1. “Did the Court of Appeals’ legal sufficiency of the evidence analysis comport with Jackson v. Virginia’s additional requirement that a reviewing court must determine ‘whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt’, especially when the panel mischaracterized crucial evidence, failed to fairly and critically assess what the record evidence showed, and ultimately supplied ‘a bridge to the analytical gap’ in the prosecution’s case, by theorizing or guessing about the meaning of evidence and reaching conclusions based on speculation, conjecture, and inferences unsupported by the record evidence?”
2. “Consistent with Due Process, in an appellate review of the legal sufficiency of evidence, can a jury’s assumed disbelief of certain witness testimony establish substantive proof to the contrary of that testimony?”
3. “Did the Court of Appeals fail to apply part of the legal sufficiency standard which, according to Brooks v. State, ‘essentially incorporates a factual sufficiency review into’ a review for legal sufficiency?”
4. “Did the Court of Appeals in its review of the legal sufficiency of the evidence fail to consider all of the trial evidence as required by Jackson v. Virginia, as opposed to just the evidence tending to support the verdict, although not establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?”
A jury convicted Melgar of murdering her husband of thirty-two years. The day after the murder, relatives who arrived at the Melgars’ for dinner discovered Melgar bound inside a closet, which had been secured outside with a chair. Melgar’s husband Jaime was found dead inside another closet; he had slash marks on his neck and torso and his chest and ankles were bound. Police concluded that the scene was inconsistent with a home invasion. There were no signs of forced entry or property missing. Melgar’s recollections were also suspicious. Noting she suffered from blackouts and seizures, Melgar said the last thing she remembered was Jamie checking on their barking dogs in the backyard. She was only bruised on her upper arms, was evasive and avoided eye contact according to police, and did not tear up when crying.
On appeal, Melgar claimed the evidence was insufficient to prove she murdered Jamie. The court of appeals declined to “indulge” Melgar’s points attacking the prosecution’s case and affirmed the conviction. Considering the circumstantial evidence supporting the verdict, the court pointed to the following: (1) even though the motive was unclear, Melgar was present at the time of the murder; (2) Melgar outweighed Jaime and could have overpowered him; (3) Melgar’s arm bruising could have been caused by Jamie’s resistance; (4) Melgar left a garage door open to implicate an intruder and allow her rescue by expected dinner guests; (4) because Jaime had no ligature marks, Melgar restrained him post-death to exculpate herself; (5) Melgar used a pillow sham under the chair to lock herself in the closet; (6) Melgar planted their daughter’s backpack inside the garage with valuables; (7) Melgar’s crying was insincere; and (8) after the murder, Melgar undermined her memory-lapse claim by telling doctors that she had no recent seizure episodes.
Melgar argues that conflicts in the evidence are to be weighed in favor of the verdict only when they are rational. A verdict is not rational when, as in this case, weaknesses, omissions, and inconsistences destroy its cogency. In-court hypothetical demonstration evidence about how Melgar could have bound herself and locked herself inside the closet was considered by the lower court as actual evidence. However, a different type of ligature material was used for the demo and her forearms in addition to her wrists and ankles had been bound; she had to be cut free. Unknown DNA was found on the scarf that bound her arms and other evidence. The demo about the use of a torn pillow sham to wedge the chair was factually baseless. There was no evidence the chair had been dragged with a sham and tilted to wedge; a witness saw the back legs on the floor. No sham was found in the closet; the couple used shams as bath/floor mats, and several were found in the house; there was no evidence how and when one was torn.
Next, the prosecution’s theory that Melgar was guilty based on the fact Jamie’s blood was found only in the bedroom and bathroom was flawed. There was no evidence Melgar washed herself or removed or cleaned any bloodied evidence. A CSU investigator could not exclude the possible existence of an intruder escaping without leaving no blood evidence behind. The court also erred to rely on the lack of forced entry and staging. A garage door was open and a garage interior door had been broken before the murder. The staging theory was dependent on the forced entry. Additionally, cash and other household goods were missing.
The lower court also disregarded Melgar’s poor health. She had lupus, vascular disease, and arthritis. Jamie’s injuries were violent, but Melgar had no trauma or bruising. As to her contradictory statements about seizures, the court did not consider a paramedic’s testimony that Melgar said she had an “aura” of a seizure, Melgar had been hit on the head and had a head injury, and testimony from her doctor that her symptoms of a head injury may have been mistaken by her for a seizure.