Author Topic: People v. Sonya John Moussaed (Read 10684 times)
People v. Sonya John Moussaed on: April 23, 2008, 04:16:45 PM »
Sonya John Moussaed
The Defendant has appealed her conviction to the Court of Appeals. A Monroe County Circuit Court jury convicted the Defendant of First Degree Murder on November 17, 2006. The Defendant murdered her boyfriend’s one-year old daughter, while her boyfriend was working. She was sentenced to Life in Prison without chance of parole by Judge Joseph Costello. The Court of Appeals is currently reviewing the appeal.
S T A T E O F M I C H I G A N C O U R T O F A P P E A L S PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, UNPUBLISHED March 20, 2008 v No. 275730 Monroe Circuit Court SONYA JOHN MOUSSAED, LC No. 06-035337-FC Defendant-Appellant. Before: Meter, P.J., and Sawyer and Wilder, JJ. PER CURIAM. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of first-degree felony murder. MCL 750.316. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Defendant appeals as ofright. We affirm. Defendant raises four issues on appeal. First, defendant argues that the trial court erred ininstructing the jury that it could not find defendant guilty of more than one of the four offenses upon which the jury was instructed. However, a defendant’s affirmative statement indicating her satisfaction with the jury instructions constitutes express approval of the instructions and waives review on appeal. People v Matuszak, 263 Mich App 42, 57; 687 NW2d 342 (2004). Given that defense counsel affirmatively expressed approval of the jury instructions, this issue is waived. Id.Defendant’s second argument on appeal is that her counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the aforementioned instructional error. We disagree. The determination whether a defendant has been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel presents a mixed question of fact and constitutional law. People v LeBlanc, 465 Mich 575, 579; 640 NW2d 246 (2002). The court must first find the facts and then decide whether those facts constitute a violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to effective assistance ofcounsel. Id. The trial court’s factual findings are reviewed for clear error, while its constitutional determinations are reviewed de novo. Id. To establish ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that: (1) counsel’s performance was below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms, (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s error, the result of the proceedings would have been different, and (3) the resultant proceedings were fundamentally
-2- unfair or unreliable. People v Toma, 462 Mich 281, 302-303; 613 NW2d 694 (2000). Effective assistance of counsel is presumed, and the defendant bears a heavy burden of proving otherwise. People v Solmonson, 261 Mich App 657, 663; 683 NW2d 761 (2004). Counsel’s performancemust be measured against an objective standard of reasonableness and without benefit of hindsight. People v Rockey, 237 Mich App 74, 76-77; 601 NW2d 887 (1999). In light of the fact that the evidence could have supported a conviction on more than one of the four offenses,1we find that the trial court did indeed err when it instructed the jury that it could only convict defendant of one of the offenses. Thus, defense counsel erred in not objecting to the erroneous instruction. However, notwithstanding counsel’s error, defendant is not entitled to a new trial because she cannot establish an error affecting the outcome of the proceeding.There was ample evidence that defendant committed first-degree child abuse and caused the death of 17-month-old Gracie Simmons. On the evening in question, Joseph Simmons, Gracie’s father, left a healthy, uninjured Gracie in the sole care of defendant, his girlfriend. A few hours after Simmons returned home the next morning, he discovered Gracie limp, blue and without a pulse. Despite medical personnel’s extensive efforts to revive her, Gracie was pronounced dead that morning. The emergency room physician testified that Gracie died as a result of suffering multiple serious injuries, including a skull fracture. Gracie had injuries around her mouth, sixbruises on her head, hemorrhaging in her brain, eyes and ears, a bruise on her forehead, neck and shoulder, bruises along her back, injury to her deep internal structures, including her ribs, kidneys, pelvis and diaphragm, and what appeared to be a cigarette burn on her ankle. The medical examiner, Dr. Schmidt, opined that Gracie’s injuries arose from child abuse,likely in the nature of Gracie being forcefully shaken, stomped and punched, and her head being thrown up against a hard surface several times. Looking at the totality of Gracie’s injuries, Dr.Schmidt was convinced that they resulted from child abuse. He concluded that, although Gracie’s injuries could hypothetically have been caused by something other than child abuse – like a serious car accident or a fall down a flight of