49 Cal. 4th 715, 233 P.3d 1049, 111 Cal. Rptr. 3d 647
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA
IN RE ALFREDO REYES VALDEZ,
on Habeas Corpus.
On May 22, 1992, petitioner Alfredo Valdez was sentenced to death for the
April 30, 1989 murder of Ernesto Macias. On June 14, 2002, while the automatic
appeal to this court was pending, Valdez filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus.
On January 6, 2004, in the automatic appeal, we affirmed the judgment of death in
People v. Valdez (2004) 32 Cal.4th 73.
On November 17, 2004, we issued an order to show cause why relief
should not be granted on the ground that trial counsel rendered ineffective
assistance of counsel. On February 7, 2007, following the filing of a return and
reply, we ordered the Los Angeles Superior Court to appoint a referee to conduct
an evidentiary hearing and make findings on several questions. Judge Charles E.
Horan was appointed and, following an evidentiary hearing, filed his referee?s
report on December 4, 2008, answering each question and concluding that
petitioner did not establish that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of
Having considered the parties? briefs and exceptions to the referee?s report,
for the reasons that follow we adopt the referee?s report and deny the petition for
writ of habeas corpus.
A jury convicted petitioner of first degree murder (Pen. Code, ? 187, subd.
(a))1 and escape from custody (? 4532, subd. (c)) and found true the special
circumstance allegation that the murder was committed while petitioner was
engaged in the commission of a robbery (? 190.2, subd. (a)(17)) and the allegation
that petitioner personally used a firearm (?? 12022.5, subd. (a), 1203.06, subd.
(a)(1)). The jury also found that petitioner had previously suffered three serious
felony convictions. (? 667, subd. (a).)
Evidence Admitted at Trial
The victim, Ernesto Macias, lived in Pomona in a house that he shared with
his cousin Arturo Vasquez. On the Saturday night before the victim was
murdered, Gerardo Macias, who was a distant relative of the victim, arrived to
pick up Rigoberto Perez, who had been drinking beer with the victim, Vasquez,
and petitioner. Gerardo3 and Perez were cousins and lived together with
When Gerardo entered the house, the victim, Vasquez, Perez, and petitioner
were in the small living room, which also served as the bedroom. The victim was
lying on a mattress, covered with blankets, and had a Jennings .22-caliber
semiautomatic handgun at his side. Perez was lying on a second mattress, with
Vasquez sitting next to him. Petitioner was standing near the front door. The
All further undesignated statutory references are to the Penal Code.
This portion of the statement of facts is taken largely from our opinion in
the automatic appeal. (People v. Valdez, supra, 32 Cal.4th 73.)
Because Gerardo Macias has the same last name as the victim, we will refer
to him by his first name.
victim announced he wanted to go to sleep because he was leaving early in the
morning to catch a plane to Mexico to attend his sister?s wedding. He said he was
taking $3,000 with him.
Gerardo, who had been drinking beer that day, drank one or two more beers
after he arrived. Approximately 10 minutes later, at Vasquez?s suggestion,
Gerardo, Vasquez, and Perez drove to the nearby house of a friend, Andreas
?Pato? Gutierrez, to ?party,? leaving the victim and petitioner alone. As they were
leaving the house, Gerardo heard the victim tell petitioner in Spanish, using a
?kind of mad? voice, to wait outside, but Gerardo did not see petitioner leave the
It took the three men approximately one minute to travel to Gutierrez?s
house, but they found that Gutierrez was preparing to go to sleep, so they returned
to the victim?s house to drop off Vasquez. The round trip took approximately 10
minutes. Gerardo drove into the driveway of the victim?s house and Vasquez got
out of the car and walked up to the front door. When Vasquez opened the door, no
one was inside; he saw a lot of blood and yelled, ?Hey, hey.? Perez got out of the
car and joined Vasquez at the door. Visibly frightened, they ran back to the car
and told Gerardo that they had seen ?all kinds of blood.? Because it was the
victim?s house, and the victim had had a gun beside him when the three men last
saw him, they thought the victim might have shot petitioner.
The three men drove around the area looking for the victim and petitioner.
After quickly checking with a cousin of the victim, who lived ?down the street,?
Gerardo drove around the block a couple of times, and finally noticed a bloody
body lying on the curb a few houses away from the victim?s house. Gerardo was
unable to identify the body, but Vasquez recognized it as the victim?s. Gerardo
drove around the block to a telephone booth, dialed 911, and reported the location
of the body. He then drove Vasquez to Gutierrez?s house, drove himself and Perez
home, and did nothing further. He testified that he did not wait for the police
because he was frightened and had outstanding arrest warrants.
Pomona Police Sergeant David Johnson entered the victim?s house on
Sunday, April 30, 1989, with two other officers and observed ?blood everywhere.?
A broken trail of blood and bloody bare footprints led from the victim?s concrete
front porch to the victim?s body. The victim was not wearing shoes and his feet
were bloody. Detective Frank Terrio surmised that the victim had left the bloody
footprints when he walked out of his house bleeding to death.
The victim had been shot four times. An entry wound just below the
victim?s left eye likely had been fatal, and a wound below the right ear indicated
that the victim had been shot from less than 18 inches away. It was possible that
the victim had sustained the injuries inside the house and collapsed some distance
The victim?s left pants pocket was turned inside out and there were
bloodstains on the interior of the pocket. He was wearing jewelry and
approximately $80 was found in his undisturbed right pants pocket. The
prosecution introduced the victim?s 1988 state and federal tax forms, which
claimed a federal tax refund of $1,203. Two days before the murder, on Friday,
April 28, 1989, a United States Treasury check for $1,203 payable to the victim
had been cashed at a Bank of America branch office in Pomona. Given the bank?s
policy of requiring two forms of identification to cash a check, a bank manager
opined that the victim had cashed the check. A police check and credit fraud
expert compared signatures on the victim?s Department of Motor Vehicles
handwriting exemplar with that on the Treasury check. The signatures were
similar, but the analysis was inconclusive.
