ORIGINAL CHARGES: OPEN MURDER; FELONY FIREARM USE.
MDOC NUMBER: 309305 CURRENT STATUS: PRISONER LOCATION: CHIPPEWA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY SECURITY LEVEL: II EARLIEST RELEASE DATE: LIFE MAXIMUM DISCHARGE DATE: LIFE
SENTENCE 1: OFFENSE: WEAPONS- FELONY FIREARMS
MCL #: 750.227BA
COURT FILE # : 99018046FC4
CONVICTION TYPE: JURY
MINIMUM SENTENCE: 2 YEARS 0 MONTHS
MAXIMUM SENTENCE: 2 YEARS 0 MONTHS
DATE OF OFFENSE: 09/26/1999
DATE OF SENTENCE: 06/09/2000
SENTENCE 2: OFFENSE: HOMICIDE- MURDER, SECOND DEGREE
MCL #: 750.317
COURT FILE # : 99018046FC4
CONVICTION TYPE: JURY
MINIMUM SENTENCE: LIFE
MAXIMUM SENTENCE: LIFE
DATE OF OFFENSE: 09/26/1999
DATE OF SENTENCE: 06/09/2000
Nicole Sanchez -- Age 17 Saginaw, MIPolice found Nicole dying on a bed on September 27th 1999. Police arrested Nicole’s 23-year-old boyfriend Lionel Villareal at the scene. He first told them that Nicole had committed suicide, and then changed his story repeatedly during questioning. Villareal was arraigned on an open charge of murder and felony firearm use.
Nicole was the daughter of a Saginaw Police Officer Vince Sanchez and Belia.
Fatal site familiar to officers
September 29, 1999
THE SAGINAW NEWS
Author: JOEL KURTH and DARRYL Q. TUCKER,
The house where a Saginaw police detective's teen-age daughter suffered a fatal gunshot wound Sunday is familiar to narcotics officers, investigators say.
They also say they found cocaine residue in the home.
Meanwhile, Saginaw County District Judge Kyle Higgs Tarrant arraigned Lionel Villarreal on Tuesday on an open charge of murder and a count of possessing a firearm while committing a felony in the slaying of 17-year-old Nicole Sanchez.
Tarrant denied bail.
Villarreal, 23, of 1407 S. 16th was Sanchez's boyfriend. Police arrested him at 133 N. 12th, where they found the dying daughter of Detective Vince Sanchez on a bed.
Villarreal initially told officers Sanchez committed suicide, then changed his story repeatedly during questioning, police said.
Investigators wouldn't discuss a motive for the shooting, except to say that an argument apparently preceded it.
Lt. Thomas J. McGarrity, Saginaw police spokesman, would disclose almost no information about the case, but other officers provided details.
They spoke only if they could remain unidentified, however, because of a department rule against talking to news organizations.
District Judge Terry L. Clark will preside over a Tuesday, Oct. 12, preliminary hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists for Villarreal to stand trial in Circuit Court.
During his arraignment, court personnel prohibited anyone from entering or leaving the courtroom. They said they took the unusual measure for security reasons but declined to elaborate.
Court records indicate that Villarreal is a single father of one child, although they don't identify the mother.
Records also indicate that he told officials he has worked for the past eight months at Promet Inc., 950 Bridgeview, a Zilwaukee company that prepares engine blocks for automakers.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor Howard B. Gave, who authorized the arrest warrant, declined to give details about the shooting.
Sanchez was enrolled in night classes in a Swan Valley School District adult education program, working toward a diploma, McGarrity said. She also had attended Arthur Hill High School.
Services are at 11 a.m. Thursday at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3829 Lamson.
Visitation is from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Deisler Funeral Home, 2233 Hemmeter in Saginaw Township.
Hearing delayed in shooting
October 14, 1999
A judge has delayed a preliminary hearing for a 23-year-old Saginaw man who faces murder charges in the Sept. 26 shooting death of the teen-age daughter of a Saginaw police detective.
Saginaw County District Judge Terry L. Clark on Monday waived the right for Lionel Villarreal to have the hearing in 14 days because prosecutors have not received all of the paper work they need to proceed.
Villarreal, who lives at 1407 S. 16th, faces an open charge of murder and possessing a firearm while committing a felony in the slaying of 17-year-old Nicole Sanchez. She is the daughter of Saginaw Police Detective Vince Sanchez.
Court officials have not set a new hearing date.
Police arrested Villarreal at 133 N. 12th, where they found Sanchez in a bed suffering from a bullet wound. She died later at Saint Mary's hospital.