stairs – such a scenario would be very rare. Dr. Schmidt stressed that he was unaware of any mechanism of injury apart from child abuse that could have inflicted so much serious injury to so many different parts of Gracie’s body. Dr. Schmidt concluded that Gracie’s cause of death was “multiple blunt trauma to the head,” and themanner of death was homicide. Furthermore, child abuse expert Dr. Schlievert opined that Gracie’s injuries constituted child abuse and were caused by severe direct trauma, like from someone forcefully striking Gracie or throwing her against something hard. The doctor explained that it was possible – but very unlikely – that Gracie’s injuries resulted from falling down the stairs or any other sort of accident. Defendant’s statements regarding the events of the evening in question were highly inconsistent. When defendant spoke to Simmons on the phone on the night in question, she told him that, while she was in the kitchen, Gracie suffered a cut to her lip when she had fallen in the hallway of their home and later during a trailer park walk. She mentioned nothing of a fall down 1The trial court instructed the jury on the following crimes: (1) felony murder with an underlying felony of first-degree child abuse, (2) second-degree murder, (3) second-degree child abuse, and (4) involuntary manslaughter.
-3- the stairs. The next morning, defendant told her friend, Bobbie Lambert, that Gracie’s injurieswere caused by a fall in the bathroom. In a statement to Detective Bryan Gee later that sameday, defendant stated that Gracie did not fall during the trailer park walk, but rather, fell in thehallway of her home. She did not mention a fall down the stairs. In yet another statement that same day, defendant told a social worker that Gracie fell during the trailer park walk; she againdid not mention a stair fall. A few days later, defendant told Simmons that her statement topolice had not been truthful. Approximately three weeks later, defendant gave a statement to Sergeant Scott Beard, stating that, while she was in her bedroom, Gracie fell in the hallway andcut her lip. She further stated that when she was carrying Gracie up the stairs, she slipped on a plastic tarp at the top of the stairs and dropped Gracie, who fell down the stairs and suffered a cut to her lip.2Later in the same statement, she admitted to Sergeant Beard that she was not beingcompletely truthful with him. She stated that Gracie’s injuries were more serious than she hadinitially let on. She indicated that after falling down the stairs, Gracie had blood in the back of her mouth and was wheezing. In sum, the evidence against defendant was strong. Although defense expert Dr. Werner Spitz opined that Gracie’s injuries could have been caused by a fall down the stairs, the totality of Gracie’s injuries and the remaining medical experts’ testimony – including the testimony of achild abuse expert – supported a finding of severe child abuse. Regarding a possible motive, an acquaintance of defendant’s testified that defendant told her that she resented Gracie because she viewed her as an intrusion upon her family. Further, defendant told Simmons that she was angry that she had to babysit Gracie while Gracie’s mother was out having fun. Despite defendant’s defense that Gracie fell down the stairs, defendant’s oft-changing statements cast major doubt on her credibility. The totality of the evidence is such that defendant cannot establish that the outcome of her trial would have been different had her counsel objected to the instructional error. Accordingly, defendant’s ineffective assistance claim fails. Next, defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a directed verdict. We disagree. When reviewing a trial court’s decision on a motion for a directed verdict, this Court reviews the record de novo to determine whether the evidence presented by the prosecutor, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecutor, could persuade a rational trier of fact that the essential elements of the crime charged were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Aldrich, 246 Mich App 101, 122; 631 NW2d 67 (2001). The elements of felony murder are: “(1) the killing of a human being, (2) with the intent to kill, to do great bodily harm, or to create a very high risk of death or great bodily harm with knowledge that death or great bodily harm was the probable result [i.e., malice], (3) whilecommitting, attempting to commit, or assisting in the commission of any of the felonies specifically enumerated in the felony murder statute.” People v Carines, 460 Mich 750, 758-759; 597 NW2d 130 (1999). First-degree child abuse, which is an enumerated felony pursuant to MCL 750.316(1)(b), is committed when the person knowingly or intentionally causes serious physical or serious mental harm to a child. MCL 750.136b(2). 2Notably, Simmons testified that there was never a plastic tarp at the top of the stairs, and there was no reason for the tarp to be placed there.
