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People v. Hernandez

May 25, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
HECTOR HERNANDEZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 94 CR 15869 Honorable Mary Ellen Coughlan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

I. BACKGROUND

Following a jury trial, Hector Hernandez (defendant) was convicted of three counts of first degree murder and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that the circuit court erred in: (1) denying his motion for a continuance; (2) admitting testimony into evidence concerning methods of drug trafficking and distribution; (3) allowing the use of a chart illustrating membership and rank within the Zapata drug distribution cartel; and (4) allowing prosecutorial questions on cross-examination regarding a tattoo of the devil on defendant's chest. For the reasons that follow, we affirm. The following facts are relevant to this appeal. Esteban "El General" Zapata, Jose Santamaria, Rolando Lopez, and Mario Lopez (the Chicago faction) were members of a drug distribution network in Chicago known as the Zapata cartel. The Zapata cartel's headquarters were located in Falfurrias, Texas. Marcos Zapata was the leader of the Texas faction as well as the cousin of Esteban "El General" Zapata. Marcos Antonio Rodriguez was an assistant to Marcos Zapata. At defendant's trial, Mario Lopez testified that defendant was a distributor and an enforcer for the Texas faction. The trio of Marcos Zapata, Marcos Antonio Rodriguez, and defendant lived in Falfurrias, Texas.

Marcos Zapata and Marcos Antonio Rodriguez designed the drug distribution scheme for the Chicago faction. Allegedly, cocaine was shipped from Mexico to Elgin, Illinois. Refugio "Kuko" Deleon, who was based in Elgin, Illinois, received the shipment from Mexico. After the drugs were delivered to Refugio "Kuko" Deleon, Mario Lopez of the Chicago faction picked them up. The cocaine was then sold through local connections within the City of Chicago. Refugio "Kuko" Deleon was to be paid $18,000 for each kilogram (kilo) of cocaine tendered to the Chicago faction. Additionally, for each kilo of cocaine received by the Chicago faction, Marcos Zapata and Marcos Antonio Rodriguez received a $1,000 commission.

In November 1992, the Chicago faction began selling the cocaine to its connections for $20,000 per kilo. From December 1992 through March 1993, the Chicago faction received approximately 300 kilos of cocaine. In March 1993, Refugio "Kuko" Deleon abruptly ended cocaine shipments to the Chicago faction. According to Refugio "Kuko" Deleon, Esteban "El General" Zapata owed $300,000 for cocaine that the Chicago faction had received. Marcos Zapata and Marcos Antonio Rodriguez telephoned Esteban Zapata and told him that he also owed Marcos Zapata and Marcos Antonio Rodriguez $200,000 in commissions.

On June 26, 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intercepted a telephone call between Marcos Zapata and defendant. Marcos Zapata and defendant discussed the large debt that was owed to the drug suppliers in Mexico. In that conversation, Marcos Zapata and defendant also talked about killing Esteban "El General" Zapata because of the money he owed. On the evening of July 12, 1993, at approximately 9 p.m., Esteban "El General" Zapata, Jose Santamaria and Rolando Lopez were shot to death in their Chicago apartment.

Leita Guerrero lived in the same apartment building as the murder victims. At trial, Guerrero testified that on the night of July 12, 1993, she heard "three thumps." According to Guerrero, the "thumps" sounded like "bodies falling." After she heard the "thumps," Guerrero saw three men running down a gangway adjacent to her apartment building. Defendant turned to face Guerrero as he ran past her window. The three men ran down the street toward a white van. Guerrero viewed a photo array and identified defendant as one of the men running from the murder scene on July 12, 1993.

Letitia Gomez Mercado lived next door to the apartment building where the shootings took place. At trial, Mercado testified that she was standing on the street in front of her apartment building when she heard gunshots. Immediately after hearing the shots, Mercado saw three men running through a gangway near the victims' apartment building. According to Mercado, the men ran past her in single file. Mercado positively identified defendant as one of the men she saw leaving the crime scene.

On August 7, 1993, defendant and Marcos Zapata were apprehended in Lincoln, Nebraska, on a charge unrelated to this appeal. An arresting officer looked through defendant's wallet. A piece of paper containing the name of one of the victims, Esteban Zapata, was found. In May 1994, defendant was extradited to Chicago.

On September 29, 1997, the jury returned a guilty verdict. On February 27, 1998, defendant was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment for the murders of Esteban Zapata, Jose Santamaria, and Rolando Lopez. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Motion for Continuance

Defendant contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a continuance. Specifically, defendant contends that he was denied an opportunity to investigate potentially exculpatory evidence. Defendant's contention is based on the statement of a confidential informant (CI).

The grant or denial of a motion for continuance is within the sound discretion of the circuit court judge. People v. Collins, 106 Ill. 2d 237, 478 N.E.2d 267 (1985); People v. Edwards, 167 Ill. App. 3d 324, 331-32, 521 N.E.2d 185 (1988). Whether a continuance is granted or denied depends upon the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the request. People v. Davis, 147 Ill. App. 3d 800, 802-03, 498 N.E.2d 633 (1986). A continuance for the purpose of allowing defense counsel further time to prepare is not erroneously denied unless the denial serves to prejudice the defendant in some way. Edwards, 167 Ill. App. 3d at 332. The party ...


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