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State v. Blandino

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

October 30, 2017

State
v.
Chaquiro Blandino.

         Providence County Superior Court, P1/14-2045AG Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

          For State: Jane M. McSoley Department of Attorney General

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

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

          OPINION

          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.

         Justice Flaherty, for the Court. The defendant, Chaquiro Blandino, appeals from a judgment of conviction after a jury found him guilty of (1) first-degree murder of Francis Rodriguez; (2) discharging a firearm during a crime of violence (murder), resulting in the death of Rodriguez; (3) assault with a dangerous weapon (a firearm) upon Marvin Vasquez; (4) discharging a firearm during a crime of violence (assault with a dangerous weapon), without causing injury to Vasquez; (5) discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, creating a substantial risk of injury to Rodriguez and Vasquez; and (6) unlawfully carrying a pistol without a license. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial justice denied. The trial justice imposed consecutive life sentences on counts 1 and 2; a consecutive ten-year sentence on count 3; a consecutive ten-year sentence, non-parolable, on count 4; and concurrent ten-year sentences, suspended with probation, on counts 5 and 6, to run consecutive to count 4. Before this Court, the defendant asserts that the trial justice erred when he denied the defendant's request to order the state to produce the investigative notes of Det. Angelo A'Vant of the Providence Police Department. The defendant further contends that the trial justice erred when he denied the defendant's motion for a new trial. After careful consideration of the defendant's arguments and a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of conviction.

         I

         Facts and Trial Testimony

         There is little factual dispute in this case. It is uncontroverted that defendant shot and killed Francis Rodriguez on May 2, 2014. It is also undisputed that defendant had previously been robbed, shot, and frequently harassed by members of the "C-Block" gang.[1] The only question at trial was whether the killing of Rodriguez was a cold-blooded, premeditated murder or an act of self-defense. The jury found it to be the former.

         The central issue on appeal is whether defendant was entitled to certain notes taken by Det. A'Vant during the course of his investigation. Those notes, defendant argues, may have contained information about the potential C-Block membership or association[2] of Rodriguez, the murder victim, and Vasquez, the main witness for the state. The defendant also posits that Det. A'Vant's notes could have included information about defendant's reputation to C-Block as a snitch and the gang's ensuing harassment of him. According to defendant, access to the notes would have helped him more effectively pursue and present his theory of self-defense. The defendant claims that that access would clearly have depicted the life-threatening violence he experienced at the hands of C-Block members and his resulting need to respond with deadly force when Vasquez and Rodriguez-purported members (or at least associates) of the gang- pulled a gun on him.

         To effectively analyze defendant's claim, it is first necessary to parse through defendant's description of his tangled history with C-Block. In January of 2011, when he was sixteen years old, defendant went to see a girl. As he made his way into her home, a young male, who was later identified as a member of C-Block, pointed a gun at defendant and forced him to remove and hand over his pants, shirt, shoes, and watch. While defendant was in this state of undress, the C-Block member pistol-whipped defendant and demanded he leave the building. Needing no further invitation, defendant fled down the street. As he did, he was stopped by a Providence police officer. The defendant relayed to the officer that he had been robbed and beaten, and he later testified before a grand jury to that effect.

         C-Block consequently labeled defendant as a snitch. Members of the gang began following defendant; first at his high school, then at the Community College of Rhode Island. The defendant claims he was assaulted with a baseball bat on one occasion. Out of fear, however, defendant simply endured the harassment. He never again reported a C-Block member to the police.

         In November of 2013, defendant was working at his mother's restaurant, which is located on Elmwood Avenue just blocks away from C-Block's main territory on Congress Avenue. Behind the restaurant, defendant said, he saw C-Block members approaching and that one of them was flashing a silver gun.[3] The defendant jumped a fence and ran away as fast as he could. Despite his best efforts to escape, defendant was shot once in the back and once in the leg. He was forced to undergo surgery and remain in the hospital for over a week. When he recovered, defendant refused to cooperate with authorities during the prosecution of the C-Block member who was ultimately convicted and incarcerated for the shooting. The defendant maintained that he had learned his lesson after the 2011 robbery; he would not snitch on the gang again.

         Despite his silence, defendant said that his troubles with C-Block continued. According to him, gang members knew that he worked nearby, and they continued to follow and harass him. On May 2, 2014, the day of Rodriguez's death, defendant testified that he was sitting in his mother's minivan outside the restaurant, waiting to make a delivery, when a green Subaru containing Rodriguez and Vasquez pulled up alongside his vehicle. The defendant testified that he knew both men from the local barbershop; he also declared that he knew them both to be C-Block members. According to defendant, Rodriguez drew his finger across his throat-a sign that defendant said he interpreted as a death threat. At that point, defendant drove off and picked up his friend, Nelson Pineda. The two drove around Providence, smoking marijuana and making deliveries for defendant's mother.

