LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A state appeals court panel has ordered a new hearing for one of two men convicted of murder for a 2007 street race that ended in a crash which killed a woman and her two children in El Monte.
The three-justice panel from California’s Second District Court of
Appeal directed a judge in Pomona to hold a new evidentiary hearing for Martin Morones, who was found guilty along with Robert Canizalez of second-degree murder for the Oct. 8, 2007, crash that killed Dora Groce, her 8-year-old son, Robert, and her 4-year-old daughter, Katherine.
Morones contends that he could no longer be convicted of murder due to changes in state law that affect defendants in some murder cases, but a judge denied his July 2020 petition for re-sentencing after finding that he was a “direct participant in the speed [contest] that ultimately resulted in the deaths of those victims.”
In its 13-page ruling this week, the appellate court panel found that a “review of the record reveals that while there was strong evidence indicating that appellant acted with implied malice due to the danger inherent in his conduct … the record of conviction did not establish as a matter of law that the jury convicted Morones based on an implied malice theory rather than on a natural and probable consequences theory.”
Jurors had been instructed on two theories of murder liability — implied malice and natural and probable consequences.
The justices noted that a defendant convicted of murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine can have his conviction vacated and be re-sentenced on a lesser count if he could not now be convicted of murder due to changes in state law that took effect in January 2019 and significantly modified the law related to accomplice liability.
“If the record contains facts that refute allegations in the petition, the petition can be denied,” the appellate court justices found.
Canizalez is not a party to the appeal.
The two men — described in the appellate court panel’s opinion as reaching speeds of up to 87 mph — were racing north on Parkway Drive when Dora Groce’s Nissan Altima was struck by Morones’ Honda and then broadsided by Canizalez’s Ford Mustang.
The Altima was pushed into a truck and burst into flames, trapping the 40-year-old mother and her two children inside the car.
Canizalez and Morones, along with a few other men, helped to push the Honda into a nearby mobile home park.
Canizalez, who was 19 at the time, was arrested the night of the crash.
Morones, then 21, was tracked down in Mexico by the U.S. Marshals Service and deported to the United States.
Along with second-degree murder, the two were convicted of three counts of vehicular manslaughter.
Morones was sentenced to 45 years to life.
Canizalez — who was also convicted of a misdemeanor count of dissuading a witness — was sentenced in August 2009 to 48 years to life in prison.