Submitted: February 22, 2017
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID No.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN, Justices.
31st day of March 2017, it appears to the Court
Appellant, Nathaniel Gonzalez, appeals from a Superior Court
jury verdict finding him guilty of two counts of Assault
First Degree, one count of Assault Second Degree, three
counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a
Felony ("PFDCF"), and three counts of Conspiracy
Second Degree. Gonzalez frames his appeal as making one
claim, but it contains parts. He contends that the trial
court abused its discretion by providing the jury with a
supplemental instruction on accomplice liability after the
jury had begun deliberations, and he also contends that once
a decision was made to give the instruction, the instruction
should have included an instruction on individualized
culpability under 11 Del C. § 274. Gonzalez
contends that these errors deprived him of a meaningful
opportunity to present a complete defense.
May 31, 2015, the New Castle County Police were dispatched to
Christiana Hospital to speak with victims of a shooting that
had occurred at Lancaster Court Apartments. Upon arrival at
the hospital, Officer Jonathan Feliciano was able to speak to
one of the victims, Gabriel Juarez, Jr. ("Juarez,
Jr."). The other two victims of the shooting were
already in the operating room at that time. Officer Feliciano
took Juarez, Jr. back to the Lancaster Court Apartments, the
scene of the crime. Upon their arrival at the apartment
complex, the scene was taped off, and other officers had
secured the area. Juarez, Jr. confirmed that the scene was
the location of the shooting and Officer Feliciano
transported him back to the hospital.
Following the shooting, Nathanial Gonzalez
("Gonzalez") and his brother, Isaiah Gonzalez
("Isaiah"), were identified as suspects. While at
the scene of the shooting, the police discovered what
appeared to be a bloody shoeprint that crossed the threshold
of the door to apartment A. Based on that information, the
New Castle police obtained and executed a search warrant on
apartment A. During the search of the apartment, the police
recovered a blood-stained hat, a long gun case for either a
rifle or a shotgun, and ammunition for .20 gauge and . 12
gauge shotguns. The detectives also found evidence that
Gonzalez and Isaiah were occupants of the apartment.
During the investigation, the three victims were each shown
two photo line-ups, one containing a photo of Gonzalez and
one containing a photo of Isaiah. One of the victims was able
to make identifications of Gonzalez and Isaiah. Following the
identifications via the photo line-ups, arrest warrants were
issued for Gonzalez and Isaiah. Three days after the
shooting, both were taken into custody. After Gonzalez was
arrested, he was interviewed by the New Castle County Police.
His taped interview was played during the trial.
Prior to Gonzalez's trial, Isaiah resolved the charges
against him by pleading guilty to Conspiracy and PFDCF.
During Gonzalez's trial, Isaiah testified on behalf of
the defense. He stated that on May 31, 2015, he and Gonzalez
went to a family barbeque. Isaiah stated that he and his
brother separated and Isaiah returned to his apartment.
Gonzalez returned to the apartment later and seemed scared.
Isaiah heard a commotion outside the apartment, and when he
opened the door, he saw about five men approaching in the
vestibule, shouting and "throwing up gang
signs." One pointed at a gang tattoo. The men did
not have any weapons. Isaiah, however, loaded a shotgun. He
said the men were trying to come into the apartment and were
attacking the two of them. Isaiah pointed the .12 gauge,
double-barrel shot gun, which he held at them, and told them
to leave, but they began pulling on the weapon, and because
his finger was on both triggers, he testified, the weapon
went off during the struggle, firing two shots
simultaneously. He testified that one person was struck by
the shotgun blasts. Then the men took the gun from Isaiah,
and pointed it at Gonzalez and Isaiah, but the gun was out of
ammunition. The men then began to leave and Isaiah left the
apartment and ran in the opposite direction from them.
Gonzalez testified on his own behalf. He testified that on
the evening of the incident, he was walking home with three
friends from a barbeque when he passed a group of men. He
stated that the when he and his friends arrived at his
apartment, they all stayed outside of his apartment while he
smoked a cigarette. At that point, Juarez, Jr. approached and
began to say "South 13 Surenos, " the name of a
gang, in Spanish and was displaying gang signs with his
hands. As the group of men approached Gonzalez,
Gonzalez told the group that he was not gang affiliated. His
Gonzalez testified that he was threatened and that he had
heard the word "pistol" in Spanish. Gonzalez then
retreated to his apartment. He testified that Isaiah was the
only one home and that they were able to hear a commotion
coming from outside the apartment complex. Gonzalez testified
that he retrieved two shotguns from underneath the mattress
of his back room. He stated that he returned to the apartment
door just as the group was entering the apartment complex. He
had one shotgun and Isaiah had possession of the other.
Gonzalez testified that he told Juarez, Jr., one of the men
that entered the vestibule of his apartment, to leave the
building. He stated that the gun was pointed downward and
that he and Juarez, Jr. began to struggle for the gun. At
that point, the gun discharged. After the weapon was
discharged, the struggle for the weapon continued. He stated
that his brother's weapon discharged after his weapon. He
then let go of the weapon in his hands to help his brother.
He testified that after his brother's weapon discharged
twice, the group of men began to retreat. Gonzalez retrieved
both of the shotguns and then left the complex alone.
Gonzalez stated that his girlfriend then picked him up and
dropped him off at 5th and Rodney. In response to a question
about why he used the shotgun, Gonzalez stated "I
brought the shotguns out to more or less scare them away to
get them to back off, my intentions were never to, for any of
that to happen the way it did."
When Gonzalez was arrested, he was in possession of a cell
phone, which the police identified as being his. A photo of
two shotguns was saved on Gonzalez's cell phone.
Detectives also found numerous text messages on
Gonzalez's cell phone discussing the shooting.
State called a fingerprint expert. The expert was able to
determine that the fingerprints lifted from a Winchester
shots shell box found in the apartment belonged to Gonzalez.
The expert noted on cross-examination that additional prints
from a vitamin water bottle recovered at the scene matched
Gonzalez as well.
During the trial, Gabriel Juarez-Diaz
("Juarez-Diaz") testified about the events of May
31, 2015. He testified that he went to the liquor store to
purchase beer and then joined a group of men that included
his son, Juarez, Jr., two nephews, and Felipe. The group
decided to hang out outside of the Lancaster Court
Apartments. He further stated that while they were at the
apartments, a group of four men passed them. Juarez-Diaz
testified that the men turned around, came back, and that is
when the argument began. He stated that the group of unknown
men began verbally arguing with his nephews and then the
argument became physical. Juarez-Diaz testified that he
attempted to separate the groups. He stated that during the
altercation he was struck. Then, at some point after the
fight outside, the other group of unknown males went into the
apartment building and returned with guns. He stated that
after the guns were brought out, his son and nephews
attempted to take them away from the unknown males. He stated
that during this struggle for the guns, one of the guns was
fired and he was struck. He indicated that he was struck in
the upper right shoulder and injured on his left ring finger.
On cross-examination, Juarez-Diaz could not describe or
remember who had shot him. Juarez-Diaz's injuries and the
injuries of the other two victims were verified through the
testimony of other witnesses.
the close of trial, the Court held a prayer conference during
which the parties discussed the jury instructions. During
this conference, there was no discussion of accomplice
liability. During closings, defense counsel discussed
Gonzalez's claim of self-defense. In addition, he argued
that there was no intent to cause serious physical injury.
Defense counsel stated, "It's a shot to the foot. He
has the gun down, he's shooting down. Where is the intent
there to cause serious physical injury to
somebody?" In regard to the conspiracy charges,