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[ GR No. 177751, Dec 14, 2011 ]



678 Phil. 704


[ G.R. No. 177751, December 14, 2011 ]




This case involves a man who was killed by his own relatives. Convicted for the crime of murder by the lower courts, the indicted relatives are now before us assailing their guilty verdict.

Factual Antecedents

This is an appeal from the November 17, 2006 Decision [1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01543, affirming with modification the August 7, 2001 Decision [2] of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 8, Aparri, Cagayan which found appellants Florencio Agacer (Florencio), Franklin Agacer (Franklin), Elynor Agacer (Elynor), Eric Agacer (Eric) and Eddie Agacer (Eddie), guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder for the killing of Cesario Agacer (Cesario).

As mentioned, all the appellants were related to Cesario. Florencio was Cesario's nephew and is the father of Franklin while the brothers Elynor, Eric and Eddie are his nephews.

On March 2, 1999, an Information [3] for Murder was filed against the five appellants, the accusatory portion of which reads as follows:

That on or about April 2, 1998, in the municipality of Sta. Ana, Province of Cagayan, and within the jurisdiction [of] this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a long firearm, a bow and arrow, a bolo and stones, with intent to kill, with evident premeditation and with treachery, conspiring together and helping one another, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack, stone and shoot one Cesario Agacer, inflicting upon the latter [bruises] and multiple gunshot wounds in his body which caused his death.

That the killing was aggravated by the use of an unlicensed firearm.


On October 14, 1999, Florencio, Elynor, Franklin and Eric entered separate pleas of "not guilty" during their arraignment. [5] On January 11, 2000, Eddie likewise pleaded "not guilty". [6] Thereafter, trial ensued.

Version of the Prosecution

The prosecution's version of the events is as follows:

Cesario was a 55-year old farmer and owner of a ricefield situated in Dungeg, Santa Ana, Cagayan. On April 2, 1998, at around 9:00 a.m., he was clearing a section of his farm and preparing the beddings for the rice seedlings intended for the coming planting season. Farm laborers Genesis Delantar (Genesis), his brother Andy, Rafael Morgado and brothers Roden (Roden) and Ric (Ric) Vallejo were nearby in a separate section of the same ricefield harvesting Cesario's palay.

According to prosecution witnesses Genesis and Roden, it was at that moment while Cesario was tending to his farm when appellants suddenly emerged from a nearby banana plantation and surrounded Cesario. Visibly intimidated, Cesario moved backwards and retreated to where the other farm laborers were working. However, Franklin set afire the rice straws that covered Cesario's rice seedlings. This prompted Cesario to return to put out the fire and save his rice seedlings. At this point, Franklin and Eric started throwing stones at Cesario which forced the latter to retreat again. Thereafter, Florencio, while standing side by side with Eric, signaled Cesario to come closer. Cesario obliged but when he was just around five meters away from the group, Eddie suddenly pulled out a gun concealed inside a sack and, without warning, shot Cesario hitting him in the left portion of his chest. Almost simultaneously, Elynor took aim at Cesario with his bow and arrow but missed his mark. As Cesario fell, appellants fled towards the irrigation canal, where another gunshot rang. Thereafter, a short firearm was thrown from where the appellants ran towards the direction of Cesario's fallen body. Appellants then immediately left the scene of the crime onboard a hand tractor and a tricycle.

After these events unfolded, Genesis and the other farm laborers scampered away in different directions. Genesis then reached Barangay Capanikian and informed Cesario's son, Neldison Agacer (Neldison), of the death of his father. At around 3:00 p.m., Cesario's friends in said barangay went to the scene of the crime and retrieved his corpse. During the autopsy, a total of eight entrance wounds were found, mostly on the chest of Cesario's cadaver. According to the Medico-Legal Officer, the fatal gunshot wounds were inflicted by the use of a firearm capable of discharging several slugs simultaneously.

