High court upholds teenage mother's 2009 murder conviction
Barton Glasser, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has upheld a jury's 2009 murder conviction of a teenage mother who killed her young son.
Adrianna Lucero was 18 years old when she was ordered to spend 15 years to life in prison for murder in the death of her 2-year-old son, Alejandro. The toddler, who was called "Alex," died Aug. 24, 2008, after his spine was snapped and his aorta ruptured.
Lucero had long contended it was her then-boyfriend, Sergio Martinez-Gonzalez, who caused the fatal injury, and appealed her conviction for murder, a first-degree felony, and child abuse, a second-degree felony. On Tuesday, Chief Justice Matthew Durrant affirmed the jury's decision in a majority ruling.
On appeal, Lucero questioned the admission of evidence about a prior, similar injury to the child's spine at trial, argued she had ineffective defense attorneys and claimed that those were mistakes that should prompt a finding of cumulative error, meaning several errors took place and raise doubts about the fairness of trial.
But Durrant found that prior "bad acts" are admissible if they speak not to a defendant's character but to establishing a person's identity. In this case, that evidence pointed to identity in that there appeared to be recurring conduct causing the spinal injuries and "the prior act and the charged conduct are strikingly similar."
"Both injuries occurred along the spinal column and were caused by the spine being bent unnaturally," Durrant wrote, adding that there was other evidence at trial that independently pointed to Lucero. "She also told numerous individuals that she personally took Alex out of the room when his fatal injury occurred. She maintained this story during her interrogation until she began to shift the blame for Alex’s death to Mr. Martinez."
Lucero also contended that her trial attorneys were ineffective for letting in evidence about the hospitalization of another child for seizures, allowing her full police interview to be played in court and for failing to use Battered Woman Syndrome as a defense. Durrant found there was a tactical basis for those decisions, so defense attorneys were not "objectively deficient," which is the standard acquired by law.
"We affirm Ms. Lucero’s convictions for child abuse and homicide, holding that the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of prior child abuse," Durrant wrote. "We also hold that defense counsel’s performance was not deficient and therefore deny Ms. Lucero’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Given the above, we also conclude that there was no cumulative error."
Lucero was also sentenced to one to 15 years in prison for the child abuse charge. She was ordered to serve the prison sentences concurrently.
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