Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Death Sentence Upheld for Man in Killing of Girlfriend’s Mother
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles man was properly sentenced to death for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s mother, a unanimous California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices rejected claims that Ernest Dwayne Jones was mentally unbalanced when he attacked Julia Miller in 1992, and that he never intended to rape or kill her. Prosecutors said Jones brutally raped and stabbed the 50-year-old woman after they argued over his treatment of her daughter, and that he stole her jewelry to support a drug habit.
“Our careful review of the record convinces us the trial was fundamentally fair and the penalty determination reliable,” Justice Janice Rogers Brown wrote. “No basis for reversal appears.”
Jones was sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward Ferns following his 1995 trial.
The sentencing was preceded by what was reported to be a six-minute statement by Pamela Miller, who began cursing at the defendant before she was led out of the courtroom by security officers. Jones’ ex-girlfriend blamed him not only for the death of her mother, but for that of her grief-stricken father, who passed away eight months after finding his wife’s bound and gagged body when he returned home from work.
Jones’ trial gained some publicity at the time because it took place at the same time, and on the same floor, as that of O.J. Simpson. Reporters noted that there were some similarities between the cases, but that Jones’ trial was—at five weeks—much shorter and featured fewer lawyers and drew no television cameras.
Jones killed Julia Miller 10 months after being paroled from a prior sentence, of which he had served more than five years. That conviction was for raping the mother of an earlier girlfriend in 1985.
Jones claimed that Julia Miller came at him with a knife after he admitted hitting her daughter. After he turned the knife back on her, cutting her arm, she ran to the bedroom and came out with a rifle.
As they grappled for the gun, he testified, he was overcome by visions of his mother having sex with a man other than his father. He picked up a knife and began stabbing, inflicting what a prosecution witness said was a total of 14 stab wounds.
He said he had no memory of having sexually assaulted her
Jurors convicted him of first degree murder with a rape special circumstance, but acquitted him of burglary and robbery and rejected burglary and robbery special-circumstance allegations.
In the penalty phase, the prosecution introduced evidence that eight years before the Miller killing, and months before the rape that led to his previous conviction, Jones was smoking marijuana with a woman who considered him a close friend, then suddenly raped her at knifepoint. She said she asked that charges be dropped after the preliminary hearing because she was close to Jones’ family and “was thinking he needs a second chance.”
History of Blackouts
Jones’ court-appointed appellate lawyers, H. Mitchell Caldwell and Jan J. Nolan, argued that Ferns erred in not allowing the defendant to testify that he had a history of blackouts, hearing voices, and similar maladies. The evidence was essential, the defense argued, to show the credibility of Jones’ testimony that he heard voices when he killed Miller.
But Brown said the proffered testimony was irrelevant, because Jones said he heard voices after he stabbed Miller. Since Jones did not claim that he was driven by voices to attack the victim, the justice said, the existence of such a condition did not bear on whether he intended to rape or to kill.
In any event, Brown added, the fact that the court-appointed psychiatrist did not seem to be aware of any such history suggests that it was fabricated by the defendant.
The justice also rejected the contention that trial counsel Fred Manaster was ineffective in not calling the psychiatrist until the penalty phase. Had the doctor been called earlier, Brown said, he would have had to disclose that his opinion that Jones was schizophrenic was based in part on the circumstances surrounding the 1984 rape, which jurors did not learn of until the penalty phase.
The case is People v. Jones, 03 S.O.S. 1344.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company