Detectives searched the victim?s house and discovered a Jennings .22-
caliber semiautomatic handgun underneath the kitchen sink, one expended .22-
caliber long rifle cartridge casing, one .22-caliber Super X long rifle cartridge, and
one .25-caliber cartridge. The Jennings .22-caliber handgun fires .22-caliber long
rifle ammunition and holds a total of seven rounds. They did not find a wallet,
money, plane tickets, or a bank savings book.
Detective Terrio also observed two different shoe prints made in blood on
the concrete porch outside the victim?s house. It was clear that the same shoe had
not made both prints. One of the shoe prints, which was consistent with those
made by Adidas jogging shoes or Nike walking shoes, was only a partial print of
the midsole area, and thus could have been made while the person was entering or
leaving the house. The larger shoe print indicated that it had been made while the
person was leaving the house. Detective Terrio testified on cross-examination that
the two shoe prints were consistent with two people having left prints in the blood.
He also acknowledged that a police officer at the scene could have left one of the
prints, but noted that officers generally do not wear tennis shoes to crime scenes.
A police work boot, however, exists that has a pattern similar to the one found on
Approximately 24 hours after the murder, in the early morning hours of
May 1, 1989, Pomona Police Lieutenant Larry Todd was monitoring a group of
individuals who were not implicated in the murder investigation but were
suspected of preying on people visiting certain convenience stores. He observed
the group near a Monte Carlo automobile parked outside one of the targeted
convenience stores. Petitioner was standing next to the passenger-side door of the
car. Intending to warn the occupants of the vehicle about the group, Lieutenant
Todd drove up to the Monte Carlo. As he did this, the driver of the vehicle got out
and walked to the front of the car. Lieutenant Todd got out of his patrol vehicle
and walked toward the driver. When he reached the driver?s side door of the
Monte Carlo, he spotted a small-caliber gun protruding from under the front seat.
He pulled out his weapon and ordered the driver and petitioner to stand still.
Lieutenant Todd called for assistance and was joined by Officer Joseph
Pallermino who seized the gun, a Jennings .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun,
and a magazine containing bullets, from the driver?s side interior of the car. The
three bullets seized consisted of two Super X .22-caliber long rifle cartridges, and
one Federal .22-caliber long rifle cartridge.4 Officer Pallermino noticed dried
blood on the grip of the gun. Petitioner and the driver of the car, who was
identified at trial only as Morales, were arrested. When petitioner was booked, he
had $100 in cash on his person. It was stipulated that petitioner was unemployed
at the time.
Detective Terrio, who is a latent print expert, compared a bloody palm print
that was detected on the left side of the grip of the Jennings .22-caliber handgun
found in the Monte Carlo to petitioner?s palm print. In Detective Terrio?s opinion,
the latent palm print was made by petitioner, and could only have been made when
the blood was wet. On cross-examination, Detective Terrio stated that he could
not determine the age of the print, and agreed that petitioner?s palm print might
have gotten on the grip of the gun without petitioner gripping the gun while
shooting it. Deputy Sheriff Linda Arthur, a latent fingerprint expert with the Los
Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, opined, but was not sure, that the palm print
was from a left hand.
Serologist Richard Catalani examined the blood on the grip of the Jennings
.22-caliber handgun found in the Monte Carlo and compared it to blood from the
Seven Super X .22-caliber long rifle cartridges, along with one Federal
.22-caliber long rifle cartridge, were subsequently found in the Monte Carlo.
victim and petitioner. Catalani opined that the blood on the gun could not have
come from petitioner, but was consistent with the victim?s blood type. He added
that approximately 16.4 percent of the population has the same
phosphoglucomutase (PGM) subtype as the blood found on the gun.
Criminalist James Roberts examined the bullets removed from the victim?s
body to determine whether they could have been fired from the Jennings .22-
caliber handgun found in the Monte Carlo or the identical Jennings .22-caliber
handgun found in the victim?s kitchen. He stated that he was unable to
conclusively link the bullets to either gun because the bullets could have been
fired from any Jennings .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
On April 19, 1990, about a year after the murder, Pomona Police Detectives
Allen Maxwell and Greg Collins interviewed petitioner. Petitioner waived his
rights under Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436, but refused to allow the
interview to be tape-recorded.
Petitioner admitted that he had been at the victim?s house around the time
the victim was killed, and recalled that there had been three other people in the
house that evening. He had gone to the victim?s house ?quite often? to buy drugs,
but he did not buy any that night because the victim had said he did not have any
drugs to sell. Initially, petitioner said he had left the victim?s house shortly after
the other three men left, but then said he had left the house at the same time as the
others. He said he had argued with the victim as to whether he should leave, but
maintained their argument was not violent. Petitioner stated he did not have a gun
while he was at the house.
Petitioner told the officers that the day after the murder he went to a
convenience store to buy beer. When he came out of the store, officers were
detaining Morales. Feeling that he had nothing to fear, he walked up to the car
and was subsequently arrested.
When questioned further about the Monte Carlo, petitioner gave
contradictory answers as to how he and Morales had obtained the car. Petitioner
first said he had gone with Morales to the apartment of the owner of the Monte
Carlo, and even though the owner did not like him, the owner had lent them his
car. Petitioner then said Morales had gone to the owner?s apartment, borrowed the
Monte Carlo, drove around the corner, picked up petitioner, and the two of them
drove around looking for drugs.
Petitioner told the detectives that he had not known there was a gun in the
Monte Carlo and did not know how his bloody print got on the gun. He said he
never touched the gun.
When questioned about inconsistent and confusing statements he made
during the interview, such as how he and Morales had obtained the Monte Carlo,
petitioner became ?[d]efensive [and e]xtremely agitated.? The interview ended
when petitioner became upset over questioning regarding both his inconsistent
statements and his print on the gun found in the Monte Carlo.