Investigators have said they would not discuss the motive until after the hearing.
Stories differ in shooting
December 1, 1999
THE SAGINAW NEWS
DARRYL Q. TUCKER
Lionel Villarreal gave investigators three versions of how his 17-year-old girlfriend - the daughter of a Saginaw police detective - suffered a fatal gunshot wound at an East Side home.
Initially, he said he and Nicole Sanchez, daughter of Vince Sanchez, were arguing and that she then shot herself, Saginaw Police Detective Robert M. Ruth testified Tuesday during Villarreal's preliminary hearing in Saginaw County District Court.
While sitting in a squad car but not under arrest, Villarreal made another admission, Ruth said.
"He said he was trying to make love, and that he shot her," Ruth testified.
Villarreal's third account was that he was playing with the gun and pointed it at Sanchez, and it accidently fired, Ruth said.
The gun fired twice, and one bullet struck Sanchez, but Villarreal said he didn't know what happened to the other projectile, Ruth added.
District Judge Terry L. Clark concluded the hearing by ordering the 23-year-old Villarreal, 1407 S. 16th, to stand trial in Circuit Court on an open charge of murder and possessing a firearm while committing a felony.
The slaying occurred Sept. 26 at 133 N. 12th.
Court officials have not set a trial date. Villarreal, who was in jail without bond, faces up to life in prison.
Villarreal's attorney, Stevens J. Jacobs, acknowledged that Villarreal gave inconsistent statements.
Still, he said, the death, while tragic, was accidental.
Jacobs argued that Clark should reduce the murder charge to manslaughter.
Assistant Prosecutor James F. Piazza countered that Villarreal was mad because Sanchez was going to end the relationship.
"He got upset, had the gun and used the gun," Piazza said.
Villarreal fired one shot to scare Sanchez, he said. She had her feet in the air trying to defend against Villarreal when he fired the second shot at her, Piazza said.
Court records indicate that Villarreal is a father of one child. Documents also note that Villarreal had worked in the eight months preceding the shooting at Promet Inc., a Zilwaukee company that prepares engine blocks for automakers.
Sanchez was enrolled in night classes in a Swan Valley School District adult education program, authorities said. She also had attended Arthur Hill High School.
Andrea Sanchez, 18, testified that her sister had planned to break off her relationship with Villarreal the day before her death because Villarreal was seeing other women.
She said the two began dating in June and that she once saw Villarreal shove her in front of other people. Officer Laura Nelson testified that she arrived at the home and saw Villarreal and another man leave the house and walk to the rear.
Villarreal apparently re-entered the house through a back door because a short time later he was at the front door and asked her to come inside, Nelson said.
Villarreal's eyes were bloodshot and he had blood on part of his pant leg, she said.
Investigators recovered a 9 mm pistol from the back yard of the home.
Gunpowder residue on the teen's clothing and skin was consistent with point-blank range, said State Police Sgt. Ronald D. Crichton.
Detectives recovered two bullets one from a wall in the living room and the other in the basement, Crichton said.
Police also have said they found cocaine at the house.
Witnesses said Villarreal, Sanchez and other people were at the North 12th home watching a prize fight on television and then left to go to a party.
Humberto D. Casas said they returned and went to a McDonald's restaurant about 6 a.m. to get breakfast.
After they came back, Casas said, Sanchez went to sleep on a couch.
Casas, 27, said he went home about a half block away and about three minutes later, his cousin, Eugenio C Casas III, knocked on the door and told him Villarreal had shot Sanchez.
Margarito Casas testified that Villarreal was drinking beer and using cocaine earlier in the day.
Margarito Casas, 26, also said he was drinking but was not intoxicated and that Sanchez did not consume any cocaine. Sanchez and Villarreal were not fighting with each other, he said.
Eugenio Casas, 20, testified that he heard the shots and then left the home because it didn't have a phone and went to a pay phone to call 911.
Story of killing changed
March 24, 2000
THE SAGINAW NEWS
DARRYL Q. TUCKER,
Nicole Sanchez was a 17-year-old who had grown tired of her boyfriend's physical and mental abuse, authorities say.
Before she could end the tumultuous 4-month-old relationship, 23-year-old Lionel Villarreal murdered Sanchez, said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor James F. Piazza.
"What he did was the ultimate act of aggression against a woman," Piazza told a nine-man, five-woman jury as Villarreal's trial began.
"He tried to exercise his power and control over his property. He deliberately pointed the gun at her and shot her at point-blank range right between the legs, and she died."
Prosecutors charged Villarreal with an open count of murder and possessing a firearm while committing a felony in the Sept. 26 death.