-4- There was ample evidence from which a rational jury could conclude that defendant committed felony murder. The evidence presented by the prosecution supported a finding that defendant, Gracie’s sole caretaker at the time that Gracie sustained her injuries, inflicted Gracie’sinjuries. Furthermore, all medical experts agreed that Gracie died as a result of sustaining theinstant injuries, which were substantial. Regarding the intent necessary to convict defendant of felony murder, the severity and vastness of Gracie’s injuries was such to allow a jury to infer that defendant had the requisite intent to commit first-degree child abuse. People v Mills, 450 Mich 61, 71; 537 NW2d 909 (1995), mod on other grounds 450 Mich 1212 (1995) (evidence of the injuries inflicted is probative of an intent to kill); People v Fetterley, 229 Mich App 511, 517-518; 583 NW2d 199 (1998) (an actor’s intent may be inferred from all of the facts and circumstances, and because of the difficulty of proving an actor’s state of mind, minimal circumstantial evidence is sufficient). Two medical experts indicated that Gracie’s injuries werehighly inconsistent with a fall down the stairs; her injuries were too severe and too spread about her body to have been caused by a simple fall down the stairs. Dr. Schmidt opined that Gracie’s injuries likely arose from Gracie being slapped in the face, forcefully shaken, stomped and punched, her head being thrown up against a hard surface several times, and her torso being met with significant blows. Dr. Schlievert opined that Gracie’s injuries were caused by severe, direct trauma, like from someone forcefully striking Gracie or throwing her against something hard. Given the totality of the evidence, namely the medical evidence of Gracie’s injuries and the fact that defendant’s statements of the events were highly inconsistent, the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. Finally, defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence to support her felony murder conviction. We disagree. When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence, this Court reviews the record de novo. People v Wilkens, 267 Mich App 728, 738; 705 NW2d 728 (2005). This Court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecutor and determines whether a rational trier of fact could find that the essential elements of the crime were provenbeyond a reasonable doubt. Id. As explained in the analysis above, there was abundant evidence from which a rational jury could find that defendant committed felony murder. Therefore,defendant’s insufficiency claim fails. Affirmed. /s/ Patrick M. Meter /s/ David H. Sawyer /s/ Kurtis T. Wilder
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Saturday, January 28, 2017, 4:06 AM
It took city officials five months to confirm what neighbors suspected immediately: 3-year-old Caleb Rivera was a murder victim.
“I had an idea,” said Nikki Whatley, 39, who performed CPR on the gaunt little boy outside their East Harlem apartment building last August.
“I still see that boy’s eyes in my nightmare and in my dreams,” said Whatley, the mother of four. “That boy was lifeless when I got to him.”
Caleb’s death was declared a homicide Friday after the city medical examiner determined he was killed by multiple blows to the head and neck.
The boy’s mother, who was in their apartment with two men when Caleb was mortally injured, insisted she had no idea who was to blame for her son’s killing.
“I am not talking to anybody about anything,” mom Alexandra Guzman said from behind the door of her apartment on Friday. “I am not giving up anything. Why are you harassing me?”
Asked specifically who killed little Caleb Rivera, the mother answered, “Nobody. It was — have a good day. Nobody. That is the only answer you’ll get from me.”
Construction worker Adrian Rivera, 24, the child’s father, said he’s suspected for months that Guzman was hiding something.
