A three-justice appeals panel Monday affirmed the conviction of a man convicted in the apparent gang retaliation killing of a 27-year-old woman in front of her Pico Rivera home in 2013, but directed the trial court to consider striking sentencing enhancements for a prior conviction and firearm use.
Richard Pallan was sentenced in March 2017 to 80 years to life behind bars for the June 26, 2013, slaying of Jessica Gomez, who was shot seven times in front of her residence in the 9400 block of Underwood Street.
An autopsy showed her wounds were consistent with someone who puts her hands up, turns to flee and is shot in the back, according to court documents. A 12-year-old boy witnessed a man jumping out of a white Dodge Magnum with a revolver and heard shots, but said he didn’t get a look at the driver or two other people at the scene.
Billy Juarez, who was present at the shooting scene, was granted immunity for testifying that a few weeks before Gomez was murdered, her cousin, a member of a rival gang, shot Pallan’s cousin.
A gang allegation was dismissed before trial for insufficient evidence.
Attorneys for Pallan, who was 32 years old when sentenced, asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal to reconsider his case, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. He contended his trial lawyer should have objected to various moves by the deputy district attorney, including the prosecutor’s closing remarks to the jury.
The panel said the prosecutor’s comments amounted to misconduct, but said the defense attorney was not at fault. The opinion cited case law that prosecutors should not invite a jury to view a case through the victim’s eyes or to feel sympathy for the victim.
“By asking the jury to consider that Gomez’s child was now and forever motherless, the prosecutor overstepped his bounds … appealing to the jury to put themselves in the position of her children was misconduct,” according to the opinion written by Justice Anne H. Egerton.
“But the failure to object to the comments was not ineffective assistance of counsel. …The brief remarks were part of a much longer argument after a long trial during which the prosecutor presented strong evidence of Pallan’s guilt, and we see no reasonable probability that they swayed the jury and thereby prejudiced Pallan.”
On appeal, Pallan also challenged the admission of statements by Cecilia Gallegos, who drove Pallan to and from the shooting, that he threatened her with a gun that day and that she was afraid for her life. The appeals panel said the defense lawyer aggressively cross-examined Gallegos to bring her credibility into question and not objecting to the testimony did not amount to ineffective counsel.
Other failures to object were tactical or otherwise supportable in the panel’s view, and also were not evidence of ineffective counsel, according to the opinion.
The defendant’s trial attorney had asked the judge to nullify the jury’s conviction at the original sentencing hearing, noting that Gallegos had pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to seven years, while Juarez was immune from prosecution.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roger Ito replied that Juarez and Gallegos should have “faced liability,” but called Gomez’ killing an “execution” carried out by Pallan.
“In my estimation it is a senseless act of violence, and it is an unarmed woman,” Ito said before handing down the sentence of 80 years to life.
At the time, state law didn’t give the court discretion to strike the sentencing enhancements, so the appeals panel said it would remand the case for resentencing, while affirming the judgment in all other respects.
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