Tuesday, December 5, 2005
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence in Southeast L.A. County Killing Spree
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentences imposed on East Compton laborer for four murders that occurred in southeastern Los Angeles County during a one-year period between January 1989 and January 1990.
Attorneys for Abelino Manriquez, 33 when he was charged with the crimes, failed to show that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Armstrong—now retired—committed error at trial, Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote for the court.
Manriquez was originally charged with killing seven men in five separate incidents, and the defense moved for a severance that would have required five separate trials. Armstrong denied that request, but split the case into two, with the first trial to cover three killings during unrelated arguments in bars and the fata; wounding of a friend of Manriquez during a fight in a motel parking lot, and the second for killing a trio of men during a drug transaction in Paramount.
Prosecutors secured convictions on all four counts, along with a multiple-murder special circumstance finding, in the first trial. They then introduced evidence of the Paramount murders, and of an uncharged 1988 rape, in the penalty phase and persuaded the jury to return a death penalty verdict.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Manriquez shot and killed Garcia, 23, a customer at the Las Playas Bar in Paramount, during an argument on Jan. 22, 1989.
The next killing took place a month later at the Fort Knots Bar, a topless club in South Gate. Witnesses said Manriquez was ejected from the tavern after he accosted a dancer, returned with a handgun, and killed the doorman, George Martinez, 22, of Maywood.
Manriquez was arrested by Long Beach police in early 1989 on a misdemeanor weapons possession charge. But he was released before investigators determined through ballistics tests that the handgun had been used in the shooting death of Garcia in Paramount.
A murder warrant was issued for Manriquez, but he was not apprehended until after the Feb. 22, 1990 shootout in Paramount in which he suffered minor gunshot wound. Police arrested him at Charter Suburban Hospital, where he sought treatment.
In the interim, jurors found, he killed Efrem Lopez Baldia, 28, in the parking lot of the Rita Motel in Compton during what he told police was an argument over a woman, and shot Jose Gutierrez, 25, of Maywood in the Mazatlan Bar, also in Compton.
Gutierrez, a witness testified, was sitting at the bar, asleep, with his head resting on his arm, when Manriquez grabbed him by the neck and shot him repeatedly.
The defense presented a single witness in the guilt phase, seeking to bolster a contention that the Rita Motel killing was not premeditated. In the penalty phase, five relatives of the defendant testified regarding his abusive and impoverished childhood in Mexico.
George, writing for the high court, said Armstrong did not deprive the defendant of fundamental rights or commit an abuse of discretion by dividing the case into two sets of charges rather than five.
Citing previous high court cases dealing with joinder of homicide charges, George wrote:
“In view of the circumstance that each of the four homicides involved a charge that defendant, armed with a concealed and loaded firearm, initiated a fatal attack upon an unarmed individual, no particular killing was ‘significantly more egregious’ than any other (contrary to defendant’s assertion otherwise), and therefore none were ‘unusually likely to inflame the jury against the defendant.’”
The chief justice rejected the “speculative and unconvincing” arguments that if the charges had been tried separately, Manriquez would likely have been acquitted of the Martinez killing and convicted of a lesser charge for killing Baldia, and would have been less likely to receive the death penalty.
Even if there had been multiple trials, George said, the evidence was so strong that Manriquez would still have been found guilty of multiple murders and received the death penalty.
The chief justice went on to say that the trial judge had ruled correctly with respect to lesser included offenses.
Armstrong had instructed the jury as to first and second degree murder only with respect to the Gutierrez killing, and as to first and second degree murder as well as voluntary manslaughter based upon sudden quarrel or heat of passion in connection with the other counts. But he declined to instruct on imperfect self-defense with regard to the Baldia killing.
Imperfect self-defense did not apply, the trial judge and the high court agreed, because there was no evidence that Manriquez actually believed he was in imminent danger when he confronted the victim in the parking lot.
Manriquez’ statement to police that he went out to the lot to tell Baldia that he “could have” the woman in question because Manriquez was planning to return to Mexico, George wrote, indicated that he did not fear Baldia. “Although defendant also informed the officers that ‘he had heard some threats’ that Baldia wanted to kill him, defendant made no claim of ever having seen Baldia armed with any weapon, said nothing about believing Baldia was armed, and never indicated he felt he was under any imminent threat of death or great bodily injury when he drew the firearm from his waistband,” George wrote.
The case was argued in the high court by Deputy State Public Defender William Hassler and Deputy Attorney General Sharlene A. Honnaka.
The case is People v. Manriquez, 05 S.O.S. 5308
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company