Friday, December 6, 2002
Death Sentence Upheld in San Francisco Robbery, Killing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An alcoholic with a violent past was properly sentenced to death for the murder of a man he met in a San Francisco bar, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Clifford Bolden’s past convictions for robbery and manslaughter, and the extremely violent way in which Henry Michael Pedersen was robbed and killed, clearly outweigh any mitigating factors, Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote for a unanimous court.
Bolden, sentenced in 1990 for the 1986 murder, is one of only two defendants sentenced to death by San Francisco judges—out of a statewide total of more than 560— since California reinstated the death penalty in 1979. He was prosecuted by former District Attorney Arlo Smith.
The current district attorney, Terrence Hallinan, has never sought the death penalty and is outspokenly opposed to it. After Robert Massie withdrew his federal habeas corpus challenge to his death sentence last year, Hallinan refused to file a motion to set the execution date, so Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office stepped in and did so.
Witnesses said Bolden and Pederson met at the Pendulum, a Castro district bar known as a place for black and white men to meet. Bolden had placed a personal ad in a local newspaper, describing himself as a “black body builder, sculptured rock hard” and offering his services as an escort and model.
Pedersen’s body was found in the bathtub of his apartment, wrapped in a brown bedspread. An autopsy revealed that he had been stabbed to death, had his nose fractured, and was heavily intoxicated.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of Bolden, whose fingerprints were found in several places in the apartment. Bolden, who was on parole at the time, was arrested two days later.
In his possession was a knife that could have been the murder weapon and a gold bracelet engraved with Pedersen’s initials. Several items found in his closet were identified as belonging to Pedersen.
A forensic serologist working for the police testified that a dried substance scraped from the knife was human blood, and that test results showed that the blood could have been Pedersen’s but not Bolden’s.
The defense presented experts who questioned the fingerprint and serological evidence, and argued that there was reasonable doubt as to whether Bolden was the killer, and, if he was, whether the motive was robbery.
Pedersen, counsel argued, may have invited Bolden into his apartment and given the defendant his property in payment for his services. It was also possible Bolden decided to take Pedersen’s property only after Pedersen died, counsel argued.
The jury was unpersuaded. Finding Bolden guilty of first degree murder and robbery, it also found true the robbery-murder special circumstance, which requires proof that the murder was committed in the course of the robbery.
In the penalty phase, prosecutors presented evidence that Bolden had twice been convicted of voluntary manslaughter—both victims were stabbed—as well as robbery, possession for sale of a controlled substance, and escape from prison. They also called a witness who testified that Bolden cut him with a machete on a San Francisco street after accusing him, falsely, of propositioning Bolden’s girlfriend.
The defense presented evidence that Bolden had an unhappy childhood, having been rejected by his father because he stuttered. To get away from that situation and improve his self-image, witnesses testified, he joined the military, but his career went downhill after he suffered a serious injury during combat training and was transferred to light duty.
After his discharge, the experts said, he became depressed, drank heavily, and was often homeless. His heavy involvement in martial arts and body building, they testified, was an attempt to create a self-image as a strong and indestructible person.
That self-image, they said, was weakened as a result of a series of injuries, including the loss of two fingers in a wood shop accident while serving his second prison term for manslaughter, and by the fact that the only work he could find after his release was as a nude model and escort.
Writing for the high court, Kennard rejected the argument that the special circumstance should be thrown out, based on insufficiency of the evidence of robbery as a motive for the murder.
The justice acknowledged that there are scenarios in which a defendant would be guilty of robbery and murder, but the robbery-murder special circumstance would not apply, such as when a killer takes the victim’s property as a souvenir, or to create a false impression about his true motive.
But there was, Kennard said, no evidence that Bolden had any other motive. The absence of such proof, in combination with the circumstances of the crime, allowed for a reasonable inference that Bolden killed Pedersen in order to steal the victim’s property, the justice reasoned.
The case is People v. Bolden, 02 S.O.S. 5905.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company