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State v. Tejeda

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 8, 2017

State
v.
Daniel Tejeda.

Providence County Superior Court P1/15-2222A Associate Justice Robert D. Krause

          For State: Virginia M. McGinn Department of Attorney General

          For Defendant: Susan B. Iannitelli, Esq.

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

          OPINION

          Gilbert V. Indeglia, Associate Justice

On July 2, 2015, a grand jury indicted Daniel Tejeda (Tejeda or defendant) on charges of first-degree murder in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1. A Providence County Superior Court jury convicted the defendant on April 14, 2016. On appeal, the defendant argues that his trial commenced after the 180 days required by the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IAD), G.L. 1956 § 13-13-2, Art. III(a). He also argues that the trial justice erred in denying his motions to suppress the seizure of his cell phone and the records of that cell phone, as well as the bags, zip ties, and a BB gun retrieved from his apartment. Additionally, he asserts that the trial justice erred in allowing the admission of statements made by him while he was in the hospital. Finally, he alleges that the sentence imposed upon him was unduly harsh and unwarranted. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         A

         The Murder

         On March 31, 2015, Courtney Jewett (Jewett) found her cousin Ashley Masi (Masi or victim) unconscious in Masi's bedroom with a zip tie fastened around her neck. Jewett had been watching Masi's six-month-old child while Masi engaged in prostitution services in her apartment located on River Avenue in Providence. Earlier that afternoon, Masi had posted an advertisement for prostitution services on Backpage.com.[1] In 2015, Masi had been working as an escort for at least five years, and she usually engaged clients through online postings. Generally, when Masi published a post, she received about twenty to thirty responses, from which she usually responded to about ten.

         The March 31 posting was no different. Jewett testified that she was with Masi when she "started getting replies for her ad, and her phone was going off like crazy." Shortly after 3 p.m., Masi told Jewett that a client was on his way, but the client wanted to look around the apartment when he arrived. Jewett testified that such a request was not uncommon because many prostitution clients act paranoid. Masi's client entered through the back stairwell, and Jewett testified that she never saw him enter the apartment. Jewett watched Masi's baby in the front hallway while Masi saw the client.

         Jewett testified that Masi had told her that the client would be there for one hour, so Jewett waited in the hallway with the baby. Initially, Jewett heard a door open and some muffled voices, "[a]s if the gentleman was looking around * * * like he asked her to." After an hour and fifteen minutes passed, Jewett began to worry, especially when Masi did not respond to her text messages. Jewett called Masi's phone, but it was turned off. Around 5:30 p.m., Jewett went upstairs to Masi's apartment, where she found Masi's unconscious body on her bedroom floor with an industrial zip tie tightened around her neck. Masi's shirt was still on her body, but her pants were hanging over a chair. Her face was blue, and the floor beneath her head was covered in blood. Jewett screamed and dialed 9-1-1.[2] Providence police officers responded to the call, but they were unable to remove the zip tie from Masi's neck. The fire department transported her body to the hospital. Masi's time of death was later determined to be 5:56 p.m.

         B

         The Investigation and the Arrest

         Detective Michael Otrando was assigned to Masi's case, arriving at the River Avenue apartment on March 31 around 6:30 p.m. He took Jewett to the police station to obtain her statement, and he also spoke with Masi's friend, Valerie Kittelt, who gave him Masi's Backpage password. The Backpage advertisement Masi posted on March 31 at 1:07 p.m. included her cell phone number. Masi's phone was not recovered, so Det. Otrando requested from her phone carrier a call log of calls and texts made and sent on March 30 and March 31.

         Detective Otrando also interviewed Philip Towns, the father of Masi's six-month-old child. Although Towns was not in a relationship with Masi at the time of her death, he was involved in her life with respect to their child. Jewett testified that Towns had sometimes been violent with Masi, and in fact had injured her only a few days before her death-she had a black eye that was still discolored as of March 31. Towns consented to a search of his cell phone and gave a DNA sample to Det. Otrando. Detective Otrando also investigated other individuals considered close to Masi, including Masi's brother, as well as the second-floor tenant at the River Avenue apartment, and Towns's girlfriend.