Version of the Defense

The appellants denied the accusations against them and claimed that Florencio only acted in self-defense and in defense of relatives. As proof, appellants presented Florencio who testified that on April 2, 1998, he proceeded to Dungeg, Sta. Ana, Cagayan, from his residence in Merde, also in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, to prepare seed beddings in the ricefield over which he and his uncle Cesario had an existing dispute. At around 8:00 a.m., he claimed that Cesario attempted to prevent him from preparing the seed beds. When Florencio persisted and argued that he inherited the land from his father, Cesario departed through a cogonal area. Moments later, Cesario returned and shouted at him not to continue working on the land. At that time, Florencio noticed that Cesario was holding an object. Suspecting that Cesario may be armed, he shouted to Eric, Franklin, Eddie and Elynor, who had just arrived, to run away. The four heeded his warning and scampered in different directions. Cesario then chased Florencio who ran and jumped into the irrigation canal to hide in the tall cogon grasses. However, Cesario was not deterred and continued to search for him. When Florencio saw that Cesario was already close, he suddenly grabbed Cesario's buckshot gun and successfully disarmed him. Thereupon, Cesario drew another firearm and shot Florencio several times. As Cesario was shooting him, Florencio also fired the gun he earlier grabbed from Cesario and hit the latter. Finding out that he too was hit in the arm, he shouted to his nephews for help. They responded by taking him to a hospital for treatment. On April 16, 1998, he went to the police to surrender.

Elynor and Eddie corroborated this version in their respective testimonies. [7]

Ruling of the Trial Court

The trial court found the prosecution's evidence sufficient to prove

appellants' guilt beyond reasonable doubt. It held that appellants acted in conspiracy in inflicting upon Cesario, in a treacherous manner, multiple gunshot wounds. However, the trial court did not appreciate evident premeditation as a qualifying aggravating circumstance for failure to establish its elements as clearly as the criminal act itself. It also did not consider as aggravating circumstance the use of an unlicensed firearm since the firearm used in the killing was not presented in evidence.

The dispositive portion of the trial court's Decision [8] of August 7, 2001, reads:

WHEREFORE, the Court finds all the accused FLORENCIO AGACER, EDDIE AGACER, ELYNOR AGACER, FRANKLIN AGACER and ERIC AGACER GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of MURDER qualified [by] treachery and hereby sentence[s] them to:

1.  suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all the accessory penalties;

2.  indemnify the heirs of the victim, the amount of P75,000.00 as death indemnity; the amount of P40,000.00 as actual damages and the amount of P30,000.00 as and by way of Attorney's fees.

3.  pay the costs of litigation.


Appellants filed a Notice of Appeal, [10] which was approved by the trial court in its Order [11] of August 17, 2001. Pursuant thereto, the records of the case were elevated to this Court. However, in view of the Court's ruling in People v. Mateo [12] allowing an intermediate review by the CA where the penalty involved is death, reclusion perpetua as in this case, or life imprisonment, the case was transferred to said court for appropriate action and disposition. [13]

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The CA affirmed the ruling of the trial court in all respects. It also awarded moral damages pursuant to the rule laid down in People v. Dela Cruz [14] and People v. Panela. [15] The dispositive portion of the November 17, 2006 Decision [16] of the CA reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered DENYING the instant appeal, and accordingly AFFIRMING in toto the herein impugned August 7, 2001 Decision of the RTC, Branch 08, of Aparri, Cagayan. Additionally, the amount of P50,000.00 is hereby awarded in favor of Cesario Agacer's surviving heirs as and by way of moral damages pursuant to the doctrine in the cases of Dela Cruz and Panela, as heretofore stated.


Hence, the present appeal.

Assignment of Errors

In their Brief, [18] appellants assigned the following errors:








Appellants contend that both lower courts erred in finding that they conspired to kill Cesario. They argue that there was no evidence sufficient to establish their intentional participation in the crime to achieve a common purpose. Thus, they claim that the criminal culpability arising from their acts, even if the same were all directed solely against one victim, is individual and not collective. Put differently, each of them is liable only for his own acts.