On April 8, 1991, while in custody on unrelated charges, petitioner
appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the murder and special circumstance
charges. While being escorted back to ?lock up? in a ?four-man chain,? petitioner
broke free from his handcuffs and fled out of the courthouse. Deputy marshals
and sheriffs pursued him and subsequently found him hiding in a women?s
bathroom in a building across the street.
Petitioner did not testify, but Vasquez testified for the defense that on the
day of the murder, or the day before, he had loaned a Jennings .22-caliber handgun
to Gutierrez that was identical to the guns found under the victim?s kitchen sink
and seized from the Monte Carlo. Sometime in the afternoon, the victim, carrying
a suitcase, left saying his brother Roberto was going to take him to the airport to
catch a flight to Mexico. Vasquez spent the afternoon drinking beer at the house
with Perez and Gutierrez.
The victim unexpectedly returned home at approximately 9 p.m. Gutierrez
went home after approximately one hour, but petitioner arrived, soon followed by
Gerardo and Perez, who were a ?little bit drunk.? Vasquez did not see the victim
with a plane ticket, a wallet, cash, or luggage upon his return. Nor did he notice a
bulge in the victim?s pants pockets. Vasquez never heard the victim brag about
having large sums of money or discuss his trip to Mexico. The victim and
petitioner were friendly to each other and did not argue. Vasquez, however,
admitted on cross-examination that he had concentrated more on a television
program than on the conversation between the victim and the others, and further
admitted he was a ?little drunk.?
Petitioner remained in the house with the victim when the three men left.
The victim was wrapped in a blanket on his mattress near the television and
petitioner was sitting next to Vasquez?s mattress. Vasquez, like Gerardo, testified
that the trip to Gutierrez?s house was short, both spatially and temporally, and that
they returned to the victim?s house because Gutierrez was preparing to go to bed.
His testimony was consistent with Gerardo?s testimony regarding the discovery of
the victim?s body.
It was stipulated at trial that: (1) petitioner is right-handed; (2) if the
victim?s brother were called to testify, he would say the victim gave a gun to
Gutierrez on the evening of April 29, 1989, and (3) Gutierrez owed the victim
about $250 and the victim needed the money ?so that he could attend a wedding in
Mexico and have more money with him.?
The defense also introduced evidence that on April 14, 1989, approximately
two weeks before the murder, nine cases of Jennings .22-caliber semiautomatic
handguns, a total of 324 guns, had been stolen from a truck in Pomona. The guns
found in the Monte Carlo and in the victim?s kitchen were among the stolen guns.
Detective Greg Guenther testified for the defense that he arrived at the
crime scene at approximately 3:30 in the morning and, while surveying the scene,
noticed shoe impressions left in dry dirt in the side yard of the victim?s house.
The impressions seemed to lead toward the alley north of the victim?s house.
Detective Guenther pointed out that the prints did not seem to originate from the
porch area because there was a gap between the porch and where the prints began.
He further opined that anyone walking in the area could have left the shoe prints.
He did not try to make a visual comparison of the prints left in the dirt to the prints
that were left on the concrete porch. The prosecution subsequently called
Detective Terrio on rebuttal regarding the shoe impressions in the side yard. He
testified that the yard functioned as an access area and there was evidence of a lot
of foot traffic, but ?there was no fresh footprint evidence or anything that seemed
At some point later in the investigation, Detective Guenther became aware
of witness statements indicating that the victim had given a gun to Gutierrez. But
he stated that there were no reports of any search or attempted search of
Gutierrez?s house in pursuit of that gun.
The prosecution presented evidence that petitioner had been convicted in
Texas of aggravated robbery on January 28, 1983, and had been convicted in
California of five counts of first degree residential burglary on August 3, 1983.
Petitioner had committed four violent acts while in prison and jail. The first
incident occurred on May 8, 1984, at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy,
California. Correctional Officer Steven Espinoza observed an inmate, who was
wearing a black bandana, stab a fellow inmate while another inmate held the
victim. Once the victim fell to the ground, the inmates walked across the prison
yard and mingled with another group of inmates who were lined up against a wall
because an alarm had sounded. Officer Espinoza approached the group of inmates
and noticed that petitioner was wearing a black bandana. He took and reported
petitioner?s prison number. Officer Espinoza, however, could not positively
identify petitioner as the assailant and he did not know if petitioner was charged,
disciplined, or reprimanded for the stabbing. The victim suffered head injuries
and stab wounds, and had blood coming out of his ear. Two ?inmate
manufactured stabbing weapons? were subsequently found under a pallet near the
wall where petitioner and the other inmates had been standing. Officer Donald
Karvonen also discovered a bloody ?state jacket? and sweatshirt in the yard.
Although he testified that two inmates were the subject of a disciplinary report, he
did not believe anyone was found culpable.
The second incident occurred on September 22, 1984, in Soledad Prison.
Correctional Officer Steve Valentine saw petitioner chasing another inmate with a
metal baseball bat. Petitioner ignored Officer Valentine?s order to drop the bat,
and continued chasing the other inmate. Officer Valentine called for assistance
and gave chase. Petitioner stopped running and threw down the bat only after a
tower gunman ?chambered? his weapon as a warning and ordered petitioner to
halt. Petitioner later said he had intended to beat the other inmate to death because
the inmate had ?disrespected? him.
The third incident occurred on March 10, 1991, while petitioner was in jail
in Los Angeles. With the help of other inmates, petitioner assaulted fellow inmate
Javier Rodriguez and took a bag containing $80. Petitioner punched Rodriguez
three times in the face with a closed fist, while the other inmates kicked him.
The fourth incident occurred on October 21, 1991, while petitioner was in
county jail. Deputy Sheriff Douglas Shive observed petitioner walk ?straight
towards? inmate William Robinson. Robinson was ?backpedaling? with his hands
in the air and looked ?extremely scared.? Deputy Shive intervened and searched
petitioner, finding a 10-inch shank in his pants pocket. There was blood on
Robinson?s T-shirt and puncture wounds on his arm and back. While he was
being detained, petitioner told Deputy Shive, ?I don?t have anything against you.
I?m not after you.?
