An appeals court upheld the conviction of Jonathan Canales last year on an attempted first-degree murder charge stemming from the November 2014 shooting in the neck of his then-girlfriend, Tiffany Norman, in their Daytona North trailer, as their three children slept.
Canales, now 32, is serving a life sentence. He’s currently at the Northwest Florida Reception Center prison in Chipley, just west of Tallahassee.
His defense argued in its appeal that his “prior crimes or bad acts,” including two acts of domestic violence against Norman, should not have been introduced as evidence at trial, or at least should have been limited. Canales was looking for a new trial. A three-judge panel of the Fifth District Court of Appeal–Judges Richard Orfinger, Brian Lambert and Eric J. Eisnaugle–issued a one-word order on Oct. 1, affirming the lower court verdict and sentence. Circuit Judge Terence Perkins imposed the life sentence, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that a life sentence was mandatory: Canales could have been sentenced to 25 years.
The trial took place several years after the original charge and after Canales had, for a time, been judged incompetent to stand trial. The trial itself underscored the varieties of domestic violence’s psychological and physical toll between a couple that seemed incapable of or unable to separate, with financial dependence and different forms of control helping to prolong a relationship that had long been unhealthy.
Trial evidence had detailed Canales’s history of manipulation, intimidation and death threats against Norman, with whom he had one child. She had two children before meeting him. One of those bouts of intimidation had followed his attempts, in vain, to get Norman to have an abortion. Norman had described how Canales got in her face, hit and choked her. In another instance, Norman was sleeping on a bed when Canales flipped the mattress, throwing her off of it. “She retreated to the bathroom,” the defense’s pleading in the appeal reads, “and when she opened the door he tried to drag her out, she went to the kitchen, and he grabbed her, stopped her from calling her mother, and dragged her out of the house, striking her face against the wall in the process.”
Norman also told police that Mr. Canales was verbally and emotionally abusive, repeatedly threatened her with harm, told her that she was worthless, monitored her Facebook use, isolated her from her friends and family, and told her that he could kill her and nobody would know. The night of the shooting included similar behavior, with Canales going as far as keeping Norman in the bathroom after she’d been shot, in the dark, without calling for help.
Assistant Public Defender Gary Wood, who represented Canales at trial, had argued that those incidents should not be introduced at trial because they were distant from the shooting incident in question and prejudiced the jury against his client. Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark argued “obviously, just about everything we bring into a criminal trial is prejudicial,” and the judge agreed: “We wouldn’t be using it if it wasn’t prejudicial,” though the judge noted Wood was arguing it was “overly prejudicial.”
“I think it shows his feeling of not wanting to be with this woman, feeling trapped, and that his only way out was to get rid of her,” Clark argued.
The night of the shooting, Norman had put the children to bed and was in the kitchen, eating dinner, when Canales seemed to be roaming behind her with a long gun, making threats. “You make it so easy for me to kill you in so many ways. I can kill you and nobody would know about it,” he told her. “Not even your mother.” The two had argued earlier in the day. She was shot in the neck. Canales claimed it was an attempted suicide. “I’m not going to jail for you,” he told her.
The appeal focuses on Canales’s prior acts–not on his acts that night, saying his “collateral” crimes became conflated with his crimes that night, aggravating the jury’s prejudice against him. The appeal was filed by Assistant Public Defender Sean Gravel.
Assistant Attorney General Deborah Chance countered: “In this case, [Canales’s] sole defense was that he did not shoot the victim and that she shot herself in a failed suicide attempt. Thus, the evidence of [Canales’s] repeated threats, the two prior incidents of violence, and the controlling nature of the relationship was highly relevant and probative of premeditation, motive, intent, preparation, plan, and the absence of a mistake or accident. There was nothing improper about its admission and no unfair prejudice resulted.”