Friday, December 30, 2005
State Supreme Court Rules:
One Shot at Car Supported Two Attempted Murder Convictions
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A defendant who fired a single shot into a car occupied by a woman he described as his former girlfriend was properly convicted of the attempted murders of both the woman and her baby, although he claimed he had no reason to want to hurt the baby, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
In a 5-2 decision, the justices agreed with the Third District Court of Appeal and affirmed Jarmaal L. Smith’s convictions for the attempted murders of Karen A., as she was identified in the opinion, and her son, Renell T. Jr.
“[T]he act of purposefully firing a lethal weapon at another human being at close range, without legal excuse, generally gives rise to an inference that the shooter acted with express malice,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the court. “That the shooter had no particular motive for shooting the victim is not dispositive, although again, where motive is shown, such evidence will usually be probative of proof of intent to kill. Nor is the circumstance that the bullet misses its mark or fails to prove lethal dispositive—the very act...is sufficient to support an inference of intent to kill.”
Karen A. testified that the defendant, whom she recognized as a former friend whom she had not spoken to since he threatened to “slap the s— out of” her several months earlier, came up behind her after she dropped her boyfriend off at a friend’s house in Sacramento. Smith, she said, came up to the passenger side window of her car and said something unpleasant, attracting the attention of her boyfriend, who had walked halfway to his friend’s door.
Smith, at this point, revealed that a handgun was tucked in his waistband, she testified, causing her boyfriend to back away. A group of men who had been standing on the street car then approached, she said, and attacked her boyfriend as he entered the vehicle.
Once he was in the car, she said, she took off, but had not gone far when she looked in the rearview mirror and saw the defendant holding a gun. She heard a single gunshot, the bullet shattering the rear windshield, narrowly missing her and the baby, whose face was covered with broken glass.
Her boyfriend, Renell T. Sr., generally corroborated the story and said the gun was a .38-caliber revolver. A search of the defendant’s room at his mother’s home produced two .38-caliber shell casings.
Smith testified that Karen A. was his former girlfriend, and acknowledged threatening her when they spoke months earlier. But he claimed that she called him the day before and asked her to come to the Sacramento location, that he was unarmed, that it was Renell T. who threatened him, then pulled a gun after the defendant challenged him to a fistfight.
Next, he testified, he heard a gunshot and hit the ground, after which he heard several more shots and the sound of glass shattering. Seeing two 38-caliber shell casings on the ground, he put them in his pocket and took them to his mother’s house, he testified.
The Sacramento Superior Court jury found Smith guilty on two counts of attempted murder, shooting at an occupied vehicle, child endangerment, and assault with a firearm.
He received two concurrent 27-year sentences on the attempted murder counts, each of which included a 20-year enhancement under the “10-20-Life” law. Judge Michael S. Ullman stayed sentencing on the other counts.
Baxter, writing for the high court, rejected the defense argument that since Smith had no “animus” toward, and did not direct a separate criminal act at, the baby he could not be convicted of attempting to kill him.
Premeditation Not Charged
The justice noted that Smith was not charged with premeditated attempted murder, so there was no requirement that the prosecution show a motive or a period of reflection.
“The defense below offered nothing to undercut the force of the inference, drawn by the jury on the People’s evidence, that defendant acted with intent to kill both victims when he fired off a single round at them from close range, each of whom he knew was directly in his line of fire,” Baxter wrote. His opinion was joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Justices Joyce L. Kennard and Ming Chin, and Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Roger Boren, sitting on assignment.
Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, joined by Justice Carlos Moreno, dissented.
At most, Werdegar argued, the evidence proved that Smith acted with conscious disregard for the baby’s life. That did not, she said, “permit the jury to infer beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant intended to kill the baby, with whom, as far as the evidence showed, defendant had no quarrel at all.”
“The majority struggles to articulate grounds for upholding the second attempted murder conviction. In the course of that struggle, the majority loses sight of the crucial difference between implied malice, or conscious disregard for life, and express malice, which is the specific intent to kill a person.”
The case is People v. Smith, 05 S.O.S. 5839.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company