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United States v. Adame

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 28, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Juan Adame, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued April 5, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12 CR 192 - Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Williams, Circuit Judges.


         A jury convicted defendant-appellant, Juan Adame, of one count of arson affecting interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). Adame appeals on two grounds: that there was insufficient evidence to uphold his conviction and that the government introduced inadmissible evidence against him during trial. We find against both arguments and affirm Adame's conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Fire

         Around 4:30 a.m. on January 14, 2012, the Chicago Fire Department responded to a fire reported at a two-story building located at 4246 West 63rd Street. The building's first floor was vacant commercial space and the second floor was split into two apartments. One apartment was leased by Blanca Ortiz, and the other by Jimmy Maca. When the Fire Department personnel arrived, they saw smoke coming from the second floor of the building. The crew entered and discovered a fire in Ortiz's apartment. No one was present in the apartment. The crew extinguished the fire and searched the other apartment, where they found Maca dead from smoke inhalation.

         On March 21, 2012, the Chicago Police Department, working jointly with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF"), arrested Adame, Ortiz's ex-boyfriend. A grand jury indicted Adame on August 15, 2012, for one count of maliciously causing damage by fire to a building used in interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). The case proceeded to a jury trial, which began on October 7, 2013, and concluded on October 11, 2013.

         B. Evidence Presented at Trial

         At trial, Ortiz testified that she and Adame began dating in August 2011, but broke up on January 13, 2012, following a fight. Ortiz described how, during their relationship, Adame frequently stayed at her apartment and kept his clothes and belongings there, even though she had never given him permission to do so. He also broke into her apartment on two occasions, and had driven her Ford Mustang without her permission. In addition, he had taken several video recordings on his cell phone of Ortiz without her knowledge. She stated that he was "very controlling" of her, which was a source of several fights during their relationship.

         Ortiz testified that on the evening of January 13, 2012, she and Adame were at her home in Indiana, which she owned in addition to the Chicago apartment. At around 8:30 p.m., she and Adame got into a heated verbal fight that culminated in Ortiz leaving the house and Adame pulling the door handle off the car as she drove away. After she left, Adame took several bags full of clothes and other possessions from Ortiz's Indiana house and placed them in garbage bags. He then took Ortiz's 2007 Ford Mustang and left with the garbage bags. He exchanged text messages with Ortiz throughout the evening. Ortiz accused Adame of stealing her possessions and informed him that she did not want "anything at all to do with you."

         Maria Navarette testified that she had previously dated Adame, and the two had remained friends. She said that on the evening of January 13, 2012, after Adame had left Ortiz's Indiana residence, he called and texted Navarette to ask her to go dancing, to which she agreed. He arrived at her house in Chicago driving Ortiz's Mustang. Navarette noticed the backseat of the Mustang contained several full garbage bags. Adame told Navarette that they should drive a different car because something was wrong with the Mustang. Navarette called a friend and asked to borrow her car. The friend agreed, so Adame and Navarette drove to Navarette's friend's house and borrowed the car. Adame grabbed his backpack from the Mustang and brought it with him.

         Navarette testified that once they got into her friend's car, Adame told her to stop for gas. Navarette thought the car had enough gas, but Adame insisted they stop for gas anyway. She drove to a gas station and Adame told Navarette to go inside and pay for $10 worth of gas. She did so, while Adame got out of the car and went to the gas pump. She stated that after she paid the cashier, she went back to the car and saw numbers going up on the machine, but did not see the gas nozzle inserted into the car's gas tank. Once the pump reached $10, Adame returned the nozzle and washed the car's windshield with his bare hands (despite the fact that it was winter), and dried his hands with the gas station towel. He then got in the car and put on his gloves.

         Navarette testified that when they left the gas station, Adame told her he wanted to "pick up some things of his" before going dancing. He directed her down different streets, and eventually into an alley. He then had her park in the side parking lot of 4258 Wes t 63rd Street. The parking lot was four buildings down from Ortiz's apartment.

         Adame told Navarette to wait in the car while he went inside to change clothes. At that time, he was wearing a dark hoodie, dark pants, gloves, and sunglasses, even though it was "pitch black" at the time. He left with his backpack and walked into the alley towards Ortiz's apartment. Navarette waited in the car for two hours, and eventually fell asleep. When she awoke, she texted Adame asking where he was. He came back to the car 15 to 20 minutes later, still wearing the same outfit, but he had two full garbage bags with him. He told Navarette to "start driving" and did not answer her when she asked where he had been. They decided it was too late for dancing, and so Adame had Navarette drive him home.

         At trial, the government presented the items recovered from the garbage bags, which Ortiz identified as her possessions from both her home in Indiana and her apartment in Chicago.

         In addition, the government presented testimony from the law enforcement personnel who investigated the arson. John Gamboa, an AT F Certified Fire Inspector, testified that he investigated Ortiz's apartment on January 14, 2012. He discovered that the fire originated at three different points; one in the living room, and two separate areas in the bedroom. Kevin Smith, an Arson Investigator for the Illinois State Fire Marshall, testified that he inspected the apartment on January 14, 2012, and found that an "accelerant" was poured in three areas; one in the living room and two in the bedroom. The Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center then tested the samples from those three areas. Several samples came back "inconclusive" (meaning there may have been an ignitable liquid present), but one sample was determined within a "reasonable degree of scientific certainty" to contain gasoline.

         The government also introduced statements that Adame made during his interrogations by the ATF and Chicago Police. ATF Agent Anthony Zito interviewed Adame on January 31, 2012. Adame initially told Agent Zito that on the evening of the fire he called his uncle after he left Ortiz's house, and his uncle picked him up and brought him back to the area near the intersection of North Avenue and Keeler Ave n u e in Chicago, where the uncle resided. Following the interview, Agent Zito discovered that Adame's uncle did not live at that location. He called the uncle's phone number that Adame provided, but the phone was disconnected. Finally, he reviewed Adame's cell phone records, which indicated that Adame did not call his uncle on the evening of the fire.

         Sergeant Jose Garcia of the Chicago Police Department's Arson Section also interviewed Adame. Adame initially told Sergeant Garcia that he was at his uncle's residence on the evening of the fire, but he recanted this story when confronted with the evidence to the contrary. Adame then admitted he was at Navarette's residence that evening. Adame also claimed that he drove to Navarette's residence in a truck, but later admitted he drove a Mustang. He admitted directing Navarette to the gas station and that he pumped the gas. When Sergeant Garcia asked Adame, "you really didn't pump gas into the car, did you?" Adame looked down and shook his head from side to side. When Sergeant Garcia asked him why he directed Navarette to the gas station, Adame replied, "I can't tell you why." When Sergeant Garcia asked him why he went into Ortiz's apartment that night, Adame responded, "I can't tell you why, I can't tell you why." When Sergeant Garcia asked him what items he took from Ortiz's apartment, Adame initially denied taking anything, but after Sergeant ...

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