Villarreal, in jail without bond, faces up to life in prison. He lived at 1407 S. 16th.
Sanchez was the daughter of Vince Sanchez, an eight-year veteran of the Saginaw Police Department.
"There was nothing in Vince Sanchez's experience to prepare him for what occurred Sept. 26, 1999," Piazza said.
Villarreal's attorney, R. Vincent Green of Lansing, called the slaying an accident.
"If he could turn back the clock that morning, he would do it. My client is so sorry for this tragedy."
Villarreal told different stories about the shooting, prosecutors and the defense lawyer agreed.
"He was scared to death," Green said. "He had just shot his girlfriend in the groin. He was upset."
After Villarreal regained his composure, he told the truth, Green said.
Initially, Villarreal told police he and Sanchez argued and that she shot herself, Piazza said.
Villarreal's second account was that he was playing with the gun and that he fired it accidentally while pointing it at Sanchez, Piazza said.
Court records show that Villarreal fathered a child with another woman and had worked at Promet Inc. in Zilwaukee for eight months before the shooting.
Sanchez was enrolled in night adult education classes in the Swan Valley School District, Piazza said. She had attended Arthur Hill High School.
Family members will testify that Sanchez planned to break off her relationship with Villarreal the day before her death because he was seeing other women and assaulted her openly.
Villarreal, Sanchez and others were at a home at 133 N. 12th watching boxing on television, then left for a party.
When they returned, some of the occupants went to a McDonald's restaurant about 6 a.m. to get breakfast. They forgot Sanchez's meal, so she and Villarreal went to get it.
After they came back, Sanchez went to sleep on a couch, Piazza said.
A short time later, one of the occupants, Humberto D. Casas, 27, went to his home about a half-block away.
About three minutes later, his cousin, Eugenio C. Casas III, 20, knocked on the door and told him Villarreal had shot Sanchez, Piazza said.
Sanchez was on the ground, screaming with pain, he said.
Police arrived and saw Villarreal and another man leave the house, Piazza said, adding that Villarreal apparently re-entered the house through a back door.
Police recovered a 9 mm pistol from the back yard of the home and found two bullets, one in a living room wall and the other in the basement, Piazza said.
The trial resumed today.
Jury finds Saginaw man guilty of murder of teen girlfriend
March 31, 2000
THE SAGINAW NEWS
DARRYL Q. TUCKER
A Saginaw man could spend the rest of his life in prison for the Sept. 26 slaying of his girlfriend, daughter of a police detective.
Thursday, a jury convicted Lionel Villarreal of second-degree murder and possessing a firearm while committing a felony in the shooting of Nicole Sanchez, 17, at 133 N. 12th.
She was the daughter of Vince Sanchez, an eight-year Saginaw police veteran.
The Saginaw County Circuit Court jury of five men and seven women deliberated for about eight hours over two days.
Prosecutors charged Villarreal, 23, with an open count of murder. He shot Sanchez between the legs at point-blank range.
Circuit Judge William A. Crane will sentence Villarreal, who lived at 1407 S. 16th, on Wednesday, April 26. Villarreal was in jail without bond.
The victim's father said he would not comment until after the sentencing.
Assistant Prosecutor James F. Piazza said Villarreal was aggressive toward Sanchez during their stormy four-month relationship.
Sanchez, who attended night adult education classes in the Swan Valley School District, was about to break off the relationship, Piazza said.
She grew tired of Villarreal's physical and emotional abuse, he said.
Villarreal, who didn't testify during his five-day trial, maintained that the shooting was an accident, his attorney, R. Vincent Green of Lansing, has said.
After a night of partying, Villarreal and Sanchez went with friends to the North 12th Street home.
Some of the occupants went to get breakfast. They returned without Sanchez's food. She and Villarreal then left to get breakfast.
After they came back. Sanchez went to sleep on a couch.
A short time later, Villarreal shot her, Piazza said.
Police recovered a 9 mm pistol from the back yard.
Villarreal first told authorities that Sanchez shot herself, Piazza said. His second story was that he was playing with the gun and that he fired it accidently.
17-year-old's slayer gets life in prison
June 10, 2000
THE SAGINAW NEWS
A 23-year-old Saginaw man is headed to prison for the Sept. 26 slaying of his girlfriend, who was the daughter of a police detective.
Friday, Lionel Villarreal received a sentence of life in prison from Saginaw County Circuit Judge William A. Crane for second-degree murder and possessing a firearm while committing a felony in the killing of Nicole Sanchez, 17. In March, a jury convicted Villarreal who maintains the shooting was an accident.
