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State v. Fuentes

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 21, 2017

State
v.
Jesus Danilo Fuentes.

         Providence County Superior Court (P1/10-203AG) Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

          For State: Lauren S. Zurier Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Lara E. Montecalvo Office of the Public Defender

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

          OPINION

          William P. Robinson III, Associate Justice

         The defendant, Jesus Danilo Fuentes, appeals from a judgment of conviction following a jury trial held in the Superior Court for Providence County. He was found guilty of Count One, the first-degree murder of Henry Vargas, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1; he was also found guilty of Count Two, the discharge of a firearm while committing a crime of violence, "resulting in the death of Henry Vargas, " in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-47-3.2(b)(3). The defendant's contention on appeal is that the trial justice erred when, in the defendant's words, "he refused to give an eyewitness identification jury instruction approved by this Court in State v. Werner, 851 A.2d 1093, 1102 (R.I. 2004)." We disagree with the defendant's contention in this regard; and, for the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         In the early morning hours of November 6, 2009, Henry Vargas was shot outside Club Platinum, a nightclub on Broad Street in Providence; and, tragically, he died as a result. His girlfriend, Carmelina Bueno, was an eyewitness to that shooting.

         On January 15, 2010, a Providence County grand jury indicted defendant on two counts: Count One, the first-degree murder of Henry Vargas, in violation of § 11-23-1; and Count Two, the discharge of a firearm while committing a crime of violence, resulting in the death of Henry Vargas, in violation of § 11-47-3.2(b)(3). The defendant's jury trial, which was held in June of 2011, involved the testimony of twenty-two witnesses (seventeen testifying on behalf of the state and five testifying on behalf of the defense). At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of both of the above-referenced counts. On June 8, 2012, the trial justice sentenced defendant to two consecutive life sentences. A timely notice of appeal was filed.

         We recount below the salient aspects of defendant's trial to the extent necessary to provide context for the single issue raised on appeal-whether or not the trial justice committed reversible error in denying defendant's motion for a jury instruction that would include, verbatim, particular language from the jury instructions in Werner, 851 A.2d at 1102 (i.e., the Werner instruction), [1] which language cautioned the jurors in that earlier case about the fallibility of eyewitness identification.[2]

         The Testimony of Carmelina Bueno

         Carmelina ("Carmen")[3] Bueno, the sole testifying eyewitness to the shooting of her boyfriend, Henry Vargas, testified that they had been "partner[s]" for five years. She stated that, on the night of November 5, 2009, she and Henry "went to a nightclub [in Providence] called Platinum, " where they arrived at approximately 11:30 or 11:45 p.m. and from which they left at 1:00 a.m. She testified that, upon leaving Club Platinum, as she and Henry were crossing Aldrich Street (a street that intersects Broad Street, where Club Platinum is located)[4] to walk towards Henry's parked car, "there were two people behind [them]"-one woman and one man; she added that she looked at the man for a "[f]ew seconds." In addition, she stated that she saw another female, who she said was "cross[ing] the street." Her testimony was that, once she and Henry reached his car, she walked to the passenger side, while he went to the driver's side. Carmen testified on direct examination that the above-referenced man, who was behind them as they crossed Aldrich Street, "called Henry out to fight and said[:] 'You fat one, didn't you want to fight me? Come now.'" When she was further asked on direct whether or not she "notice[d] anything about the man as he said those words[, ]" she replied: "I kept looking at him to see if it was true that he wanted to fight, but, when I saw him smiling, then I turned my face towards Henry. And Henry was already running towards him." It was Carmen's testimony that she "walked towards the back" of Henry's car because Henry was no longer in her sight. Then, she and the prosecutor engaged in the following exchange about the shooting incident:

"[PROSECUTOR]: What's the next thing you remember?
"[CARMEN]: The man grabbed the gun. (Witness crying) * * *.
And he started shooting at [Henry]. (Pause) I called Henry, and I told him to come back.
"[PROSECUTOR]: Carmen, you said the man pulled out a gun?
"[CARMEN]: He took the gun out of the jacket.
"[PROSECUTOR]: Did you see him fire a ...

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