The prosecution also presented evidence that on January 18, 1991,
petitioner met with Francisco Banuelos at petitioner?s apartment. Petitioner told
Banuelos that he had some tires he wanted to sell. Banuelos replied that he
wanted to buy the tires, but because he only had $100 he would perhaps buy them
the next day. Banuelos then agreed to give petitioner a ride in his truck. When
they reached their destination, they got out of the truck and walked toward a
garage. At that point, petitioner grabbed Banuelos by the hand, put a knife to his
chest, and demanded that Banuelos give him the $100 and the keys to the truck.
Banuelos handed petitioner the money and keys and ran away.
Later that day, Pomona Police Officer Bradley Elliot spotted petitioner
sitting in the driver?s seat of Banuelos?s truck. As the officer approached,
petitioner and another man got out of the truck and ran. After a chase, petitioner
was caught and handcuffed following a 30- to 40-second struggle with three police
With respect to the April 8, 1991 courtroom escape, the prosecution offered
evidence that petitioner kicked and struck Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff
John Guise when he attempted to apprehend petitioner.
Petitioner?s father, Antonio Valdez, testified for the defense that petitioner
was born in Mexico and was 10 years old when he moved with his family to
Pomona. Petitioner had two brothers, one of whom died, and two sisters. He
dropped out of school at the age of 14 or 15 and worked with his father. Petitioner
was obedient and respectful to his parents and was a good worker. Mr. Valdez
thought that perhaps petitioner took the wrong path because life was very hard in
Pomona. Mr. Valdez told the jury his wife was very ill and was near death. He
said that if petitioner was sentenced to death, ?I don?t believe that my wife will
Rosa Valdez, petitioner?s mother, testified that the family was poor and she
worked all of her life. She did not believe petitioner committed the murder and
asked the jury for ?mercy for my son.? Victoria Valdez, petitioner?s sister,
testified petitioner was helpful with her children and had not been a violent child.
She asked the jury to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole.
Petitioner?s other sister, Graciela Valdez, testified that petitioner was not a violent
person and felt that he should not be sentenced to death because she needed to
speak to him for advice.
Leticia Belmar, petitioner?s aunt, lived in Mexico when petitioner was born
and took care of him on a daily basis when he was a child. He was well behaved
and attended church. She told the jury that when petitioner was six or seven years
old, he spent money that his mother had given him on toys for the baby Belmar
was expecting. She testified further as to petitioner?s generous nature as a child
and also told the jury that when petitioner was eight years old, he had saved a
child from drowning. She did not want petitioner to receive the death penalty.
Enedina Garcia and her husband, Jose Garcia, were petitioner?s friends.
Enedina Garcia had known petitioner and his family for 17 years, and said she had
never seen petitioner act violently. She was aware of petitioner?s prison record,
but believed he had become religious while in prison. She asked the jury to spare
petitioner from the ?gas chamber.? Jose Garcia testified he had spoken with
petitioner about religion and that petitioner had helped keep his children out of
trouble. He had never observed petitioner with a gun and said that petitioner
should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Carolina Reyna, another close friend, testified that she did not think
petitioner was capable of killing anyone and never saw petitioner behave in a
violent manner. Even though petitioner?s father always yelled at him and his
siblings, petitioner listened and obeyed. She believed petitioner could help others
even if he remained in prison for the rest of his life.
James Park, a retired correctional officer with the California Department of
Corrections, who once served as an associate warden at San Quentin, described
general housing conditions for inmates serving sentences of life without the
possibility of parole. Park explained that an inmate sentenced to life without the
possibility of parole would ?most certainly go to one of the . . . four maximum
security level 4 prisons.? He testified that the security at these prisons was
impregnable and that searches were conducted frequently to minimize possession
and use of weapons. Prisoners who violate any rules are sent to security housing
units and spend up to 23 hours a day in a cell. Park said that he opposed the death
penalty and had seen firsthand the irrevocability of the gas chamber.
Robert Leach testified that he had been working for the California
Department of Corrections for 27 years and currently worked in a level 4
maximum-security unit. He stated that a person who is sentenced to life without
the possibility of parole is given enough points to be housed in a level 4 unit, but
does not necessarily stay at level 4 throughout his stay in state prison. When an
inmate seems to be doing well, the prisoner?s points can drop and the prisoner can
become a level 3 and enjoy all the advantages of that classification. In his
experience, inmates frequently make weapons and assault each other.
It was stipulated that if Roger Kumar, petitioner?s parole agent, were called
to testify, he would state that petitioner?s parole terminated on February 13, 1989,
and that petitioner remained unemployed throughout his almost 12-month parole
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
Valdez?s petition for writ of habeas corpus raised 13 issues, which included
numerous subissues. We granted an order to show cause on claim IV, subclaims
A, B, H, and I, which alleged that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of
counsel at the guilt and penalty phases of his trial by 1) failing to introduce at the
guilt phase DNA evidence that he had in his possession and failing to call
witnesses to testify that the blood on the pants found in the Monte Carlo did not
come from the victim, 2) failing to make an adequate offer of proof at the guilt and
penalty phases regarding third party culpability evidence regarding Liberato
Gutierrez, who was found in the alley behind the victim?s house with spots of
blood on his boots and clothing, and 3) deciding not to present a mitigating case at
the penalty phase revolving around petitioner?s abusive home environment and
drug abuse and to have petitioner examined by a mental health professional.
Pursuant to our direction, the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles County
Superior Court appointed Judge Charles E. Horan to sit as a referee in this
proceeding, hold an evidentiary hearing, and make findings on the following
1. Why did petitioner?s trial counsel not introduce evidence at the guilt
phase of the trial that the blood on the pants seized from the Monte Carlo
automobile had been tested by the prosecution and found not to have come from
the victim and did this reason constitute a reasonable tactical choice by trial
2. Why did petitioner?s trial counsel not attempt to introduce at the guilt
phase of the trial the proffered evidence regarding Liberato Gutierrez to show that
Gutierrez may have murdered and/or robbed the victim and did this reason
constitute a reasonable tactical choice by trial counsel?
