Not for Publication – Rule 111(c), Rules of the Arizona Supreme Court
Appeal from the Superior Court in Cochise County No. CR201100580 The Honorable John F. Kelliher Jr., Judge
Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General Joseph T. Maziarz, Section Chief Counsel, Phoenix By Tanja K. Kelly, Assistant Attorney General, Tucson Counsel for Appellee
Neil W. Bassett, Phoenix Counsel for Appellant
Chief Judge Eckerstrom authored the decision of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Miller and Judge Espinosa concurred.
ECKERSTROM, CHIEF JUDGE.
¶1 Following a jury trial, appellant Theodore Ramos was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, kidnapping, two counts of aggravated assault, and twelve counts of sexual assault. The trial court imposed a natural life term of imprisonment for the murder conviction and a combination of concurrent and consecutive prison terms for the other offenses. On appeal, Ramos challenges his convictions based on the court's comments to the jury regarding his guilt. He also argues that insufficient evidence supported the aggravated assault convictions. We affirm for the reasons that follow.
Factual and Procedural Background
¶2 We view the evidence in the light most favorable to upholding the convictions. See State v. Kuhs, 223 Ariz. 376, n.2, 224 P.3d 192, 195 n.2 (2010). In the early morning hours of July 24, 2011, seventeen-year-old Ramos rang the doorbell at the home of the victims, B.L. and her husband, K.L. When K.L. partially opened the door to respond to Ramos's pleas for help, Ramos pushed the door open and killed K.L. by slitting his throat. Ramos then struck B.L., threatened her with a knife, and sexually assaulted her for approximately two hours. During this ordeal, Ramos cut B.L.'s arm and fractured her rib. A police officer who performed a welfare check ultimately discovered Ramos naked and holding a knife in B.L.'s garage as she ran out of it. The jury rejected Ramos's guilty except insane (GEI) defense and convicted him of all charges. This appeal followed the imposition of sentence. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21 (A)(1), 13-4031, and 13-4033(A)(1).
¶3 Ramos first contends the trial court committed reversible error by making comments to the jury regarding his guilt. In support of his argument, he points to various statements the court made during voir dire, in its preliminary instructions, and later in chambers. To properly evaluate this issue, we must first consider the broader context of the court's remarks.
¶4 Once Ramos had been restored to competency and had his trial date set, he informed the court he was "plea[ding] guilty except insane" pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-502. In a discussion concerning the court's preliminary jury questionnaire, Ramos objected to statements that he had entered pleas of "'Not Guilty'" to the charges and that the trial was being held to determine whether he was "'Guilty' or 'Not Guilty'" of the offenses. He maintained the jury pool instead should be told he had "entered pleas of guilty except insane to the charges" and "this trial has been scheduled to determine whether [he] is guilty or guilty except insane." The state insisted it still bore the burden of proving guilt. The state then persuaded the court to inform potential jurors that Ramos also could be found "not guilty." Ramos asserted, "I'm not going to be arguing that. And it may not be appropriate to put it into the instruction."
¶5 He then objected to language in the preliminary questionnaire asking venire members if they had already decided whether he was guilty or not guilty based on information from any source. He explained his position as follows:
[T]his is an unusual case, and everyone agrees that . . . Ramos is guilty. The question is is he guilty except insane, or not. And ...