         The defendant said that, later that afternoon, as defendant and Pineda were in the area of the restaurant, they saw the same green Subaru approaching them. Rodriguez and Vasquez were still in the car. The driver of the Subaru tried to block defendant's minivan at a stop sign, such that he could not turn left or right. Rodriguez emerged from the Subaru and yelled insults at defendant. Pineda later testified that defendant responded in a similar vein. The defendant was able to maneuver the minivan around the Subaru, but he said that, as he was pulling away, he heard a loud bang from the rear of the car and concluded that Rodriguez had hit the rear window. Indeed, according to Pineda's testimony, Rodriguez struck the minivan with what looked to him like the barrel of a gun.[4] The defendant and Pineda got away, for the time being.

         The defendant further testified that, at that point, having been confronted and threatened by Rodriguez twice in one day, he drove home and retrieved a gun.[5] Once back in the car, defendant said, he placed the gun to the right of the driver's seat, hidden from Pineda's view in the passenger seat. Pineda testified that he was too high from smoking marijuana to realize that they had stopped at defendant's house or that defendant returned in possession of a gun. The two then went back to the restaurant.

         Around 8 p.m., defendant and Pineda were driving around again. This time, they stopped on Warrington Street to roll blunts.[6] The minivan was parked on top of a speed hump[7] on the right side of the road, facing in the direction of Broad Street, with the engine and lights off and the keys still in the ignition. As defendant was finishing cracking open a cigar, he opened his window to discard the tobacco. It was then that he noticed headlights approaching. When he looked more closely, defendant said, he realized it was Rodriguez's green Subaru yet again. Suddenly their open drivers' windows were mere feet apart.

         The testimony of the witnesses diverged as to what happened next. The defendant testified that he saw Rodriguez leaning forward while Vasquez pointed a gun at him from the passenger seat. Thinking he was about to die, defendant testified, he ducked down and grabbed the gun from the floor with his right hand. The defendant said that, while still crouching, he pointed the gun over his head and fired out the window; he could not recall how many times. The defendant then started the car and drove away, not knowing whether he had shot either Rodriguez or Vasquez. He said that he dropped Pineda off at his house. Pineda was called as a witness for the state; his testimony regarding the shooting substantially mirrored that of defendant.[8]

         Vasquez, who was also called by the state, offered a markedly different version of events. He said that he and Rodriguez had spent the day simply driving around Providence smoking marijuana. Vasquez denied that any sort of verbal or physical altercation between defendant and Rodriguez had occurred earlier that day. According to Vasquez, neither he nor Rodriguez had a gun in the car when Rodriguez was killed. Vasquez claimed that, at the time of the shooting, he was high, reclined in the passenger seat, drinking a beer, staring into space, and dozing off. While Rodriguez was slowing down to cross the speed hump on Warrington Street, Vasquez said, he heard a sudden rapid succession of gunshots. As both men ducked, Vasquez testified, he looked to his left and saw Rodriguez, motionless and bleeding. Rodriguez was also unresponsive to Vasquez's questions. Thinking that Rodriguez was dead, Vasquez-a fugitive from justice who had previously been convicted of carrying a pistol without a license-fled the vehicle and walked to a friend's house. Vasquez said that he looked back only to find that Rodriguez still had not emerged from the stopped car. Vasquez claimed that he never saw who had fired at them and killed Rodriguez.

         Ballistic evidence was introduced, and it lent further credence to Vasquez's recounting of the shooting. Detective Douglas Allin of the Providence Police Department's Bureau of Criminal Identification testified that he recovered six cartridge casings clustered closely together around the speed hump on Warrington Street. Farther down the street, toward Elmwood Avenue, Det. Allin discovered an expended projectile. Also, the processing of Rodriguez's Subaru, which had come to rest against a building, yielded three more projectiles: one that was imbedded in the left rear bumper, which had entered the vehicle just underneath the taillight assembly; a second partial fragment that was lodged in the driver's side rear door frame, which had entered directly above the molding; and a third in the glove compartment. That round had fragmented as it entered immediately above the glove compartment; copper jacketing from the projectile was found on the floor of the front passenger seat area. Detective Allin then proceeded to place a ballistic rod in the hole where the projectile entered above the glove compartment to test the trajectory from which it had been fired. He determined that the bullet had traveled through the open driver's window at an acute angle and passed through the passenger cabin before penetrating the dashboard and coming to rest in the glove compartment. Notably, Assistant Medical Examiner Priya Banerjee, M.D., testified that the bullet that killed Rodriguez entered the back of his neck and exited through his left eye orbit.[9]

         Detective A'Vant testified that he was tasked with investigating who was responsible for the shooting of Rodriguez. After being informed of the suspect vehicle's registration, as relayed by a witness who saw the minivan fleeing from the scene, Det. A'Vant learned that the vehicle was registered to defendant's mother. Police officers responded to her address-where defendant also resided-to set up surveillance. There, they arrested defendant's brother, Johan Blandino, on a charge of driving with a suspended license. Johan, who was on bail for a pending firearm possession charge, was brought to the police station and interviewed by Det. A'Vant. The next day, Johan indicated that he had additional information to share with Det. A'Vant; he later informed the detective about the location of the murder weapon. In a bush in front of the home of defendant's neighbor, Det. A'Vant uncovered a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson and an accompanying magazine.[10] While in the vicinity, Det. ...


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