3. Did petitioner?s trial counsel provide ineffective assistance of counsel by
failing to adequately investigate and present evidence in mitigation during the
penalty phase as alleged in subclaim H of the petition? 5
4. Why did petitioner?s trial counsel not attempt to introduce at the penalty
phase of the trial the proffered evidence regarding Liberato Gutierrez to show that
Gutierrez may have murdered and/or robbed the victim and did this reason
constitute a reasonable tactical choice by trial counsel?
Following an evidentiary hearing, Judge Horan submitted a 108-page
referee?s report that begins by summarizing the testimony given by 13 witnesses.
In response to question 1, the referee concluded that petitioner?s trial counsel
made a reasonable tactical choice not to introduce evidence that blood on the pants
The referee correctly observed that this court generally refrains from asking
referees whether an attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel, because
that question necessarily includes the determination of prejudice, which is an issue
to be decided by this court. (In re Ross (1995) 10 Cal.4th 184, 215.) Accordingly,
we have considered the referee?s factual findings, but have made our own
determination of whether prejudice resulted.
seized from the automobile petitioner was next to when he was arrested did not
come from the victim. In response to question 2, the referee concluded that
petitioner?s trial counsel made a reasonable tactical choice not to introduce
evidence that Liberato Gutierrez may have murdered and/or robbed the victim. In
response to question 3, the referee concluded that petitioner?s trial counsel, in one
respect, failed to adequately investigate whether there was evidence in mitigation,
but did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel because petitioner had failed
to show that significant mitigating evidence existed. Finally, in response to
question 4, the referee concluded that all of the considerations that led trial counsel
to make a reasonable tactical choice at the guilt phase not to introduce evidence
that Liberato Gutierrez may have murdered and/or robbed the victim applied
equally to the penalty phase, although trial counsel did not, in fact, reconsider the
issue during the penalty phase.
Petitioner claims he was deprived of his right to counsel under the Sixth
Amendment to the federal Constitution and article I, section 15 of the California
Constitution because his trial attorney was ineffective. ? ?[T]he right to counsel is
the right to the effective assistance of counsel.? ? (Strickland v. Washington
(1984) 466 U.S. 668, 686.) ?The benchmark for judging any claim of
ineffectiveness must be whether counsel?s conduct so undermined the proper
functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having
produced a just result.? (Ibid.) ?A convicted defendant?s claim that counsel?s
assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction or death sentence
has two components. First, the defendant must show that counsel?s performance
was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that
counsel was not functioning as the ?counsel? guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth
Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance
prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel?s errors were so
serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said that the conviction or
death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the
result unreliable.? (Id. at p. 687.)
To make the required showings, petitioner must show that his attorney?s
?representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness? ?under
prevailing professional norms? (Strickland v. Washington, supra, 466 U.S. at
p. 688; In re Hardy (2007) 41 Cal.4th 977, 1018) and ?that there is a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel?s unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome? (Strickland v. Washington,
supra, 466 U.S. at p. 694). ?This second part of the Strickland test ?is not solely
one of outcome determination. Instead, the question is ?whether counsel?s
deficient performance renders the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding
fundamentally unfair.? [Citation.]? [Citation.]? (In re Hardy, supra, 41 Cal.4th at
?Judicial scrutiny of counsel?s performance must be highly deferential. It is
all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess counsel?s assistance after
conviction or adverse sentence, and it is all too easy for a court, examining
counsel?s defense after it has proved unsuccessful, to conclude that a particular act
or omission of counsel was unreasonable. [Citation.] A fair assessment of
attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting
effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel?s challenged
conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel?s perspective at the time.
Because of the difficulties inherent in making the evaluation, a court must indulge
a strong presumption that counsel?s conduct falls within the wide range of
reasonable professional assistance; that is, the defendant must overcome the
presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action ?might be
considered sound trial strategy.? [Citation.]? (Strickland v. Washington, supra,
466 U.S. at p. 689.)
In making this determination, we give great weight to the referee?s findings
that are supported by substantial evidence. (In re Hardy, supra, 41 Cal.4th at
p. 993.) ?The deference accorded factual findings derives from the fact that the
referee had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of witnesses and their manner
of testifying.? (In re Marquez (1992) 1 Cal.4th 584, 603.) We do not defer,
however, to the referee?s conclusions of law: ?The referee?s conclusions of law
are subject to independent review, as is his resolution of mixed questions of law
and fact. [Citations.] ?Mixed questions ?include the ultimate issue, whether
assistance was ineffective, and its components, whether counsel?s performance
was inadequate and whether such inadequacy prejudiced the defense.? ?
Blood on the Pants Seized from the Automobile
On cross-examination by petitioner?s trial counsel, Anthony Robusto,
Detective Terrio testified that he noticed ?trace amounts of blood? on a pair of
gray pants and a piece of vinyl that he discovered in the passenger compartment of
the Monte Carlo automobile petitioner was standing next to when he was arrested.
The prosecutor asked no questions about these items. During closing argument,
defense counsel referred to the pants and the vinyl and stated: ?So what you have
is a pair of gray pants that have blood on them . . . . You know that there are
bloodstains ? or they have some trace blood on them. You know there?s a piece of
vinyl with some trace blood on it. [?] But you don?t know anything about that
blood, you know nothing about it, whether it was analyzed, whether it was
compared, whether any of that was done. [?] Wouldn?t it be interesting if it had
been analyzed and been consistent with ? the way the gun was consistent with ?
the PGM type of [the victim]?? Later, defense counsel returned to this theme,
stating: ?You know that there is bloody pants in the car, gray pants. You know
that those pants are not analyzed. You know that the vinyl is not analyzed.? In
her closing argument, the prosecutor agreed that there was no evidence that the
blood on the pants belonged to the victim, stating: ?Now if the blood was
consistent with that of the victim don?t you think you would have known that??
