Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, April 7, 2004


Page 1


C.A.: Chemical Spray May Be ‘Dangerous or Deadly Weapon’


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


Staff Writer/Appellate Courts

A defendant who uses a caustic chemical, such as mace or pepper spray, to threaten or immobilize a robbery victim is subject to a “dangerous or deadly weapon” enhancement, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.

Div. Seven affirmed a second-strike prison term of more than 50 years, including 10 one-year enhancements for the use of dangerous or deadly weapons, imposed on Tom Blake by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli. A jury found Blake guilty of 15 felonies—including 10 robberies and a carjacking—committed in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Silver Lake, Beverly-Fairfax, and Culver City over a nine-day period in November 2001.

Three of the enhancements were for the use of caustic chemicals as weapons in robberies, all of which were committed on the same day. 

In the first robbery, Blake allegedly robbed a wig store near Melrose Avenue by spraying the proprietor with what she said was pepper spray, then grabbing several hundred dollars worth of wigs and fleeing. The victim, as well as a customer who came to her aid, later testified that they had difficulty breathing and needed the assistance of paramedics.

In the second robbery, Blake—who wore makeup and allegedly worked as a transgender prostitute—walked into a West Hollywood lingerie store and had a conversation with the sales manager. The woman testified at trial that Blake then took out a canister of what she believed to be pepper spray, sprayed it into her eyes from eight inches away, and ran out with about $400 in clothes.

Victim Felt Sorry

That evening, Blake and a friend, both dressed as women, approached a Silver Lake man and asked for a ride to Hollywood. The man, who testified at trial that he did not realize Blake was male until he spoke to him, said he initially refused but felt sorry for Blake, who said he was sick, and did not want a confrontation.

The victim said he agreed to drive the men to Hollywood, declining Blake’s offer of oral sex in the car. When the pair got out of the car at a Hollywood donut shop, the victim testified, Blake took a canister out of his purse and threatened to “mace” him if he didn’t give him money.

The victim said he gave Blake $1 and left, later noticing that his cell phone was missing.

Justice Earl Johnson Jr., writing for the Court of Appeal, said there was sufficient evidence to support the jury findings that Blake used a dangerous or deadly weapon to commit each of the three robberies.

First Impression

The justice acknowledged that no prior California case has held a chemical spray to be inherently dangerous or to have been used as a dangerous weapon under the facts of the case. But the evidence against Blake, he said, was consistent with federal cases holding mace, tear gas, and pepper spray to have been used as dangerous weapons.

The victims at the two stores “suffered substantial, though transitory, respiratory distress, burning sensations and blindness” and were fortunate not to have suffered the more serious injuries exemplified by the federal cases, including burns, chemical pneumonia, cornea damage, and serious asthma attacks, Johnson said.

Attorneys on appeal were Greg M. Kane, a Vista sole practitioner serving by court appointment, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Thien Huong Tran for the prosecution.

The case is People v. Blake, B163498.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company