A state appeals court panel has overturned a woman’s conviction for a 60-year-old man’s beating death five years ago inside his motor home in Long Beach.
In a 55-page ruling on Tuesday, Feb. 26, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the “cumulative effect of two critical errors compels reversal” of Jazmin Montanez’s first-degree murder conviction for the Jan. 27, 2014, attack on Thomas Taylor.
The panel, which upheld co-defendant Anthony Josua Paz’s conviction for second-degree murder, found that Paz’s admissions during a jailhouse conversation were “wrongly admitted as evidence” against Montanez. The panel also found that the trial court did not instruct jurors on how they must evaluate the testimony of a potential accomplice.
“Without an instruction to consider the testimony of accomplices with caution and to ensure such testimony is corroborated, and having been erroneously allowed to rely on the recorded jail statement that provided key corroborative evidence of guilt, we lack the requisite confidence in the jury’s verdict as to defendant Montanez,” the panel found.
The appellate court justices sent the case against Montanez back to the trial court to determine if the District Attorney’s Office wants to seek a retrial.
Montanez was serving a 25-year-to-life state prison sentence for Taylor’s killing, while Paz was sentenced in January 2017 to 15 years to life behind bars.
Three other defendants each pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the attack and were sentenced to eight years in state prison.
Taylor was attacked in his motor home in an alley behind the 500 block of West 17th Street.
The victim lived in his RV and had allowed the five to visit him and do drugs together in the motor home, but decided that he wanted more privacy and asked them not to come back, according to evidence presented during the trial.
Deputy District Attorney Rachel Hardiman described Montanez as the “catalyst” for the crime, saying after the verdict that the woman told the group that she wanted Taylor dead.
Police smelled smoke while on routine patrol and tracked it to the RV, which had been set on fire with his body and his dog inside. The animal was saved.
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