Appellants also contend that treachery did not attend the commission of the crime. They assert that treachery cannot be appreciated when an altercation precedes the killing. Here, Cesario already had a previous heated altercation with Florencio. Appellants aver that Cesario had only himself to blame for obliging when Florencio summoned him to come near considering that they just had a heated argument. According to them, Cesario literally courted danger by approaching Florencio instead of running away from him.

Lastly, appellants posit that they cannot be held guilty of murder since the qualifying circumstance of treachery was not alleged with clarity nor specified in the Information as required by Sections 8 and 9, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court.

In its Brief, [20] the People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) maintains that there was conspiracy among the appellants as shown by their collective acts before, during, and after the perpetration of the crime. Their specific acts are in fact indicative of a common design and intent to ensure the commission of the crime. [21] The OSG also belies the assertion of the appellants that treachery does not exist in this case. It insists that their attack on Cesario was sudden and unexpected, thereby depriving him of a chance to defend himself and ensuring its commission without risk to the appellants and without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim. [22]

Our Ruling

The appeal is unmeritorious.

Conspiracy was sufficiently established

"Conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it." [23] In conspiracy, it is not necessary to adduce direct evidence of a previous agreement to commit a crime. [24] It "may be shown through circumstantial evidence, deduced from the mode and manner in which the offense was perpetrated, or inferred from the acts of the accused themselves when such lead to a joint purpose and design, concerted action, and community of interest." [25] Proof of a previous agreement and decision to commit the crime is not essential but the fact that the malefactors acted in unison pursuant to the same objective suffices. [26]

Here, while there is no proof of any previous agreement among appellants to commit the crime and while it was established during trial that Eddie alone shot Cesario, the acts of all appellants before, during and after the incident establish the existence of conspiracy to kill Cesario beyond reasonable doubt. First, all of them emerged at the same time from a banana plantation beside the ricefield. Second, they surprised Cesario by immediately surrounding him. Third, all of them were armed at the time of the incident. Eddie had a shotgun concealed in a sack, Florencio was armed with a bolo, Elynor had a bow and arrow, while Eric and Franklin had stones in their hands. Fourth, Eric and Franklin struck Cesario with stones moments before the shooting. Fifth, Eddie immediately shot Cesario at close range while the latter was approaching the group of appellants upon being summoned by Florencio. Sixth, Florencio, Franklin, Eric and Elynor stood just a meter away from Eddie when he shot Cesario, but did not do anything to stop or dissuade Eddie from the assault. Seventh, after Cesario was shot, all appellants departed from the scene of the crime together.

Undoubtedly, the acts of the assailants constitute proof of their unanimity in design, intent and execution. [27] They "performed specific acts with closeness and coordination as to unmistakably indicate a common purpose and design" [28] to ensure the death of Cesario. We thus uphold the lower courts' finding that appellants conspired to commit the crime of murder against Cesario.

Having established conspiracy, appellants' assertion that each of them can only be made liable for his own acts deserves no merit. Evidence as to who among the appellants delivered the fatal blow is therefore no longer indispensable since in conspiracy, a person may be convicted for the criminal act of another. [29] In a conspiracy, the act of one is deemed the act of all. [30]

Essence of Treachery; Elements

We are also unimpressed with appellants' contention that both the trial and appellate courts erred in ruling that treachery qualified the killing of Cesario to murder. They maintain that since the attack on Cesario was frontal, there was therefore no element of surprise on the victim or suddenness of the assault that characterizes treachery.