Petitioner alleged that he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel
because his attorney failed to present evidence that the blood on the gray pants had
been analyzed and determined not to have come from the victim. Petitioner
provided as an exhibit a report from Cellmark laboratory stating that DNA testing
had been performed on the blood on the pants and on a sample of the victim?s
blood, which showed that the blood on the pants did not come from the victim.
Petitioner claimed that effective counsel would have offered this evidence because
?[c]ounsel could have then argued that it was reasonable to assume that if the
blood on the pants did not belong to [the victim] the blood on the gun did not
belong to him either.?
At the reference hearing, trial counsel Anthony Robusto explained why he
did not introduce the DNA evidence showing that the blood on the gray pants did
not belong to the victim. In September of 1991, five months before trial
commenced on March 2, 1992, petitioner spontaneously admitted to Robusto that
he had ?shot and killed? the victim. Robusto replied, ?You?re kidding,? petitioner
said ?No,? and Robusto terminated the conversation, saying ?I don?t want to hear
anymore.? Petitioner had earlier admitted to Robusto, in May of 1991, prior to the
preliminary hearing, that the gun seized from the Monte Carlo was his and he had
lied about it because he was on parole and ?did not want to get tagged with the
Prior to trial, Robusto had obtained a copy of the Cellmark report stating
that the blood on the gray pants found in the Monte Carlo did not match the DNA
of the victim?s blood. Because the blood on the gun had only been tested for
blood type, which showed only that the victim was among 16 percent of the
population with that blood type, Robusto agreed that, in theory, he could have
argued that the blood on the gray pants, which did not belong to the victim, was
also the source of the blood on the gun. But because petitioner had confessed to
Robusto that he had shot and killed the victim, Robusto did everything he could
?to prevent the prosecution from testing that blood on the gun with DNA testing?
because he ?believe[d] the probability is that it?s going to come back positive
DNA for [the victim], which is only going to hurt my client . . . .?
The referee concluded ?that Robusto?s decision not to introduce the test
results of the blood on the pants constitutes a reasonable tactical choice.? We
agree. As the referee stated: ?Robusto believed that if he signaled his intention to
call witnesses to demonstrate that the blood on the pants was not that of the victim,
the prosecution might not simply conduct PGM subtyping on the pants, but test the
gun as well, and this time use DNA technology. Robusto had every reason to
believe that this testing would virtually prove that the victim was the donor of the
Evidence that Liberato Gutierrez Murdered or Robbed the Victim
In the automatic appeal, petitioner contended that the trial court erred by
excluding evidence relating to third party culpability. Defense counsel made an
offer of proof at trial that Detective Guenther would testify that when he arrived at
the crime scene, he noticed shoe prints leading toward an alley north of the
victim?s house and learned that officers were detaining a group of individuals who
had been discovered in the alley. Detective Guenther noticed that one of the
individuals, Liberato Gutierrez,6 was ?extremely nervous [and] his hands were
shaking.? He arrested Liberato Gutierrez after observing a spot of blood on his
shirt, and two spots on one of his work boots.
The prosecution objected, arguing in part that defense counsel was trying to
show ?that Liberato Gutierrez could be the murderer in this case.? Defense
counsel emphatically disagreed, explaining that his purpose was to attack the
thoroughness of the police investigation: ?The purpose of bringing up Liberato
Gutierrez, the blood and the shoes, is not what the People are articulating in any
shape, fashion or form. . . . It is not pointing a finger at Mr. Liberato Gutierrez
and saying you?re the killer, you?re the one that took the money. That?s not the
issue. The issue has to do with whether or not these 12 people can believe and
rely upon the investigation that was performed by the Pomona Police Department
as well as the Sheriff?s Department. [?] And it?s important for them to have that
information and for them to evaluate that information.?
The trial court sustained the prosecution?s objection, ruling: ?The court
finds that the probative value of that testimony is outweighed by the necessity of
the undue consumption of further time. It would create a substantial danger of
confusing the issues and of misleading the jury. [Detective Guenther] will not be
permitted to testify in that area. I am not restricting the testimony as to other
areas.? On appeal, we held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in light
of petitioner?s offer of proof, which ?was not directed at eliciting testimony that
Liberato Gutierrez is not related to Andreas ?Pato? Gutierrez. For the sake
of clarity, Liberato Gutierrez will be referred to by his full name.
Liberato Gutierrez was the person responsible for killing or robbing the victim, but
rather was aimed at a general attack on the police investigation . . . .? (People v.
Valdez, supra, 32 Cal.4th at p. 109.) Detective Guenther was permitted to testify
that when he arrived at the crime scene, he was informed that a group of people
had been discovered in an alley north of the victim?s residence and were detained
Petitioner now claims he was denied effective assistance of counsel because
his trial counsel, Robusto, failed to make an adequate offer of proof that the
proffered testimony of Detective Guenther should have been admitted to prove
that Liberato Gutierrez might have murdered or robbed the victim.
At the reference hearing, Robusto explained why he did not offer Detective
Guenther?s testimony to prove that Liberato Gutierrez may have killed or robbed
the victim. Robusto knew that he could not actually prove that Liberato Gutierrez
had killed the victim, because petitioner had confessed to Robusto that he had
done so. Petitioner also had told Robusto that he had never met Liberato Gutierrez
and Gutierrez had not been at the victim?s residence prior to the murder. Robusto
did not want the spots of blood observed on Liberato Gutierrez?s shirt and boots to
be tested because he was certain that the blood did not come from the victim, and
he did not want to cause the prosecutor to order further DNA analysis because she
might also order additional testing of the blood on the handle of the gun found in
the Monte Carlo, which Robusto was certain had come from the victim.
Although Robusto wanted to inform the jury that other people had been
found in the vicinity following the crime, which he was permitted to do, he did not
want to assert that Liberato Gutierrez might have killed or robbed the victim,
because the People easily could have refuted that claim, which would have harmed
Robusto?s credibility before the jury. Robusto knew that Liberato Gutierrez?s
fingerprints were not found at the crime scene, that he had a blood-alcohol level
above .30 percent and could barely walk, that he had been drinking all day with
his companions, and that the soles of his shoes did not match the shoe prints at the
scene of the crime.