Sanchez, was the daughter of Vince Sanchez, an eight-year Saginaw police veteran.
Prosecutors said Villarreal shot Sanchez at 133 N. 12th when she refused to have sex with him. Sanchez was ending their 4-month-old relationship, investigators said.
Investigators said Villarreal gave three versions of what happened: that an intruder shot Sanchez, that she shot herself, and that he was playing with the gun and fired it accidently.
Defendant was charged with first-degree murder, MCL 750.316, for killing Nicole
Sanchez by shooting her in the pelvis. A jury subsequently convicted him of second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and an additional two years’ imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction. Defendant appeals as of right. We affirm.
I. Expert Testimony
Defendant initially argues that the trial court erroneously permitted Lt. David Menzie to testify as an expert witness in the area of crime scene behavioral analysis. We disagree. “[T]he determination regarding the qualification of an expert and the admissibility of expert testimony is within the trial court’s discretion.” People v Murray, 234 Mich App 46, 52; 593 NW2d 690 (1999). A trial court’s decision concerning expert witness testimony will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. Id. An abuse of discretion exists when an unprejudiced person, considering the facts on which the trial court acted, finds no justification for its decision. Id.
MRE 702 governs the admission of expert testimony and provides:
If the court determines that recognized scientific, technical, or other
specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill,[PAGE-2-]experience, training or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
For testimony to be admissible under MRE 702, it must meet the following criteria: (1) the witness is an expert; (2) the facts in evidence are subject to analysis by a competent expert; and (3) the knowledge in that particular field belongs more to an expert than to the common man.People v Beckley, 161 Mich App 120, 125; 409 NW2d 759 (1987).
Defendant argues that Lt. Menzie was not qualified as a crime scene behavioral analyst because he lacked expertise in behavioral analysis and psychology. However, the trial court is given broad discretion under MRE 702 in determining whether an expert is qualified by “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” People v Moye, 194 Mich App 373, 378; 487 NW2d 777, rev’d on other grounds 441 Mich 864 (1992); see also Mulholland v DEC Int’l Corp, 432 Mich 395, 403-405; 443 NW2d 340 (1989). In this instance, Lt. Menzie had twenty-two years experience as a police officer, had worked on thousands of homicides, sexual assault and domestic violence cases, and was trained in anthropology, sociology, and psychology, and their use in investigating violent crimes. Furthermore, Lt. Menzie was qualified in over twenty other cases as an expert in crime scene behavioral analysis. See People v Lewis, 160 Mich App 20, 28; 408 NW2d 94 (1987). Therefore, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declaring Lt. Menzie qualified as an expert witness in crime scene behavioral analysis.
Defendant also contends that Lt. Menzie’s testimony concerning defendant’s relationship with the victim, as well as the fact that defendant had lied to and attempted to manipulate the police, was purely speculative and outside his range of expertise. However, Lt. Menzie testified that he took the known facts of similar cases, which included approximately twenty cases of relationships resulting in gunshot wounds to the genital area, and used them to help him explain the unknown in this case. Furthermore, although Lt. Menzie referred to defendant’s statements to the police as inconsistent and manipulative, uncontested evidence in the record indicates that defendant provided the police with at least three conflicting versions of the crime. Expert testimony that the jury may use to assess a defendant’s credibility along with the other evidence presented is admissible. People v Hamilton, 163 Mich App 661, 668-669; 415 NW2d 653 (1987). Consequently, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Lt. Menzie’s expert testimony.
II. Admission of Evidence
Defendant next asserts that the trial court erred when it concluded that Melissa Mata’s statements to Detective Robert Ruth were inadmissible as hearsay. Specifically, defendant claims that Detective Ruth was improperly prevented from recounting that Mata, who was unavailable to testify at trial, reported hearing defendant say “don’t leave me, baby girl” after the shooting. We disagree. This Court reviews a trial court’s decision to exclude evidence for an abuse of discretion. People v Herndon, 246 Mich App 371, 406; 633 NW2d 376 (2001).
Initially, we find that defendant’s statement itself was not hearsay because it was a command rather than an assertive statement. See People v Jones, 228 Mich App 191, 204-205; 579 NW2d 82 (1998). Nevertheless, Detective Ruth’s account of what Mata told him about the [PAGE-3-] statement would have been hearsay because Mata was the declarant and the statement was being offered to prove that defendant allegedly made a statement of concern. MRE 801(c); People v Bartlett, 231 Mich App 139, 159; 585 NW2d 341 (1998). Hearsay is inadmissible as substantive evidence except as provided by the Michigan Rules of Evidence. MRE 802; People v Tanner, 222 Mich App 626, 629; 564 NW2d 197 (1997). Thus, Detective Ruth’s proposed testimony concerning Mata’s statements would only be admissible if it fell within an exception to the hearsay rule.