"There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from any defense which the offended party might make." [31] Two conditions must concur for treachery to be appreciated. First, is the employment of means of execution that gives the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate. Second, the means of execution was deliberate or consciously adopted. [32] "The essence of treachery is the sudden attack by an aggressor without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend himself, thereby ensuring the commission of the crime without risk to the aggressor." [33]

In this case, treachery is evident from the same circumstances we have already discussed above. From the facts, Cesario could not have been aware that he would be surrounded, attacked and killed by the appellants who were all related to him. He could not have also been aware that Eddie had a shotgun concealed in a sack because if he was, he would not have casually approached Florencio when the latter summoned him. Unfortunately, while Cesario was advancing towards Florencio, Eddie shot him at close range without any warning whatsoever. Evidently, the crime was committed in a manner that there was no opportunity for Cesario to defend himself. Also, the mode of attack did not spring from the unexpected turn of events but was clearly thought of by the appellants. Hence, it no longer matters that the assault was frontal since its swiftness and unexpectedness deprived Cesario of a chance to repel it or offer any resistance in defense of his person. [34]

Appellants' contention that treachery was not alleged with certainty in the Information is also devoid of merit. In People v. Villacorta [35] the Court appreciated treachery as an aggravating circumstance, it having been alleged in the Information and proved during trial that the "x x x accused, armed with a sharpened bamboo stick, with intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab with the said weapon one DANILO SALVADOR CRUZ x x x."

Similarly, we hold that treachery was sufficiently alleged in the Information when it reads, viz:

x x x the above-name[d] accused, armed with a long firearm, a bow and arrow, a bolo and stones, with intent to kill, with evident premeditation and with treachery, conspiring together and helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack, stone and shoot one Cesario Agacer, inflicting upon the latter [bruises] and multiple gunshot wounds in his body which caused his death. [36] (Emphasis supplied.)

"Well-settled is the rule that when x x x treachery x x x is present and alleged in the Information, it qualifies the killing and raises it to the category of murder." [37]

Appellants failed to discharge their burden to prove Florencio's
claim that he acted in self-defense and in defense of relatives.

Florencio admits that he shot Cesario but invokes defense of himself and of his relatives to escape criminal liability.

The Court is not convinced.

While it is the burden of the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, this burden shifts when the accused admits the killing and pleads self-defense by way of justification. It therefore becomes vital for the accused to show clear and convincing evidence that he acted in self-defense. In so doing, he must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of the prosecution's evidence. [38]

The accused must also prove the following elements of self-defense: (1) there was unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) there was reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel the attack; and (3) the lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. [39] In the justifying circumstance of self-defense, unlawful aggression is a condition sine qua non. [40] Self-defense, complete or incomplete, cannot be considered a justification, unless the victim commits an unlawful aggression against the person defending himself. [41]

Here, Florencio failed to prove that he defended himself against the unlawful aggression of Cesario. He failed to present any evidence to substantiate his claim that there was an actual or imminent peril to his life or limb. Aside from his unreliable and self-serving claim, there is no proof that Cesario assaulted and shot him with a firearm during their struggle or, if at all, that there was indeed a struggle between them. On the other hand, the separate testimonies of prosecution witnesses Genesis and Roden negate Florencio's claim of unlawful aggression. The testimonies of these witnesses established that it was the appellants who emerged from a nearby banana plantation; that they surrounded Cesario and set to fire the rice straws covering his rice seedlings; that appellants were armed with different kinds of weapons, while Cesario was not; that Franklin and Elynor cast stones upon Cesario; and, that the one who pulled a gun from a sack and shot Cesario was Eddie, not Florencio. We thus hold that if there was unlawful aggression here, it came from appellants' end and not from Cesario. Hence, there being no unlawful aggression on the part of Cesario, Florencio's claim of self-defense must fail.

Another basis for appellants' conviction is the finding of the medico-legal expert that the cause of Cesario's death was multiple gunshot wounds found mostly at the "infero-lateral portion of the anterior chest, right side." This corroborates the testimonies of Genesis and Roden that Cesario was shot in his chest. These dovetailing findings of the medico-legal expert and the eyewitness accounts of Genesis and Roden also deserve more credence than the unsubstantiated claim of self-defense of Florencio, who, interestingly, gave contradictory testimony. Florencio claimed that he could not see the gun used by Cesario in shooting him as tall cogonal grass obstructed his view, yet he could clearly recall that he saw the bullet-riddled Cesario fall. [42] These contradictory statements of Florencio all the more convince us to believe the testimonies of prosecution witnesses that no exchange of gunfire actually transpired between Cesario and Florencio. Rather, it was only Eddie who wielded a gun and shot Cesario.