“He was a happy healthy baby and I loved my baby,” he said. “They should both go to jail. I want to know: Did he do this and then she covered up? If the police won’t do something, I will.”
Rivera said after he and Guzman broke up, she barred him from seeing Caleb. He said he begged her to bring the baby to his mother’s house. “She wouldn’t. I texted her the week before (Caleb died): ‘Please bring me my baby.’ She said she was good where she was. She wouldn’t bring him to me, and then this happened.”
April, Child Abuse Awareness month, has passed. It went by without any comment from the Director of Social Services, Ted Myers (“…blood is thicker than water…”, or attorney Andrew Wolf, (“…we do the legally correct thing…”).
interviews with Santa Barbara’s KEYT-TV a few of years ago on the question
raised by a Ventura County Star editorial regarding the whereabouts of Mario,
these gentlemen, in making the above statements, attempted to explain why Social Service workers,
and an a child advocate attorney advocate and/or permit the re-unification of
an abused child with its abuser(s). Mario was a toddler beaten into a coma by his mother. Social workers reunified Mario with his mother even though he continued to be abused.
We have heard, and continue to hear, numerous times that Social Services’ purpose is to protect children from abuse. The child’s advocate in Court is supposed to also protect their right to freedom from abuse. Neither succeeds.
And the reason they do not is revealed by their statements. Their hands are tied. Mr. Wolf is correct, re-unification is the legally correct thing to do, never mind that questions of ethics and morality are raised by the re-unification of a person who lacks love and parenting skills with a child who is helpless to speak for or defend himself.
And, yes, though it is a convenient and telling euphemism, blood is thicker than water. It merely goes to prove the point that a tiny human feels a craving for and needs love from the only caregiver it has known from birth. Though the child bonds, the adult may not want to or cannot commit to a responsibility.
Congress, in its infinite wisdom, saw the tragedies brought about by the abuse of children. They saw not only the physical and emotional effects, but also acknowledged that deaths of children were sometimes the outcome of such conduct. They further saw the financial toll upon society, not only for the treatment of the physical and emotional injuries, but upon the fact that some of these children become a financial burden rather than positive contributors to society. As Congress does best they began the battle against child abuse by passing laws, in this case, Title 42 of the United States Code, Chapter 67, Section 5106a.
This released money to fund Social Services and created responsibilities to fund programs. It created a confidentiality clause to protect not only the child’s identity and reputation but also that of the abuser. It required every State to pass a law saying that re-unification of the abused with its abuser was not required. But it also stated that despite a parent or caregiver having killed or assaulted a child the State (read as Judge), could, on a case by case basis, reunify a child of the sibling with the killer or abuser. Congress sat back; it had passed a law to protect children.
words, blood is thicker than water and re-unification is the legally correct
thing to do, regardless of what further injuries the
child will suffer.
I recently attended a meeting where I listened to
gut-wrenching stories from adults who feared for the safety of their children
who were reporting sexual crimes against them by family members. As the founder of The Children’s Wall of
Tears™, these stories are not new to me as I hear hundreds of cases each year.
Recently Leo and I visited the great city of Oklahoma and toured the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial. Without a doubt, this memorial strengthened our faith in the American people, our patriotism and our feelings against terrorism. We could not help but walk away from this great monument with a passion that undoubtedly carved our futures. Throughout our tour of the memorial we could not help but think about the 168 lives lost in this horrific event. There was one particular photo on the wall of the daycare center showing children that were signed-in that fateful day. It haunts us. What madman would callously murder innocent children, let alone adults?
We read every sign and studied every photo in the museum. We were overwhelmed with sadness and rage at the very same time. We began to systematically think about terrorism and what it really means and how it affects our lives.
the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terroization.
a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.