The referee concluded that Robusto had made a reasonable tactical choice.
We agree. Robusto reasonably concluded that the evidence that Liberato
Gutierrez had killed or robbed the victim was weak and would have been easily
refuted by the prosecution. He reasonably concluded that testing the spots of
blood observed on the clothing of Liberato Gutierrez would not have been helpful,
because he was reasonably certain the blood did not come from the victim, and
could have been quite harmful, because it could have triggered DNA testing of the
blood on the gun, which Robusto was reasonably certain came from the victim.
Evidence Regarding Liberato Gutierrez at the Penalty Phase
Petitioner further contends that Robusto was ineffective in failing to ask the
court to reconsider its ruling at the penalty phase and permit Detective Guenther?s
testimony to show that Liberato Gutierrez might have killed or robbed the victim
in order to establish lingering doubt in the minds of the jurors. Robusto testified at
the reference hearing that he did not remember whether he considered asking the
court at the penalty phase to admit further evidence relevant to lingering doubt.
The referee found that had Robusto considered whether to ask the court to
reconsider its ruling, the same considerations that led Robusto to reasonably
conclude not to attempt to prove at the guilt phase that Liberato Gutierrez killed or
robbed the victim would have applied equally at the penalty phase. We agree
that Robusto was not ineffective in failing to ask the court to reconsider its ruling
at the penalty phase. The same tactical considerations Robusto relied upon at the
guilt phase would have made it equally fruitless and risky to contend at the penalty
phase that Liberato Gutierrez might have killed or robbed the victim.
Mitigating Evidence at the Penalty Phase
Petitioner contends that Robusto failed to adequately investigate and
present evidence in mitigation at the penalty phase.
As noted above, at the penalty phase of the trial, Robusto called as
witnesses five members of petitioner?s family and three family friends.
Petitioner?s father, Antonio Valdez, described petitioner as a good worker who
was obedient and respectful to his parents. Petitioner?s mother, Rosa Valdez, and
his two sisters, Victoria and Graciela Valdez, pled for mercy for petitioner and
described him as not violent. The same was true for petitioner?s aunt, Leticia
Belmar, and his friends Enedina and Jose Garcia. No one testified that petitioner
was abused as a child. To the contrary, family friend Carolina Reyna testified that
even though petitioner?s father always yelled at him and his siblings, defendant
listened and obeyed.
A markedly different account of petitioner?s childhood emerged at the
reference hearing. Rosa Valdez testified that her husband, Antonio, had subjected
petitioner to a pattern of severe physical abuse. Rosa7 testified that Antonio had
?a drinking problem? and would physically abuse her, sometimes in front of
petitioner. Rosa stated that her husband hit petitioner ?all the time.? Petitioner
told Rosa that when he was a small boy, his father would make him kneel in the
sun while holding stones in his hands. When petitioner was 10 or 11 years old, his
father beat him with a utility cable.
Because they share the same surname, the members of petitioner?s family
will sometimes be referred to by their first names.
As a child, petitioner worked at night with his mother and older brother,
Antonio, Jr., cleaning offices. They would arrive home at 3 or 4 a.m. and Rosa
would wake the boys at 7 a.m. to go to school. One day, the boys left school to
find a place to sleep. When their father found out, he beat them with a pool cue.
When petitioner was about 16 years old, he worked at a restaurant his parents
owned, washing dishes. One day, his father took from him a burrito he was eating
and beat him with a frying pan.
Rosa stated that she never reported Antonio?s conduct to the police because
she was afraid of him. When asked why she never took the children to a doctor
after these beatings, she first answered, ?I don?t know,? and then explained in
response to a further question that she did not think they needed medical attention.
A short time later, however, Rosa said that after Antonio beat petitioner with the
pool cue, petitioner was ?bedridden for three days without being able to move at
all with fever.?
Rosa testified that Robusto never interviewed her prior to trial, saying that
the first time she met him was in court. When asked whether she ever told
Robusto that petitioner had been abused by his father, she replied, ?I forgot.? She
said that if Robusto had asked her while she was testifying about petitioner ?being
mistreated by his father,? she would have answered those questions. Rosa recalled
telling Robusto that Antonio had hit petitioner on one occasion when petitioner
refused to attend school, but stated that conversation took place in the hallway
outside the courtroom.
Carolina Reyna testified at the reference hearing that she was a family
friend and described petitioner?s father as a violent alcoholic who would verbally
and physically abuse his children. When petitioner was 15 years old, his father hit
him with a bat. Reyna stated that, prior to her testimony at trial, Robusto
interviewed her at petitioner?s family?s home. Rosa was present but her husband
was not. Robusto did not ask her if petitioner?s father had molested her child, and
it did not occur to her to mention it. Reyna told Robusto that Antonio yelled at
petitioner but did not tell him Antonio had hit petitioner, explaining, ?I didn?t go
into specifics because he didn?t ask me those questions.? Reyna was reminded
that he was asked at trial if she had seen petitioner interact with his parents and
answered, ?He had a few problems with his father.? When asked, ?What type of
problems?? she answered that petitioner?s father ?would always yell at him.?
Reyna explained at the reference hearing that she did not mention that Antonio
had beat petitioner with a baseball bat because defense counsel ?didn?t ask me and
I did not know I was to say all that,? adding that she ?was afraid to speak out.?
Graciela Gamp (Graciela Valdez at the time of trial), petitioner?s younger
sister, testified at the reference hearing that her father verbally abused her but
never struck her. Antonio was often drunk and would sometimes slap Rosa.
When she was 7 or 8 years old, and petitioner was 15 or 16 years old, she saw
Antonio hit petitioner on the back ?with a two-by-four.? Petitioner was unable to
move the next day, and Gamp fed him cereal through a straw. Petitioner left home
after that. Gamp stated that Robusto never interviewed her and never came to her
family?s house. When she testified during the trial, she did not mention that her
father had physically abused petitioner because she ?didn?t think it was relevant.?