         Masi's phone records from March 30 and 31 spanned sixteen pages, and Det. Otrando began to investigate some of the phone numbers at random, choosing to put some focus on those contacts with more communications with Masi. During the first week of April, Det. Otrando chose to lock in on (401) 442-3344, a number that revealed twenty-five text messages with Masi on March 31. When he ran it through the police department's system, Det. Otrando found that it was Tejeda's phone number. Detective Otrando initially called the number, unsuccessfully attempting to get defendant to visit the police station. Then, Det. Otrando learned that defendant was going to be arrested on a federal supervised release violation[3] on April 28, 2015. In furtherance of the investigation, search warrants were obtained for a buccal swab of defendant, for the cell phone records of the (401) 442-3344 number, and for a search of defendant's residence.

         C

         Suppression Hearings

         Before trial, defendant moved to suppress evidence of his cell phone, including its records, and the items that had been retrieved from defendant's apartment-bags, zip ties, and a BB gun. The defendant also moved to suppress his statements he had made to Det. Otrando while he was in the hospital. The trial justice denied the majority of defendant's motions, but he did grant the motion to suppress defendant's statements made while he was under arrest in the hospital after defendant said, "I don't want to make a statement."

         At the pretrial suppression hearings, the federal marshals and officers responsible for arresting defendant on April 28 testified. First, federal Deputy Justin Carvalho, who had been in charge of the arrest-warrant execution on April 28 at defendant's home at 17 Van Buren Street, Providence, testified. A number of U.S. marshals, Rhode Island State Police officers, and Providence Police officers joined the arrest team. At the time of the arrest, Deputy Carvalho testified that he knew defendant was also wanted for questioning of a homicide in Providence. When the team arrived at defendant's apartment, his mother answered the door, and she agreed to let them inside, pointing them towards defendant's bedroom. The defendant's two bedroom doors were locked and he had barricaded himself in the room. Deputy Carvalho recalled standing at one bedroom door with federal Deputy Elden DaSilva, and he remembered four team members at the other door: Rhode Island State Police Det. Sean McGehearty, and federal Deputies Justin Engen, Brenton Moore, and Joseph Murphy.

         When the officers broke into the bedroom, one deputy tased defendant and another officer handcuffed him. The defendant was wearing only boxer shorts, and Deputy Carvalho could not remember if another officer gave defendant clothes before they escorted him outside. Once defendant was secured in a police vehicle with Det. Christopher Poncia-a Providence police officer on the Rhode Island State Police Violent Fugitive Task Force-Deputy Carvalho stated that he followed the vehicle in his own car to the hospital, later determined to be Roger Williams Hospital (RWH). However, on cross-examination, Deputy Carvalho admitted that both his draft and final arrest reports reflected that he, Deputy Moore, and Deputy Engen transported defendant to the hospital. Finally, Deputy Carvalho did not remember seeing any of the evidence that was allegedly seized by Det. Poncia-a cell phone, defendant's I.D. card, and a BB gun. Deputy Carvalho also testified that Det. Poncia never informed him that he seized a cell phone.

         Next, Det. Poncia testified. The day of defendant's arrest, Det. Poncia was tasked with performing perimeter security outside defendant's apartment, entering the apartment after defendant was apprehended. Once inside the apartment, Det. Poncia testified, he entered defendant's bedroom and seized a firearm that was on the floor near the mattress.

         When defendant was taken outside the house, Det. Poncia recalled, he was wearing pants and a shirt. Subsequently, Det. Poncia said that he searched defendant for safety reasons, and he found a cell phone and an I.D. card in defendant's right front pants pocket. On cross-examination, Det. Poncia explained that he took the cell phone from defendant in response to Det. Otrando's request to seize any cellular devices he found during the arrest.[4]

         After searching defendant, Det. Poncia recalled driving him to RWH at defendant's request because of a complaint of taser injuries. Once he delivered defendant to the destination, Det. Poncia alerted Det. Otrando as to defendant's whereabouts. Detective Poncia eventually brought the cell phone to the Providence Police property room to secure it. He filled out an incident report for the items seized that day.

         Once defendant was at the hospital, Det. Otrando paid him a visit. After reading him his rights, Det. Otrando had a short conversation with him, during which defendant told him his various phone numbers, one of which was (401) 442-3344. The defendant said, "I don't want to make a statement, " but Det. Otrando continued to ask him questions. Prior to that however, defendant told Det. Otrando that he was at Rhode Island Hospital (RIH) all day on March 31.