Terrorism begins with creating a fear within the victim and escalates quickly to injury and in many cases death. Until September 11, 2001, few Americans were aware that terror existed beyond that seen on movies or on TV. After 911, we became aware of our vulnerability to suffering at the hands of people who find it acceptable to inflict pain on innocent people without blinking an eye. The bombing in Oklahoma City traumatized this great nation. We were forced to face the anxiety of knowing that at any time, in any place, violence can strike, and in that respect, we are now victims of terrorism.
While we feel a deep sadness for the victims of the attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., the plane crash in Pennsylvania and their families and the Oklahoma City Bombing and their families, who have lived to suffer the devastating pain of the loss of a loved one, we began to think about the children here in the United States who live under this anxiety every day. How did we overlook their terrorism? Most call it child abuse. We call it child cruelty.
In child’s world, violence comes not at the hands of politically motivated extremists, but from their parents or caregivers. Suffering comes not from weapons of mass destruction, but fists, belts, scalding water, locked in dark closets, and cruel words. Attacks are not a rare occurrence, but a daily reality. Knowing that it is coming is the epitome of terrorism especially since a child is incapable of defending himself and does not know where to turn to avoid the torture and pain of neglect or abuse.
We kept thinking about the fact that while we watched news coverage of buildings crumbling and thousands of terrified, innocent people running for their lives, young spirits are being crushed at the hands of heartless adults with no high-profile media coverage to spark a country to awareness and action. Yes, we occasionally see, hear and read of young victims being abused or killed, but, few people are moved to act. The usual response to such news is an “…Oh, no!...” statement, and then on to breaking news.
While troops of rescue workers sift through debris in a desperate attempt to recover victims, young children are cowering in corners after yet another merciless beating, wondering if anyone cares enough to rescue them. While an entire nation mourns for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Oklahoma City Bombing, abused children continue to suffer horrifically with no tears of sadness shed on their behalf. Is it apathy on the part of the general public? Apparently so. we don’t see any great rush of humanity at the breaking story of another child being beaten or killed. Nor do we see more than platitudes from public officials or legislators. Yes, you will hear comments that such and such should be investigated. You hear that so and so is understaffed, overworked, and over whelmed but you do not hear from the front line workers who deal with child abuse on a daily basis.
For the past 25 years, we have been working to increase America’s awareness to the horrors of child cruelty and to bring the reality of the unimaginable level of physical and mental suffering these children deal with to the forefront.
We have written numerous commentaries and letters to the editors of newspapers and given speeches and talks to various groups and organizations. We have spoken in Washington, D.C. before a distinguished group of professionals and even sponsored a law in the California Legislature to provide computerized criminal history to child protective service workers so that they do not reunify the child with criminals. Unfortunately, that law failed in the appropriations department. Apparently $50,000 for the entire State of California is not worth protecting children. We have spent anguished hours over the opposition we have received and welcomed the pats on the back. But, child cruelty continues and children continue to live the daily terror awaiting the next blow.
Statistics show that everyday, scores of children are terrorized by abusive parents and that list continues to grow each year. Every 10 seconds a child is abused. Every 5 hours a child is killed. In cold, hard terms that means that every day a small hand is held over a flame, an infant is dipped in scalding water, a child is forced to swallow household cleansers, an empty stomach grumbles while parents eat, a terrified toddler trembles in a dark, locked closet, a tiny arm is broken, a life comes to a premature end. The scenes of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were difficult to look at, but, they can’t compare to the scenes that flash in front of the small eyes of an abused child.
I leave it to you to decide if a child, under these circumstances, is experiencing not only terror but wondering when it all will end.
The unified resolve shown by the American people following the recent terrorist attacks is impressively powerful and elicits confidence that swift, sure action will be taken to punish and prevent terrorist acts. If only that same level of mass resolve were focused on saving abused children. If only our country stood unified in the defense of these helpless children, how many young victims of daily terrorism could be saved? How many small spirits could be recovered? How many terrorists could be stopped?