Defendant claims that the statement fell under MRE 803(3) because it related to
defendant’s then-existing state of mind. However, Mata is the declarant in this case as Detective Ruth would be testifying about statements that she made to him during a police interview.
Therefore, MRE 803(3) is inapplicable because Mata’s statement was not reflective of her then existing state of mind. Furthermore, defendant’s failure to notify the prosecution before trial that he planned to offer this statement under MRE 804(b)(7), is fatal to its admission under this exception. Because the statement does not fit within any exception to the hearsay rule, we find that the trial court properly excluded the testimony.
III. Prosecutorial Misconduct
Defendant further maintains that the prosecutor’s comments during closing arguments amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. We disagree. Because defendant did not object to these comments at trial, we review them for plain error affecting his substantial rights. People v Carines, 460Mich 750, 763-764; 597 NW2d 130 (1999).
Defendant claims that the prosecutor improperly told jurors that the gun was in
defendant’s car on the night of the shooting. While this fact may not have been in evidence, the prosecutor is permitted to argue all reasonable inferences arising from the evidence as they relate to his theory of the case. People v Bahoda, 448 Mich 261, 282; 531 NW2d 659 (1995).
Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the location of the gun were not outcome
determinative in light of the defense position that defendant accidentally fired the gun. We also note that whether the statement caused an unfair suggestion of premeditation is irrelevant because defendant was not convicted of premeditated murder.
Defendant also purports that the prosecutor’s assertion that defendant disposed of bullets while standing on the porch lacked factual support. A careful review of the prosecutor’s comments in context reveals that he did not assert this as a fact. People v Schutte, 240 Mich App 713, 721; 613 NW2d 370 (2000). Rather, it appears that the prosecutor was challenging defendant’s claim that he pulled the chamber of the gun while standing on the porch, causing bullets to come “flying out,” although no bullets were found on the porch. See People v Launsburry, 217 Mich App 358, 361; 551NW2d 460 (1996) (prosecutor may argue from the facts in evidence that the defendant is untrustworthy).
Defendant also asserts that there is no record evidence to support the prosecutor’s
statement that defendant told Detective Ruth he had chambered the gun. However, Detective Ruth testified that in a statement at the police station defendant claimed he pulled the chamber on the gun. Given this testimony, we find no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
IV. Offense Variable Scoring
Defendant further challenges the scoring of offense variable six, MCL 777.36 (intent to kill or injure another individual; offense variable seven, MCL 777.37 (aggravated physical abuse); and offense variable ten, MCL 777.40 (exploitation of a vulnerable victim). This Court upholds a sentencing court’s scoring decision if there is any supporting evidence in the record.People v Elliott, 215 Mich App 259, 260; 544 NW2d 748 (1996).
Defendant first argues that offense variable six should have been scored at twenty-five, for unpremeditated intent to kill, rather than fifty. We disagree. A fifty-point score is appropriate where the killing was committed during an attempted act of first or third-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC). The sentencing judge cited forensic evidence indicating that the victim’s body was in a defensive kicking posture at the time of the shooting, and the fact that the victim told relatives she had planned to break off her relationship with defendant and not have sex with him again. Based on this evidence, we uphold the scoring of offense variable six.
Next, defendant challenges the fifty-point scoring of offense variable seven on the
grounds that the mere use of a gun is insufficient to warrant terrorism. Terrorism is defined as “conduct designed to substantially increase the fear and anxiety a victim suffers during the offense.” MCL 777.37(2)(a). In light of evidence indicating that the victim was in a defensive position when defendant placed the gun directly on her vagina and pulled the trigger, we find support for this score.
Defendant also claims that the five-point scoring of offense variable ten was unwarranted because there was no evidence that he exploited the victim’s vulnerability during the murder.
We disagree. According to MCL 777.40(1)(c), five points is appropriate if “[t]he offender exploited a victim by his or her difference in size or strength, or both, or exploited a victim who was intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, asleep, or unconscious.” The evidence supports a five-point score because the victim was sleeping shortly before she was shot, and because defendant, at 5’9” and 180 pounds, was much larger than the 5’1”, 120 pound victim. MCL 777.40(1)(c). Therefore, scoring of this variable was not erroneous.
/s/ Henry William Saad
/s/ Donald S. Owens
/s/ Jessica R. Cooper