State v. Rodriguez

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA No. 302A14 Filed 8 June 2018 STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA v. JUAN CARLOS RODRIGUEZ Appeal as of right pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-27(a) from a judgment imposing a sentence of death entered by Judge R. Stuart Albright on 21 March 2014 in Superior Court, Forsyth County, upon a jury verdict finding defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Heard in the Supreme Court on 10 October 2016. Following the initial oral argument, this case was reargued on 9 October 2017. Josh H. Stein, Attorney General, by Mary Carla Babb and Kimberly N. Callahan, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State. Glenn Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Barbara S. Blackman, John F. Carella, and Kathryn L. VandenBerg, Assistant Appellate Defenders, for defendant- appellant. ERVIN, Justice. Defendant Juan Carlos Rodriguez was convicted of the first-degree murder of his estranged wife, Maria Magdelana Rodriguez, and sentenced to death. After careful consideration of defendant’s challenges to his convictions and sentence in light of the record and the applicable law, we find no error in the proceedings leading to STATE V. RODRIGUEZ Opinion of the Court defendant’s conviction and the jury’s rejection of his intellectual disability defense.1 On the other hand, we conclude that the trial court erred by failing, acting ex mero motu, to submit the statutory mitigating circumstance enumerated in N.C.G.S. § 15A- 2000(f)(6) (“[t]he capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired”) to the jury at defendant’s capital sentencing hearing. As a result, we vacate defendant’s death sentence and remand this case to the Superior Court, Forsyth County, for a new capital sentencing hearing. I. Factual Background A. Substantive Facts 1. State’s Evidence Defendant and Ms. Rodriguez became emotionally involved with each other in late 1992. The couple married when Ms. Rodriguez was thirteen years old and defendant was sixteen or seventeen years old and had their first child when Ms. Rodriguez was fourteen years old. Unfortunately, defendant became physically and emotionally abusive towards Ms. Rodriguez following their marriage. This pattern of domestic violence continued after the couple came to the United States. On 11 October 2010, Ms. Rodriguez entered a domestic violence shelter with her three children because she could “no longer live with [her] husband” and did not 1 Although the statutory provisions in effect at the time of defendant’s trial spoke in terms of “mental retardation,” this opinion will use the currently applicable nomenclature of “intellectual disability” in lieu of the earlier statutory expression. -2- STATE V. RODRIGUEZ Opinion of the Court “have anywhere else to go.” At the time that she entered the shelter, Ms. Rodriguez noted on an intake form that defendant had threatened to kill her, controlled most of her daily activities, and was violently jealous of her. Although Ms. Rodriguez left the shelter on 19 October 2010, she returned on 29 October to retrieve certain medications that she had left at that location. During the 29 October ...

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