Friday, March 26, 2004
High Court Affirms Death Sentences in Pomona Slayings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously affirmed the death sentences of two Hesperia men convicted of killing two men in a drug-related robbery at a Pomona motel.
There is no conclusive evidence as to who actually shot Anthony Quinn Nelson, 30, and Charles Hunter, 26, of San Dimas at the Allstar Inn on Oct. 12, 1990, Justice Ming Chin acknowledged for the high court.
But the death sentences imposed on Chauncey Veasley and Dellano Cleveland “do not shock the conscience,” the justice wrote, because “both engaged in a carefully premeditated, execution-style double murder.”
Jurors voted to condemn Veasley, Cleveland, and Rajesh Charan, 25, in the deaths of the reputed drug dealers. The pair were shot execution style as they knelt in front of a mirror in a room of the motel at 2470 S. Garey Ave.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge S. James Otero, since appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, granted Charan’s motion to modify the verdict—Charan was the only one of the three without a prior felony conviction—and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
But Veasley and Cleveland deserved to die, the judge said. Veasley, he found, hatched the plot to lure to the victims to the motel, rob them of their cocaine and other items, and kill them, while Cleveland played a major role in the robbery and murders and had a long history of violent crime.
Chin, writing for the high court, rejected Veasley’s contention that the trial judge erred in allowing his then-wife to testify as to matters the defense claimed were within the scope of marital privilege.
Testimony that when Veasley returned to his wife’s home—they had separate residences at the time—the evening of the murders she observed him wearing a watch that was later identified as possibly having been taken from one of the victims, and possessing cocaine, was outside the scope of the privilege because it was an observation, not the disclosure of a communication, the justice said.
Nor did the wife breach the privilege by testifying that the defendant admitted to her that he had met one of the victims at the same motel a couple of weeks before the murders, the justice said, since the defendant had told others about the meeting, thus indicating that he did not intend his disclosure to his spouse to be confidential.
The justice also rejected claims by both defendants that Otero abused his discretion by ordering separate penalty hearings, the first for Veasley and the second for Cleveland and Charan, with the Veasley verdict sealed and both verdicts read and the jury polled as to both verdicts after the second hearing.
The procedure was appropriate given the circumstances, Chin said. Otero ordered the severance so that attorneys for Cleveland and Charan could present testimony from Veasley’s wife that Veasley admitted being the shooter, without implicating the marital privilege.
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Assistant State Public State Defender Donald J. Ayoob for Cleveland, court-appointed practitioner David Joseph Macher of Murrieta for Veasley, and Deputy Attorney General Joseph P. Lee for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Cleveland, 04 S.O.S. 1486.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company