Florencio also invokes the justifying circumstance of defense of relatives, which has three elements, to wit, (1) there was unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) there was reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) in case of provocation given by the person being attacked, the person making defense had no part therein. [43] Like in the case of self-defense, unlawful aggression is also an indispensable element in defense of relative. As discussed, there is no unlawful aggression on the part of Cesario. Hence, Florencio's reliance on this justifying circumstance is likewise unavailing.

Similarly, Florencio's subsequent presentation of himself at the police station cannot be considered as a "voluntary surrender" which would mitigate the penalty imposed. "A surrender to be voluntary must be spontaneous, showing the intent of the accused to submit himself unconditionally to the authorities either because (a) he acknowledges his guilt or (b) he wishes to save them the trouble and expense necessarily incurred in his search and capture." [44] Here, Florencio cannot be considered to have surrendered voluntarily since his act did not emanate from a natural impulse to admit the killing of Cesario or to save the police officers the effort and expense that would be incurred in his search and incarceration. Although he submitted a medico-legal certificate purportedly to show that his injuries prevented him from immediately surrendering to the authorities, same, however, does not certify as to the period of his incapacity or the period during which he required medical attendance. Thus, there can be no explanation why he surrendered only on April 16, 1998 or 14 days after the commission of the crime. To us, Florencio's surrender was a mere afterthought undeserving of any consideration. Indeed, the failure of Florencio to immediately surrender militates against his claim that he killed Cesario in self-defense and in defense of relatives since an innocent person will not hesitate to take the prompt and necessary action to exonerate himself of the crime imputed to him.

All told, we find no reason to disturb the conclusion of the trial court, as affirmed by the CA. The testimonies of the eyewitnesses presented by the prosecution were given in a clear, natural and spontaneous manner. Their positive identification of the appellants as the persons responsible for the death of Cesario has been clearly, categorically and consistently established on record. Moreover, we note that no evidence was presented to establish that these eyewitnesses harbored any ill-will against the appellants or that they have reasons to fabricate their testimonies. [45] These kinds of testimonies are accepted as true for being consistent with the natural order of events, human nature and the presumption of good faith. [46]

The Proper Penalty

Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for the crime of murder is reclusion perpetua to death. As correctly imposed by the trial court and as affirmed by the CA, appellants must suffer the prison term of reclusion perpetua, the lower of the said two indivisible penalties, due to the absence of an aggravating circumstance attending the commission of the crime.

The Civil Liability

For the victim's death resulting from the crime, the heirs are entitled to the following awards: (1) civil indemnity ex delicto for the death of the victim; (2) actual or compensatory damages; (3) moral damages; (4) exemplary damages; and (5) temperate damages. [47]

Civil indemnity in the amount of P75,000.00 is mandatory and is granted without need of evidence other than the commission of the crime. [48] Moral damages in the sum of P50,000.00 shall be awarded despite the absence of proof of mental and emotional suffering of the victim's heirs. [49] "As borne out by human nature and experience, a violent death invariably and necessarily brings about emotional pain and anguish on the part of the victim's family." [50] Also under Article 2230 of the Civil Code, exemplary damages may be imposed when the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances, like treachery, [51] as in this case. Thus, the award of P30,000.00 for exemplary damages is in order. [52]

As regards actual damages, the son of Cesario, Neldison, testified that the sum of P40,000.00 was spent for the coffin of his father but was unable to present receipts to substantiate such claim. Where the amount of actual damages for funeral expenses cannot be ascertained due to the absence of receipts to prove them, temperate damages in the sum of P25,000.00 may be granted, as it is hereby granted, in lieu thereof. [53] "Under Article 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages may be recovered as it cannot be denied that the heirs of the victim suffered pecuniary loss although the exact amount was not proved." [54]