Victoria Perez, petitioner?s other sister, testified that her father treated her
well and struck her only once, but he struck Rosa and her brothers more often,
especially petitioner, whom he struck almost every day. She recalled that when
petitioner was around 11 years old, her father hit petitioner with ?a two-by-four?
so badly that he could not move afterwards and had to ?drink from a straw.? He
ran away from home after that. When petitioner was seven years old, Antonio
punished him for stealing a jar of pennies by burning his hands. Antonio also
?hung [petitioner] up in the garage? and beat him with a cord. Perez stated that
Robusto never interviewed her prior to or during petitioner?s trial and never came
to her family?s house.
In 1998, six years after petitioner?s conviction, his father was convicted of
raping a relative and was sent to prison. Carolina Reyna testified that Antonio had
also molested her child when the child was six years old.
Robusto testified that he has been an attorney for more than 30 years and
has practiced solely criminal law for more than 20 years; petitioner?s was the third
capital case in which he was involved. Prior to trial, he interviewed each of the
witnesses who testified for the defense at the penalty phase, including petitioner?s
mother and Carolina Reyna, and no one said that Antonio had physically abused
petitioner. To the contrary, Rosa Valdez, with whom Robusto spoke at least six
times, three times at her home, said petitioner had a good, loving relationship with
his family, including his father. Robusto told Rosa that it was important for him to
hear not only the good things about petitioner?s family, but the bad as well.
Robusto asked Rosa if plaintiff had had problems with his father, and Rosa stated
there had been no problems. Rosa told Robusto that Antonio had struck petitioner
once when petitioner was 16 or 17 years old, causing petitioner to leave home for
one year. The family, including Rosa, ?downplayed? the incident and described it
as an ?isolated event.? Robusto checked petitioner?s school record and saw
nothing that indicated petitioner had been abused. Petitioner described his
relationship with his family as ?good.? Robusto asked petitioner if he ever had
been abused by his father, and petitioner answered, ?no.?
Dr. Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a clinical psychologist, examined petitioner in 2002
and testified at the reference hearing that petitioner told her that Antonio had
repeatedly beaten him, burned his hands, and hung him in the garage. As a result,
petitioner suffered from ?complex post traumatic stress syndrome? at the time of
Dr. Kyle Boone, a clinical psychologist, conducted a neuropsychological
assessment of petitioner in 2007 and testified at the reference hearing that
petitioner has ?low average? intelligence and reads at a 10th grade level. He
shows evidence of brain dysfunction, primarily in the frontal lobes, which
decreases his ability to comply with the law.
In his report, the referee found credible Attorney Robusto?s assertion that,
prior to trial, he specifically asked petitioner if his father or anyone else had
abused him and petitioner replied in the negative. The referee further concluded
that petitioner?s denial was truthful. The referee found that, prior to trial, Robusto
?interviewed many of the witnesses now claiming to have witnessed abuse? and
asked them about petitioner?s relationship with his family, but none ?revealed any
abuse other than one beating allegedly inflicted upon petitioner by his father.?
The referee described as ?unconvincing? the witnesses? denial that Robusto had
asked them whether petitioner had been abused and concluded that the witnesses?
explanations for not mentioning the abuse when they testified at the penalty phase
were ?implausible.? After summarizing the testimony of each of the witnesses,
the referee found that ?petitioner has failed to prove his allegations of child abuse.
Likewise, he has failed to prove that he ever developed PTSD [post traumatic
stress disorder], or that he suffers from brain damage/dysfunction, or cognitive
impairment.? The referee noted that petitioner ?has demonstrated by a
preponderance of the evidence that his father hit him on one occasion and that he
thereafter ran away from home.? The referee concluded: ?In short, petitioner has
failed to carry his burden of proving that substantial mitigating evidence existed at
the time of his trial.? The referee concluded that Robusto?s penalty phase
preparation ?was reasonable, if not exhaustive, and that the reason no abuse was
uncovered was that none had occurred.?8
The referee?s findings are supported by substantial evidence and we adopt
them. The record before us provides convincing reasons to suspect the veracity of
the claims by petitioner?s family and friends that he was repeatedly physically
abused by his father, but that no one mentioned it while testifying at the penalty
phase or when speaking to Robusto because Robusto failed to ask. We accept the
referee?s finding that Robusto interviewed each of the witnesses who testified at
the penalty phase and asked them to share both the bad and the good about
petitioner?s relationship with his family. We also accept the referee?s finding that
petitioner specifically asked petitioner whether he had been abused by his father or
anyone else, and that petitioner denied having been abused. Petitioner has failed
to show that Robusto failed to adequately investigate and present evidence in
mitigation at the penalty phase.
The referee found that trial counsel?s representation was deficient in one
respect, because counsel ?inexplicably failed to conduct a thorough interview of
petitioner relative to the crime itself,? but further concluded that petitioner ?failed
to offer any evidence as to what petitioner would have told [trial counsel] if asked
to provide the details surrounding his commission of the murder.? Petitioner, thus,
has failed to demonstrate prejudice.
The order to show cause is discharged and the petition for writ of habeas
corpus is denied.
WE CONCUR: GEORGE, C. J.
See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.
Name of Opinion In re Valdez
Original Proceeding XXX
Date Filed: July 8, 2010
County: Los Angeles
Judge: Charles E. Horan and Thomas F. Nuss
Attorneys for Appellant:
Marilee Marshall, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Petitioner Alfredo Reyes Valdez.
Attorneys for Respondent:
Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorneys General, Robert R. Anderson and Dane R. Gillette,
Chief Assistant Attorneys General, Pamela C. Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Keith H. Borjon,
Sharlene A. Honnaka and Carl N. Henry, Deputy Attorneys General, for Respondent State of California.
Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):
Marilee Marshall & Associates, Inc.
523 West 6th Street, Suite 1109
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Carl N. Henry
Deputy Attorney General
300 South Spring Street, Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA 90013