         A number of other arresting federal marshals also testified at the suppression hearings. Deputies Moore, Murphy, and DaSilva each testified that they never saw a cell phone when they arrested defendant on April 28. Deputies Murphy and DaSilva also did not know who had given clothes to defendant. While Deputy Engen could not remember who had done so, he did testify that officers typically found clothes for defendants before arresting them. Deputy Engen stated that he did not search for or seize any evidence while he was in defendant's bedroom, but he did recall defendant being tased by Deputy Moore after refusing to show officers his hands. Deputy Engen handcuffed defendant, and he remembered that Det. Poncia was the officer who transported defendant to the hospital.

         At the pretrial hearings, defendant also took the stand, and he explained that he locked himself in his bedroom to swallow some Vicodin pills before the police officers broke the door down. The defendant identified Deputy Carvalho as the marshal who brought him clothes and drove him to the hospital. Detective Poncia, defendant remembered, was at the hospital as well. The defendant testified that he told Deputy Carvalho, Deputy Engen, and the doctor and nurses at RWH that he had taken Vicodin that day.[5]

         The defendant also recalled that his Huawei cell phone was in his "blue, black, yellow, and gray North Face backpack" on April 28. That particular phone had been disconnected, and defendant used it only to connect to the Internet. He remembered the backpack was next to his bed on the day of the arrest. The defendant also testified that he did not have any firearms in plain view in his bedroom that day.

         D

         Defendant's Statements

         After defendant was released from the hospital, he was housed at the Donald Wyatt Detention Center (Wyatt) in Central Falls. He requested another opportunity to speak to Det. Otrando. On April 30, Det. Otrando interviewed defendant, along with Det. Steve Sullivan at Wyatt. During that interview, defendant implicated one Ramon Rodriguez in the murder of Masi. The defendant told some stories about loaning his phone to Rodriguez, editing the time frame of that alleged loan once Det. Otrando told him the contacts between defendant's phone and Masi's were between 2:28 p.m. and 3 p.m. Throughout the interview, defendant asserted that he had not spoken to Masi nor had he seen her at any point on March 31.

         The defendant indicated he would speak further if a particular prosecutor was present, so the detectives returned the following day with that prosecutor. The defendant then admitted he had contacted Masi:

"She told me to come by. I go by. She opens the door, has a black eye. Chick has a black eye. 'Oh, I ain't feeling this.' And I leave. Know [what] I mean? I hear about it the next day. You know?
" * * *
"All of a sudden, inside of me, I'm like, 'Yo, not only was I there, ' you know what I mean? Like, I went to see her, who knows.
" * * *
"[B]ut * * * how's it gonna look to probation? You know what I mean?"

         The defendant told a few different versions as to who had supposedly killed Masi, including one of his former co-workers at Chipotle Restaurant, but the detectives challenged his inconsistent stories. He never made a final admission of who killed her.

         While defendant was at Wyatt, he made a number of phone calls to his girlfriend, Shakira Caraballo.[6] The first recording was on April 28, 2015 at 8:40 p.m.:

"Mr. Tejeda: * * * I need her to go to my mom's house like emergency, a 911, I can't tell you over the phone right now because it's, like, it's important, but I need her to go to my mom's house.'
"Ms. Caraballo * * *: 'It's, it's, is it really bad?'
"Mr. Tejeda: 'Yeah, it's - it's very, very bad, I need her to go to my mom's house, she knows why she has to go, but I need her to go to my mom's house."

         The defendant proceeded to ask Caraballo to text his child's mother and tell her to go to his mother's house and pick up his "blue North Face" and his "big [M]arine bag" as soon as possible. Then, defendant said:

"TEJEDA: * * * [T]here's something that's going on that you don't know about, and I can't tell you over the phone, my love. All right? There's a reason as to why they went to my house and looked for the SIM card. Okay? " * * *
"TEJEDA: You tell her, she has to get my North Face bag and she has to get that bag, emergency, immediately, that I said so. Tell her that my probation officer went to the house and looked for the chip from my cell phone. But she needs to get my North Face."

         On April 30 at 11:38 a.m., defendant had a phone conversation with an unknown female. The woman told defendant that she had not been able to get his "backpacks" from his mother's house as asked, and when he grew concerned, she replied, "Yeah, but the sack, the sack, the big sack was intact, they didn't open it or anything." The woman clarified that she did end up taking one bag, but it had been emptied out and she did not see any old phones in the bag. The defendant responded: "[L]isten to me, this is really important, really important, I need you to get my INAUDIBLE off my mom, period * * *. The people from yesterday they went and they talked to me in the, in the hospital * * * and they looked for my SIM card * * *." About twenty minutes later, defendant spoke to the same woman again: "[Y]ou need to go to ...


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