The heirs of Cesario are also entitled to an interest on all the amounts of damages we have awarded at the legal rate of 6% from the date of finality of this Decision until fully paid. [55]

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the November 17, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01543 which affirmed the August 7, 2001 Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 8, Aparri, Cagayan, finding appellants Florencio, Franklin, Elynor, Eddie and Eric, all surnamed Agacer, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder, with the following modifications:

(1) actual damages is DELETED;

(2) the appellants are ORDERED to pay the heirs of Cesario Agacer P25,000.00 as temperate damages; and

(3) the appellants are ORDERED to pay the heirs of Cesario Agacer interest at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum on all the amounts of damages awarded, commencing from the date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.

Costs against the appellants.


Corona, Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, and Villarama, Jr., concur.

* Also spelled as Erick in some parts of the records.

[1] CA rollo, pp. 143-160; penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Renato C. Dacudao and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe (now a member of this Court).

[2] Records, pp. 267-284; penned by Presiding Judge Conrado F. Manauis.

[3] Id. at 1-2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 103.

[6] Id. at 145.

[7] TSN dated June 15, 2000 and August 15, 2000.

[8] Supra note 2.

[9] Records, pp. 283-284.

[10] Id. at 295.

[11] Id. at 296.

[12] G.R. Nos. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640.

[13] See Minute Resolution dated August 30, 2004, CA rollo, pp. 140-141.

[14] 402 Phil. 138, 151-152 (2001).

[15] 400 Phil. 107, 119 (2000).

[16] Supra note 1.

[17] CA rollo, p. 159.

[18] Id. at 54-68.

[19] Id. at 60-61.

[20] Id. at 107-123.

[21] Id. at 112-117.

[22] Id. at 118-120.

[23] Revised Penal Code, Article 8.

[24] People v. Perez, G.R. No. 179154, July 31, 2009, 594 SCRA 701, 714.

[25] Id. at 714-715.

[26] People v. Amodia, G.R. No. 173791, April 7, 2009, 584 SCRA 518, 541.

[27] People v. Perez, supra note 24 at 715.

[28] Id.

[29] People v. Dacillo, 471 Phil. 497, 508 (2004).

[30] People v. Caballero, 448 Phil. 514, 529 (2003).

[31] Revised Penal Code, Article 14(16).

[32] People v. Lacaden, G.R. No. 187682, November 25, 2009, 605 SCRA 784, 800.

[33] People v. Sanchez, G.R. No. 188610, June 29, 2010, 622 SCRA 548, 560.

[34] People v. Suelto, 381 Phil. 851, 869 (2000).

[35] G.R. No. 186412, September 7, 2011.

[36] Supra note 3.

[37] People v. Lab-eo, 424 Phil. 482, 496 (2002).

[38] People v. Bracia, G.R. No. 174477, October 2, 2009, 602 SCRA 351, 369.

[39] People v. Comillo, Jr., G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009, 605 SCRA 756, 771.

[40] Id.

[41] People v. Bracia, supra note 38 at 370.

[42] TSN, August 22, 2000, pp. 9-11.

[43] People v. Aleta, G.R.No. 179708, April 16, 2009, 585 SCRA 578, 587.

[44] People v. Rabanillo, 367 Phil. 114, 128 (1999).

[45] People v. Amodia, supra note 26 at 534.

[46] Id.

[47] People v. Asis, G.R. No. 177573, July 7, 2010, 624 SCRA 509, 530.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id. at 530-531.

[51] Art. 2230. In criminal offenses, exemplary damages as a part of the civil liability may be imposed when the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances. Such damages are separate and distinct from fines and shall be paid to the offended party.

[52] People v. Asis, supra at 531.

[53] Id.

[54] People v. Campos, G.R. No. 176061, July 4, 2011.

[55] Id.