielle, and his siblings, Oliver, Wallace, and Donna. He testified that he and Oliver and Wallace used to go to visit defendant almost every weekend at his residence on Penn Street in Providence. Although defendant lived in the basement of his brother's house, Rick testified that, when visiting defendant, he mostly played upstairs with his half-brothers. However, it was also Rick's testimony that there were times when he and defendant were alone in the latter's bedroom in the basement. At trial, Rick described six separate sexual incidents that he testified took place on defendant's bed, during which defendant ...

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