The Supreme Court of Guam yesterday heard oral arguments in the appeal of Clifford Benavente San Nicolas who is seeking a reversal of his murder conviction. He was convicted of murder as a first-degree felony, family violence as a third-degree felony and possession of a firearm without an identification card as a third-degree felony in April 2015.
San Nicolas was convicted of shooting his fiancée after they argued over rice she had burned. The victim was paralyzed for almost a year before she died of complications from the paralysis.
As part of the 2016 Law Week outreach, the oral argument of The People v. Clifford San Nicolas was held at the Okkodo High School gymnasium.
Representing San Nicolas was attorney Leevin Camacho who stated that all the trial judge had to do was ask the jurors if they had seen or read any news coverage in connection with the case. Camacho said a news article in one of the publications called San Nicolas a repeat offender and that he had a violent criminal history and the jury could have easily been tainted by exposure to the story.
Camacho argued to have San Nicolas' convictions reversed on the grounds that the exposure of the front page news article to the jurors who were not asked if they had seen the story, made the jury “inherently prejudicial.”
Disclosed in the story was that San Nicolas had four previous family-violence convictions and up to 10 criminal cases and that he was on parole at the time of the shooting. This information had not been brought up in the trial court.
Assistant Attorney General Marianne Woloschuk argued the evidence presented at trial was sufficient enough to convict the defendant without the jury having been exposed to the news story and that a juror would had to have gone out of their way to read the details in the story and they would have done it deliberately, ignoring the instructions of the court.
Woloschuk said San Nicolas told three different stories to police about what happened the day of the shooting. She said he admitted to pointing the weapon at the victim to scare her, which Woloschuk said demonstrated reckless behavior. San Nicolas said the gun went off by accident.
Because he was convicted of murder, San Nicolas was sentenced to life in prison.
Assistant Attorney General Brian Gallagher said during the initial trial that the special allegation of the possession and use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of five to 25 years.
Jurors began deliberations on that morning and returned the verdict the same afternoon.
San Nicolas was convicted of shooting his girlfriend, Valene Borja, in the neck on Jan. 26, 2013.
The gunshot wound left her paralyzed and hospitalized for nearly a year.
The Supreme Court justices said they would take the matter under advisement.