We wonder what horrendous atrocity must occur to a child before every American resolves to put an end to child cruelty in every home in which it occurs.We have stated before, in print and speeches, that there is a pandemic of child cruelty throughout the world. Now, with the advent of the bird flu, mad cow disease, tainted spinach, Aids and other “epidemics”, the word pandemic has become as familiar to us as the word terrorism and, unfortunately, we must now state that a pandemic of child cruelty now exists on this Planet.
Simply put in perspective, if a
disease were killing hundreds of children in America each year, the Center for Disease
Control would mobilize everything it could to find the cause. Federal and State governments would spend
millions on treatment and trying to find a cure. No stone would be left un-turned and no sum of
money would be too great in an effort to end the pandemic. Over 3,000 children are kiled through abuse and neglect each year. Is that not an epidemic in your eyes?
Yes, our lives were forever changed by our visit to the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial
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Body of Missing 5-Year-Old Boy Found Near Lake Cachuma as His Father Is Accused of His Murder
The body of a missing 5-year-old California boy last seen in late April has been found near a Santa Barbara County lake, homicide detectives confirmed to PEOPLE Saturday.
Aramazd Andressian Jr. was found near Lake Cachuma on Friday, after additional leads brought homicide detectives back to the area searching for additional evidence.
The discovery came hours after the boy’s father, Aramazd Andressian Sr., was extradited to Los Angeles where he has been charged with the 5-year-old’s murder. The 35-year-old man was detained on June 23 in Las Vegas in connection with his son’s death, and is being held on $10 million bail on a single murder count.
The boy was last seen on April 20, when he and his father visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California. They left the theme park around midnight.
Within a week of the boy’s disappearance, police arrested his dad on suspicion of one count of child endangerment and one count of child abduction. But they released him days later , citing “insufficient evidence.” It was not immediately clear what prompted his re-arrest.
Officials confirm that Andressian, Sr. and his wife, Ana Estevez, are embroiled in a bitter divorce, but they shared custody of their son.
Andressian, Jr. was supposed to be dropped off by his father in San Marino, California, on April 22 — but the elder Andressian failed to show. Instead, he was found passed out near his car in a nearby park. Police have alleged that the inside of his car was doused with gasoline and there were matches in his vehicle.
Andressian, Sr. told investigators he believed he was attacked, but he had no memory of the assault. He also told police he had taken some prescription medication that morning before falling unconscious, CNN reported .
“There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the timeline around his disappearance,” Andressian, Sr. wrote in a statement issued nearly a week after his son vanished. “The last time I saw my son was on Saturday morning, the 22nd, at Arroyo Park near my home in South Pasadena. After breakfast Aramazd Jr. wanted to go to the park before we were to meet his mother for a custody exchange at 9:00 a.m.”
“In one moment, I was at the park with my son, and then I found myself waking up in Huntington Memorial Hospital hours later,” he continued. “I was told that a good Samaritan found me unconscious on the ground near my car, with young Aramazd nowhere in sight. I can only speculate that I must have been attacked in the park, given my unresponsive state and subsequent physical condition.”
“My family and I are heartbroken and grief-stricken that Aramazd Jr. is missing and may be in harm’s way,” he continued. “I am pleading with the public to come forward with any knowledge of Aramazd Jr.’s whereabouts or information regarding the circumstances leading up to his disappearance.”
Estevez has also spoken publicly , pleading for the public’s help at a May news conference with law enforcement.
“There are no words to describe how devastated and heartbroken I am,” Estevez said through tears, before speaking directly to her son. “This message is for you my love: Be brave, honey. Don’t ever forget that mama loves you to the moon and the stars. I am counting the days until I see you honey, and I will never stop looking for you.”
“To those who are concealing my son, I pray every day that God will touch your heart and guide you to do the right thing and return my son,” she said.
Anyone with any information about this ongoing case can call the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department at 323-890-5500 or police in South Pasadena, California, at 626-403-7297.